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Chronicle of terror: Religious persecution by pro-Russian militants in east Ukraine

Chronicle of terror: Religious persecution by pro-Russian militants in east Ukraine

Militants from the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) terrorist organizations continue to steal, kill, and threaten priests/pastors and Christians in the separatist-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine.

Also, pro-Russian militants continue to seize church buildings and rehabilitation centers to serve as their headquarters, ammunition depots, and firing points from which they continually attack Ukrainian anti-terrorism forces.

Here are the facts from June to July, 2014, as summarized by the Institute for Religious Freedom:

On June 8, during the Trinity Sunday holiday, gunmen under the command of Russian Igor Girkin (Strelkov) kidnapped four members of the Transfiguration Evangelical Church in terrorist occupied Sloviansk, Donetsk Oblast. Among them were deacons Volodymyr Velychko and Viktor Bradarskyi and Ruvym and Albert Pavenko, two adult sons of the church’s senior pastor. According to one of Sloviansk’s deputy prosecutors, who escaped the DNR’s captivity, the church members were tortured and shoot the next day, June 9, and some were burned in their own car to portray their deaths as the result of shelling from the Ukrainian army. “The victims’ bodies were buried by the terrorists in a mass grave at the Children’s Hospital in Sloviansk, alongside the bodies of two dozen dead terrorists,” saidAnton Herashchenko, advisor to the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) .

3 2014_08_06_killed_pastor_Sergii_SkorobagachOn June 14 in Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast, pro-Russian terrorists tragically killed Sergiy Skorobahach, pastor of the Restoration Protestant Church and chairman for the City Council of Churches. According to local residents and media sources, the pastor’s vehicle was shelled by DNR militants.

On June 15, armed militants looted the premises of the New Generation Evangelical Church in Horlivka, Donetsk Oblast. They stole computers and other equipment from the office, as well as legal documents related to the church’s charitable funds.

On June 16, armed members of the self-proclaimed DNR occupied the Word of Life Church’s building in Horlivka. “Yesterday, after the work day, there was a prayer meeting at the church. Men with guns came and demanded we open all the rooms. The kept us there for about 1.5 hours and then ordered us to leave. They told us that it would now serve as their headquarters and the building itself was nationalized,” one of parishioners said.

On June 17, militants in Donetsk seized the Evening Light Christian Rehabilitation Center. Initially terrorists captured 27 patients, then the head of the center and his assistant, all of whom were held in the basement. Fortunately, they were released the next day.

On June 19 they captured the Word of Life Evangelical Church in Torez (Donetsk Oblast), which is a member of the Protestant Church of Ukraine. “Armed people with Cossack Guard insignia stormed the church building. They ordered us to take the furniture and get out, insisting that these churches are sects and they will be destroyed. The people in the building were threatened with a firing squad if they made a fuss about the inccident,” said Donetsk pastor, Sergiy Kosiak.

On June 21, armed militants seized the Word of Life Protestant Church in Shakhtarsk, Donetsk Oblast. They also captured Pastor Nikolai Kalinichenko, who was later released, and stole his car. “The terrorists declared that, if the pastor continued to engage in religious activities, he would be shot,” a statement indicated. Later, media reported that the Word of Life Church building was used by terrorists of the DNR to hold men aged 20-40 years in order to forcefully recruit them into the militia’s ranks.

On June 26, militants broke into the building of the Evangelical Church of Winners in Druzhkivka, Donetsk Oblast, and took Pastor Pavlo Lisko and his wife to their headquarters. “Armed militants stole money, documents from the safe, and the office computer and took them along with the pastor and his wife to the militants’ headquarters, a building near the Druzhkivka City Council,” said a clergyman. The pastor and his wife were held captive in separate cells and accused of cooperating with Americans and giving assistance to people leaving Donbas. After almost a week of captivity, the church ministers were released.

On July 3, DNR terrorists in Donetsk took captive Greek Catholic priest Tykhon (Sergiy) Kulbaka. Prior to that, he repeatedly received threats, including his car being vandalized with graffiti of Nazi symbols. Finally, on July 14, the priest was released from captivity by the militants, but with compromised health.

On July 3, Patriarch Filaret (Denisenko) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) stated that in the Luhansk region “worship services are not actually being held in our temples because the separatists-terrorists prohibit it.” He also said that armed men threatened to execute UOC-KP Bishop of Luhansk and Starobelsk, Afanasiy (Yavrovskiy). Later, militants forcibly expelled the Bishop of Luhansk and also tampered with the brakes of his car, obviously hoping to cause an accident leading to his death.

On July 8, Donetsk terrorists kidnapped UOC-KP Archpriest Juriy Ivanov. “Earlier, separatists came to the priest’s home and demanded that he request an urgent visit from the Archbishop of the Kyivan Patriarchate in Donetsk, Sergiy (Gorobtsov), apparently with the intent of additional abductions,” said UOC-KP Archbishop, Yevstratiy (Zorya). On July 30, after three weeks of captivity, the priest was released and transported to a safe place.

On July 9, armed militants seized the Donetsk Christian University and read this order: due to the military situation in the city, the Donetsk Christian University will be made available to military units of the DNR, including all property, equipment, and other supplies and those who do not obey will face court-martial. This was reported by former Rector, Mykhailo Cherenkov. He added that dorm residents and the University’s employees were kicked out, but on the next day they were allowed to take computers, documents, and personal belongings. “At this moment, armed militants are living in the dorms of the Donetsk Christian University. The gates are blocked, there are checkpoints, people are being held prisoner on the property, and much of the militants’ weapons and equipment is being kept there,” said Oleg Shtein, University Vice-Rector of Administration, in comments to the IRF.

On July 15, Catholic priest Victor Vonsovych, of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ Parish in Horlivka and Donetsk Dean of the Roman Catholic Church, was arrested. He was held in the occupied SBU (Ukrainian Secret Service) building and was released from captivity on July 25. Militants warned the priest that he would be shot if he returned to Horlivka. “Now they prey on Catholic priests,” said Bishop Stanislav Shyrokoradiuk from the Ordinary Kharkiv-Zaporizhzhia Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. According to him, there are many provocations against peaceful civilians and the clergy are doing everything possible to rescue people.

On July 27, the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Debaltseve, Donetsk Oblast, was destroyed by artillery fire. The Church website said: “Directly opposite the church building was a deployment of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic’s militia. They hid in the bushes with weapons, alongside aGrad, and began firing mortars. Gunmen used volley tactics, firing from one location and then quickly moving to another part of the city to continue firing.”

On July 27, near Ilovaisk, Pastor Oleksandr Kobzev of Christ Church was kidnapped. This was reported by Donetsk Mufti Said Ismagilov. The pastor’s location remains unknown.

These facts indicate that pro-Russian terrorists are deliberately attacking the religious communities they object to areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts under their control.

It should be recalled that in May 2014, the self-proclaimed “People’s Republic of Donetsk” declared in its “constitution” that, in their captured territories, “the original and dominant faith is Orthodox faith… adhering to the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate).”

As reported by the IRF,the Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches of Ukraine called on the international community, including the monitoring missions of the UN, OSCE, Council of Europe and the EU, “to make an effort to prevent the continuation and escalation of religious intolerance in the areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by armed separatists.”

Translated by Julia Vityuk, edited by Elizabeth Martin



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