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Ukrainian faith leaders condemn bombing wave

04 January 2024


Flames rise from a Russian missile strike in a residential area of Kyiv, on Tuesday

Flames rise from a Russian missile strike in a residential area of Kyiv, on Tuesday

RELIGIOUS leaders in Ukraine have condemned a wave of Russian missile strikes marking the start of 2024.

“We express condolences to Ukrainian families who have suffered and are suffering as a result of Russia’s terrorist actions — we thank the Ukrainian defence forces and ask God to bless their service with success and victory,” the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations said.

The body, which includes Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders, as well as Jews and Muslims, said: “We call on all states declaring respect for human life and international law to condemn the actions of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, to recognise Russia as a terrorist state, and to provide Ukraine with the necessary means to protect life, including additional air defence equipment and aircraft.”

The weekend statement was published as Russian missiles and drones rained down over the New Year on Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, Lviv, and other cities, leaving dozens of Ukrainians dead and injured.

It said that the Russian Orthodox Church was backing Moscow’s aggression “with all conceivable means”, while inciting “interfaith hatred and genocide”. It called for its expulsion from the World Council of Churches, Conference of European Churches, and other interfaith organisations.

The Primate of the Ukrainian independent Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), thanked “air defence officers, rescuers, doctors and everyone helping Ukrainians survive”, and called for those “ruthlessly spewing the deadly venom of angry hearts” to face God’s “rightful punishment”.

“The Russian scoundrel commits international terrorism by mass-shelling the civilians of an independent state, inflicting more ruin, injury, death, pain and tears,” Metropolitan Epiphany said in a social-media message on Tuesday.

“The Kremlin tyrant and his servants are committing deliberate genocide against our people, testifying through their acts the aptness of the words of scripture: ‘Your father is the devil, and you seek to fulfil your father’s desires.’”

More than 500 Russian missiles and drones had hit Ukraine by midweek, killing and injuring 130 people on Tuesday alone, in the largest aerial attack wave since Moscow’s invasion almost two years ago.

Ukrainian forces were reported to have responded by counter-shelling occupied Crimea and the Russian border region, leaving at least 25 people dead in Belgorod.

On Tuesday, the Primate of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, Major Archbishop Svetoslav Shevchuk, led a memorial service for the residents of Kyiv who had been killed on Friday. After the service, he said that Moscow had spent $1.3 billion on a single day’s “investment in death and war”, and called on the international community to condemn its latest “unprecedented crime against humanity”.

Visiting a military hospital, however, President Putin vowed to intensify the strikes. Ukraine’s attack on Belgorod would not “rest unpunished”, he said.

In a New Year message, President Zelensky said that Ukrainians had faced 6000 air alerts during 2023, but remained “stronger than any blockades and vetoes, disbelief, or scepticism”, and looked forward to joining a “Europe united from Lisbon to Luhansk”.

He urged Western countries to continue supporting Ukraine, despite a current slowdown in military aid, and said that Russia would “feel the wrath of domestic production” this year, with a million home-produced Ukrainian drones and the deployment of advanced F-16 fighter jets.

The President spoke with the Pope by telephone on 28 December, in their first direct contact since President Zelensky’s visit to Rome last May. Last week he awarded state medals to the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Petro Parolin, and a papal peace envoy, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, for “supporting Ukraine’s state sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

The Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches of Ukraine launched a Year of Unity in Fasting and Prayer for Victory, to include “repentance for the sins of impurity, corruption and arrogance”, as well as prayers for the the recapture of occupied lands, restoration of destroyed infrastructure, and repatriation of Ukrainian prisoners and abducted children.

A statement on the council’s website said that prayers would also be recited for the nation’s “awakening, transformation and reformation”, and against “attempts to promote open perversions” such as “gender and LGBT ideology”.

“We are going through one of the most difficult times in our nation’s history, as a neighbouring state bombs Ukrainian cities and villages and encroaches on our sovereignty,” the Protestant Churches said.

“Today, the Lord is looking for deputies who will stand in the breach for Ukraine, for our people’s humility and repentance, for victory and peace, for saving Ukrainian lives, for the transformation of every sphere of society.”

In his New Year message, Metropolitan Epiphany said that Ukrainians were “wounded, but not defeated”, and would begin 2024 “with the greatest desire for a just peace” and “kneeling only before God”.

In a message on Sunday, however, in a service in Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow made no mention of Ukrainian victims of Moscow’s latest attacks, and offered condolences only for those killed and injured in the attack on Belgorod.

He said that the Ukrainian action could have “no justification” and revealed “the inhuman malice and hatred of its perpetrators”, who had displayed “cruel cynicism” in choosing a festive time to strike.

“A lot of good things were done last year, but there were also sorrows — and perhaps the greatest, hurting the soul and conscience, is what is happening today on our land, in Belgorod,” he said.

“Our prayer should be offered today for our head of state and supreme commander-in-chief Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, for our army and those who bear special responsibility for preserving the Russian land.”

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