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Ukraine urges ‘new focus’ after aid package from US

25 April 2024


The US Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, arrives for a press conference after the Senate passed the $95-billion foreign-aid package on Tuesday

The US Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, arrives for a press conference after the Senate passed the $95-billion foreign-aid package on Tuesday

THE Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, has deplored the naïvety of American legislators who argued against supplying military aid to his country on the grounds that its Russian occupiers were protecting Christian traditions.

“We listen attentively to everything that heads of state and politicians say about us — and we were shocked to hear American congressmen believing the Russian leader is defending Christian values in the modern world,” said Archbishop Shevchuk, whose Church was savagely suppressed under Tsarist and Soviet rule.

“Today, in seizing Ukrainian lands, Russia is primarily destroying religious freedom. . . To everyone who repeats the clichés of Moscow propaganda, we say this: where the Russian occupier comes, dignity, liberty, and religious freedom disappear.”

The Primate made the remarks in a national message on Monday, shortly before the US Senate approved long-delayed aid packages to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.

He said that Russia was “doing everything” to divert world attention from its crimes in Ukraine, while the Russian Orthodox Church’s “war doctrine” was instrumentalised as “part of the state machine”.

The Primate of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church (OCU), Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), also warned against misunderstandings of the conflict, and urged fresh prayers for victory with the prospect of renewed military supplies.

“Aided by the example of holy martyrs, we will overcome this enemy and defeat the latest Kremlin Antichrist,” he said in a social media post on Tuesday.

“Our Ukrainian people, with God’s help, will be tested by war and will inevitably win, as all the obstacles we overcome along the way spiritually strengthen and free us from the lies, deceit, false prophecies, and fictions that form the deadly doctrine of a Russian sphere.”

US Senators voted on Tuesday to end a six-month delay and allow Ukraine’s $60.8-billion aid package, which will mostly fund air defence systems, artillery shells, and missiles needed to hold back Russian advances along the 620-mile front line.

The breakthrough came as civilian targets in Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, came under sustained air attack, and as Kyiv took steps to pressure male citizens to join up after reducing the mobilisation age from 27 to 25.

Ukraine’s Culture Ministry confirmed that 1046 “monuments of cultural heritage” had been damaged or destroyed since the February 2022 invasion — including Muslim cemeteries and monuments in Crimea — and launched a training programme for new restoration experts.

The figure includes at least 600 churches, although many other places of worship, including dozens of Baptist prayer-houses, have also been seized in the Russian-occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions, where minority clergy have been forced out by Russian Orthodox representatives.

In a radio interview last weekend, the head of Ukraine’s State Service for Freedom of Conscience, Viktor Yelensky, said that at least 40 Ukrainian priests and pastors had so far been killed by Russian occupiers.

As pressure grows to exclude the Russian Orthodox Church from international ecumenical organisations, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) called on its 46 member-states last week to deny recognition to President Putin’s presidency, and condemned Patriarch Kirill’s embrace of “holy war” ideology and calls for Orthodox Christians “to sacrifice themselves for their country”.

“This Assembly is appalled by the abuse of religion and distortion of the Christian Orthodox tradition by Vladimir Putin’s regime and its proxies in the Moscow Patriarchate hierarchy — it condemns such rhetoric and emphasises that incitement to aggression, genocide and war crimes is a crime in itself,” the PACE resolution stated.

“We call on all states to treat Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox hierarchy as an ideological extension of Vladimir Putin’s regime, complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity conducted in the name of the Russian Federation.”

Preaching on Sunday, however, Patriarch Kirill accused Western countries of resenting Russia’s success as “the only modern, high-tech country building churches in large numbers”, and questioned why Britain and other states had imposed sanctions on him.

“We are a believing country, with a majority of pious people, and this largely determines the strength of modern Russia — spiritual strength, the power of human solidarity, the capacity to work together for the good of the Fatherland and defend it if necessary; isn’t this why there are such attacks on the Russian Church?” the Patriarch told a congregation in Moscow’s Brateyevo suburb.

“Why am I prohibited from traveling to Europe and declared persona non grata? Did I violate laws or offend anyone? No, I collaborated and interacted with governments and public organisations and everything was fine. It’s because I’m spiritually leading the people and Church into following a different civilisational path.”

The Patriarch praised Putin as “an Orthodox believer unashamed of his affiliation with the Church”, who was helping Russia “connect the spiritual with the material” and become “a huge spiritual, moral, cultural, scientific, industrial, technical, and military force”.

In its latest annual review this week, the World Council of Churches reiterated that the Ukraine war had caused “deep divisions in the Orthodox family”, and repeated its rejection of “any misuse of theology and religious authority that seeks to justify it”.

In a parallel statement on Wednesday, the Conference of European Churches said that religion could “never be used to justify aggression”, and regretted “the use of religious rhetoric in Russian political statements and the use of imperial propaganda in the religious language of the Russian Orthodox”.

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