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Russia destroying churches, persecuting clergy in occupied Ukraine, church leader warns

Russia’s full-scale Ukraine invasion extinguishing religious freedom through church destruction, clergy arrests/killings, prompting church leader’s appeal for unblocked US aid.
Sviatoslav Shevchuk, leader of the Ukrainian second-largest Greek-Catholic Church. Source: Suspilne
Russia destroying churches, persecuting clergy in occupied Ukraine, church leader warns

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is exterminating religious freedom in a return to Soviet-era levels of persecution, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church warned, calling for unblocking the US aid for Ukraine.

During a visit to Washington DC this week, Sviatoslav Shevchuk led a delegation expressing gratitude for US assistance so far in Ukraine’s “David versus Goliath” battle against Russian aggression over the past two years of war, according to Newsweek. He called for further American support for Ukraine as an aid package has been stalled for months by US Congress Republicans. He expressed alarm at the destruction of religious buildings and the arrests and killings of faith leaders in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.

“Today, in the occupied territory, there is not one Catholic priest. All my priests, even the Roman Catholic priests, were all expelled or imprisoned,” Shevchuk told Newsweek, adding that around 50 religious ministers of various faiths have been imprisoned or killed so far.

The church he heads has full communion with the Vatican and is the second largest particular church in the Catholic faith after the Latin Church.

“Russia is returning to the time of the Soviet Union where all of those religions were prohibited or overcontrolled, or simply destroyed,” Shevchuk said, recalling how Stalin’s regime completely destroyed his church by imprisoning all bishops and priests who refused to convert to Russian Orthodoxy.

Russia destroyed over 800 Ukrainian cultural heritage sites

Even outside occupied zones, nearly 600 churches, places of worship, synagogues, and sacred sites have been damaged or destroyed by Russian strikes, according to Shevchuk.

“For Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Ukraine means freedom of religion,” Shevchuk stated, “where Russia has arrived, they exterminate all other religions besides the well-controlled and weaponized Russian Orthodox Church.”

Russian Orthodox Church’s leader Patriarch Kirill has backed Putin’s invasion despite international condemnation.

Russian Army destroys church in Kherson Oblast 

Despite the Russian assault on faiths, Shevchuk said cooperation between religions has fostered “a new style of ecumenical movement” in Ukraine during the war. Conveying resilience, he declared,

“Nobody in Ukraine would ever say, ‘Let’s stop our fight. Let’s give up.'” Shevchuk appealed for continued US aid, saying “Ukrainian people are wounded but unbroken…we are tired but resilient.”

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