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Ukrainian churches mark two years since Russian invasion

01 March 2024


Pro-Ukraine protesters march in central London on Saturday, marking the second anniversary of the invasion

Pro-Ukraine protesters march in central London on Saturday, marking the second anniversary of the invasion

CHURCHES in Ukraine have urged continued national unity during Russia’s war against their country, as Patriarch Kirill of Moscow praised his clergy’s “closeness to the military” and invoked “God’s blessing” on invading troops.

In a weekend message, the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations said: “The enemy planned to seize Ukraine in a short time, and those outside the Ukrainian borders also believed this — but what could not be calculated were God’s help to Ukraine and the fortitude and the indomitable spirit of the Ukrainian people, which comes from God.

“We call on the Ukrainian people to remain courageous in this struggle of good against evil, to believe in the victory of light over darkness, to support each other and remain united — not giving up in the face of fatigue or resentment over internal problems, and not accepting the enemy’s propaganda about reconciliation with the occupation.”

The Council, which comprises Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant leaders, as well as Jews and Muslims, expressed gratitude to “international partners, churches, and all people of good will” who had supported Ukraine “with words or concrete actions”. It appealed for continued help from the international community in securing “the return of Ukrainian children, civilians, and prisoners of war illegally deported to Russia”.

The Primate of the Ukrainian independent Orthodox Church (OCU), Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), said that the day of Russia’s invasion, 24 February 2022, would remain “for ever tragic in the Ukrainian people’s history”. He urged citizens to maintain “unity as an integral component of democracy”.

“There are those among us who know what it feels like to lose their homes and become forced migrants or refugees, and those who have had to go through the hell of occupation or captivity,” Metropolitan Epiphany said in a message on social media on Monday. “Just as many are still in captivity or have lost family and loved ones — killed by Russian foreigners with bombs, rockets, drones and shells, or executed in this genocide against our people.”

The messages were published as Ukrainian forces struggled to hold defensive positions in the face of worsening ammunition shortages, and as NATO ministers met in Paris to discuss further support for Ukraine.

In Moscow, however, Patriarch Kirill praised the Orthodox Church’s close links with the Russian armed forces and security agencies, and invoked God’s blessing on invading troops that were now “guarding the security of the fatherland”.

“No other profession resembles that of the military man who consciously embarks on this path of service,” the Patriarch said at a wreath-laying ceremony by the Kremlin walls.

“This is why priests are standing together with military personnel on the front line — not in some distant convoy, but together with those ready, on command, to meet the enemy halfway.”

Up to 23,000 people have been registered as missing during the war by the International Committee of the Red Cross, its communication manager, Claire Kaplun, told Vatican Radio last weekend.

The cost of reconstructing infrastructure in Ukraine, wrecked by more than 10,000 Russian missile and drone strikes, was put last week at £276 billion by the World Bank: 1.5 times the size of Ukraine’s pre-war economy.

In separate messages for the war’s anniversary, the Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches of Ukraine said that church communities, with their “accumulated experience and trust”, would be critical to future recovery. The leader of Ukraine’s Moscow-linked Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky), said that Ukrainians had “shown the whole world” their courage and unity, and he called for current religious policies to be reviewed.

“The Ukrainian Orthodox Church once again testifies and recalls its love for the Ukrainian people and land, even if many prefer not to notice this,” the Metropolitan said. Some of his parishes could face delegalisation, under a new law, for ties with “a state carrying out armed aggression against Ukraine”.

“Life itself testifies to the fallacy of the policy conducted until now against our Church. Division, interconfessional enmity, quarrels, and conflicts in society, as well as disappointment, despair, and demotivation — these all provide material for Russian propaganda,” he said.

Among anniversary statements overseas, the Pope, in his Angelus message on Sunday, deplored the “destruction, anguish, and tears” faced by the “tormented Ukrainian people”. He said that the war was “not only devastating that region of Europe but unleashing a global wave of fear and hatred”.

The Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, told a weekend memorial service, attended in Istanbul by foreign diplomats, that the invasion showed how evil was “for ever present in the world”.

The Patriarchate’s press service said that a prominent Russian Orthodox priest, the Revd Alexei Uminsky, who was unfrocked in February by Patriarch Kirill for refusing to recite a “prayer for victory” at his Moscow church (News, 19 January), had been readmitted to the priesthood by Bartholomew and assigned to a new parish in Europe.

The World Council of Churches called for an “immediate end” to the conflict, and “full accountability for all the crimes committed”.

“The worldwide economic turmoil resulting from this conflict has deepened the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and climate crisis, and exacerbated a global food crisis, driving millions of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people into acute food insecurity and generating social and political instability,” the WCC’s general secretary, the Revd Professor Jerry Pillay, said in a weekend statement.

“It has shaken the foundations of the international order that has prevailed since 1945, and the laws and institutions created to protect the world’s people from the death and destruction of war. . . A sustainable future for the entire living planet may yet prove to be the war’s greatest casualty,” he said.

Meeting in London, the General Synodm in a resolution on Tuesday, called on all British political parties to “affirm continued support for Ukraine until such time as a just and lasting peace is secured”, but also urged the warring sides to ensure religious freedom.

The UOC’s press service said that Metropolitan Feodosiy (Snegiryov) of Cherkasy, who faces charges for supporting the Russian invasion (News, 23 February), had informed members of the Parliamentary Committee on International Freedom of Religion, during an online session last week, about current sanctions against his Church, and about plans to “restrict religious freedom”.

The press service said that the Metropolitan’s “announced facts” had “aroused extreme interest”, and an agreement “on finding ways to help UOC believers and religious organisations in their human-rights activities”.

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