First Deputy Head of All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists: International community must see persecutions of believers in occupied territories
The international community must get to know that the situation with human rights in terms of freedom of religion in the occupied territories in Eastern Ukraine should not be ignored. Believers are suffering, the churches are being persecuted, and the international community must urge the Russian authorities and Russia's governing occupational administrations to stop these persecutions and to restore freedom of religion in Donbas.
Pastor Ihor Bandura, First Deputy Head of the All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, and Maksym Vasin, Executive Director of the Institute of Religious Freedoms, spoke about this on Donbas.Realii Radio.
Maksym Vasin presented fresh information showcasing how the occupational authorities of the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics forced all religious organizations to “re-register” and proclaimed that any religious activity would be “forbidden” without such registration. But it turned out that after the deadline for “re-registration” expired on October 16, all the Evangelical churches in this region were denied registration, they were outside the so-called “law”. It was already announced by the occupational authorities of Luhansk that the communities that operate without “registration”, will be “deprived” of their prayer houses, churches, and even “forbidden”" to assemble in private homes.
Maksym Vasin said that such “re-registration” was used to collect information in order to understand how many religious communities there were, where they were gathering, their addresses, and the number of community members. To make a “census”, so to say, as it was the case in the Soviet times.
He emphasized that representatives of the so-called “MGB” security service make raids in prayer houses, record the personal data of believers, and their home addresses, so they can now come not only to a prayer house, but also to their homes. Now they can control in the occupied territories the prohibited assemblies of religious groups of 5+ people. That is, an average-sized family can already fall under this “ban.”
Pastor Ihor Bandura explains such oppressions with the fact that the Baptist, Evangelical Churches value freedom and their own independence. Thus, any regime that wants to dominate people, any country where the state is placed above the interests of an individual citizen, is always suspicious of the gospel churches.
“I think there are certain hybrid influences that link the Baptists, Evangelical Christians with the active support of Ukraine, and, of course, it is used in propaganda. The “re-registration” itself seems to us to be an attempt to tear the Church away from the Ukrainian community, it is our unions, our associations, so that they can testify to the loyalty to the so-called authorities,” he stressed.
According to Ihor Bandura, believers do not want to gather on Sunday in the house of prayer, “if they know that armed people can break in during the worship, put them face on the floor, record their passport data, interrogate ministers, seize property. Therefore, many churches decided not to gather at the houses of prayer. And now, after all of them refused to “register”, they face a serious question of how they can continue to exist.”
Maksym Vasin stresses that the results of the study demonstrate that the occupation power in its religious policy follows the approach adopted by the Russian authorities both in Russia and in the occupied Crimea.
“This policy is based on the Russian World ideology, where the leading religion is Orthodoxy in unity with the Moscow Patriarchate. And the problem is precisely the politicization of Orthodoxy. It's like Orthodox fundamentalism, when one of the “DPR” militants publicly testified to journalists on the video that he had taken up arms in order to have an Orthodox “state” in Donbas,” said the human rights activist.
As RISU reported earlier, human rights activists revealed numerous facts of religious persecution in the occupied territories. The new report Freedom of Religion in the Crosshairs by the Institute of Religious Freedoms highlights this issue.