Almost 500 religious buildings were destroyed in Ukraine as a result of Russian aggression, - IRF
These are updated data on the impact of the war on Ukrainian religious communities. The Institute for Religious Freedom presented the data on January 31 and February 1 during the summit on International Religious Freedom, which was held in Washington, USA.
According to the IRF, since the presentation at last year's summit, in July 2022, the number of religious infrastructure facilities in Ukraine affected by Russian aggression has more than doubled.
Most churches, mosques and synagogues were destroyed in the Donetsk region (at least 120) and Luhansk region (more than 70). There is also a huge scale of destruction in the Kyiv region (70), where desperate battles were fought in defense of the capital of Ukraine, and in the Kharkiv region – more than 50 destroyed religious buildings. Russian air attacks, including those using Iranian drones, have affected almost all regions of Ukraine and continue to this day.
The Institute for Religious Freedom also documented many facts about seizing religious buildings in Ukraine and their further use as Russian military bases or to cover the firing positions of Russian troops. This tactic of the Russian military provokes an increase in the scale of destruction of religious sites in Ukraine.
On a confessional basis, churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate) suffered the most from Russian aggression – at least 143.
Large–scale destruction of evangelical church prayer houses – at least 170 in total, of which 75 evangelical Christian churches were the most affected, 49 Evangelical Baptist Christian prayer houses, and 24 seventh-day Adventist churches were the most affected.
The updated IRF data now contains information about the destruction of the halls of the Kingdom of Jehovah's witnesses – a total of 94 religious buildings, of which 7 were completely destroyed, 17 were severely damaged, and 70 were slightly damaged.
The Institute for Religious Freedom also documented targeted attacks by the Russian military and special services on religious figures and believers, primarily in the occupied territories of Ukraine.
In his speech at the summit, the IRS executive director Maksym Vasin said that believers and clergy were often targeted by the Russian occupation authorities because of the Ukrainian language, belonging to a different denomination than the orthodoxy of the Moscow Patriarchate, or for any other manifestation of Ukrainian identity.
"In their entirety, Russian war crimes committed in Ukraine may indicate the existence of a special intention of genocide aimed at destroying the Ukrainian people, which is a separate crime under international humanitarian law," said Maksym Vasin, executive director of the Institute for religious freedom.
During the Russian occupation, believers of Evangelical Churches (Pentecostals, Baptists, Adventists, charismatics, etc.) were particularly affected. The Russian military has repeatedly threatened the total physical destruction of all evangelical believers, calling them American spies, sectarians and enemies of the Russian Orthodox people.
This was stated at the summit in Washington by Valentin Syny, rector of the Tauride Christian Institute, which was destroyed to the ground by the Russian military.
"One Russian officer said to an employee of our institute that evangelical believers like us should be destroyed along with sectarians and American spies. But just shooting it will be too easy for you. You need to be buried alive," said the rector of the Tauride Christian Institute, Valentin Syny.
During the summit, a separate panel discussion dedicated to Ukraine was held, which was also attended by the First Deputy Chairman of the All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of evangelical Christians-Baptists Igor Bandura, first deputy senior bishop of the Ukrainian Church of evangelical Christians Anatoly Kozachok, president of the Association of Jewish religious organizations of Ukraine Rabbi Yakov Dov Bleich, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine Oleksandr Yazlovetsky, archpriest of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Fr. Andriy Dudchenko and chairman of the board of the Institute of religious freedom Oleksandr Zayats.