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Russian attacks continue before Independence Day in Ukraine

24 August 2023


Ukrainian servicemen on Tuesday prepare captured Russian tanks for a street parade in Kyiv due to take place on 24 August, Independence Day

Ukrainian servicemen on Tuesday prepare captured Russian tanks for a street parade in Kyiv due to take place on 24 August, Independence Day

CHURCH leaders in Ukraine have marked their country’s Independence Day by urging citizens to stand firm and resist any calls to cede territory. A missile attack on the historic northern city of Chernihiv, on Saturday, when the Orthodox Church was celebrating the Transfiguration, led to fresh condemnations of Russian aggression.

“Over the centuries, Ukraine was torn between different empires seeking to appropriate some piece of its territory — but our motherland can be itself only in its universality; therefore, we do not trade our territories,” the Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, said.

“The idea of paying for our freedom and independence by separating part of Ukrainian territory to appease the Russian attackers’ appetites is not just a dangerous utopia — it points the way to further enemy aggression, and offers encouragement to continue killing us.”

In his message, ahead of national celebrations for Independence Day, 24 August, Archbishop Shevchuk said that a “free and independent Ukrainian state” would guarantee peace throughout Europe, besides highlighting the “authenticity of international law” in “a world governed by the force of law, not the law of force”.

The Primate of the Ukrainian independent Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), praised the dignity and “self-sacrificing love” shown by Ukrainian soldiers. He said that God would help the country to “destroy evil”.

“We are fighting for fully understandable fundamental values: for our independence and territorial integrity, which the whole world has recognised for more than 30 years”, he told members of Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces on Monday.

“The Russian invaders constantly invent delusional, incomprehensible excuses for their attack. But these will not help them, since evil is always overcome and punished.”

In a message of sympathy after the attack on Chernihiv, which killed at least seven civilians and injured more than 100 people, local leaders of Ukraine’s Moscow-linked Orthodox Church (UOC) denounced the missile strike as a “sacrilegious violation of God’s commandments”, with “no justification in the Christian conscience”.

In a statement, the Kyiv Culture Ministry said that Russia had “cynically shelled” Chernihiv’s medieval centre, a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site, while Christians were attending services for the Transfiguration. The 12th-century Church of St Paraskeva was damaged, and the historic music academy and theatre were destroyed.

The Ministry statement said: “Once again, we call on the world community to isolate the aggressor and deprive Russia of its UNESCO membership. The threat from Russian barbarians is only growing — Russia, a terrorist country, is systematically destroying Ukraine’s cultural heritage, inflicting irreparable losses on Ukrainian and world culture”.

On Tuesday, President Zelensky’s government announced plans for a new national military cemetery, covering 660 acres at Fastiv, near Kyiv, as another UOC Metropolitan, Theodosy (Snigiryov) of Cherkassy & Kanev, appeared in court on charges of inciting “interconfessional enmity”.

Ukraine’s Religious Information Service said that investigators had discovered “Russian propaganda literature” and a separatist flag during a search of diocesan premises, although Theodosy rejected the “fabricated accusations”, and said that most “victims and witnesses” called at his trial belonged to the rival independent Orthodox Church.

The Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine also urged its congregations to mark Independence Day with prayers for “the spread of God’s light in all spheres of social life”, as well as for the safe return of prisoners and refugees, economic investment, and the restoration of destroyed homes and “critical infrastructure facilities”.

“We need God’s intervention and help to stop this bloody war — prayer is a powerful weapon in the fight against the world rulers of darkness and the spirit of malice,” the Union said.

“So let each family unite in common prayer for ending the war with Ukraine’s victory and a just peace, for preserving the life and health of its defenders and civilian population, for healing and rehabilitation of wounded soldiers . . . and for wisdom for the Ukraine’s state leadership and military command.”

In Russia, however, the chairman of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Synodal Department for Co-operation with the Armed Forces, Metropolitan Kirill (Pokrovsky) of Stavropol, backed calls for an international tribunal to prosecute Ukraine’s “neo-Nazi military” and “political criminals”.

“The Nazism and fascism that we see in Ukraine, including the destruction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, form part of a global evil”, Metropolitan Kirill told an International Anti-Fascist Congress, held jointly in Russia and Belarus at the weekend, in a speech posted on the Moscow Patriarchate’s website.

“It is no coincidence that today even non-religious experts and political scientists, seeing what is happening during this special military operation, concur that this is a holy war, a war against satanism.”

In a statement last week, the Russian Orthodox Pskov diocese distanced itself from an Orthodox priest, after he was shown on social media blessing a new 26-foot statue of Joseph Stalin in the town of Velikiye Luki.

Gwyn Williams, of the Coventry-based charity Feed the Hungry, wrote of “an apocalyptic scene of devastation” after he visited Mariupol with a local Protestant pastor, Gennadiy Mokhnenko, last month.

He said, however, that the destroyed urban landscape had contrasted with the “longing hope for victory” on Ukrainian faces, as well as with the sound of “harvesters out in the fields where life was still going on”.

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