News from Europe

Russia closes churches in occupied regions of Ukraine

Since pro-Russian militants took hold of areas of Eastern Ukraine in 2014 several churches have been closed down, with the exception of the Russian Orthodox Church. One of the last closed down churches was the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in Basan. Before that, a Baptist Church in the Zaporizhzia Region and a Catholic Church in Skadovsk in the Kherson region had been forcibly shut down.

The Russian forces disturbed several religious meetings, claiming that these gatherings happened without the approval of the authorities. 

Father Serhi Moskovets, the priest for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, has been forced to admit on camera that religious gatherings had been held in the church building without any permission from the Russian occupiers. They also pressured him to say that he possessed literature with anti-Russian content. According to Artyom Sharlay, the head of the Russian Religious Organisations Department in Zaporizhzhia, it is not certain whether the church will be allowed to open again: “The Orthodox Church of Ukraine is pro-Western, and that is bad. Only law-abiding religious communities would be allowed to hold services in the regions occupied by the Russian authorities. They face no restrictions, but those that break the law are banned”.

Russian militants invaded the Baptist Union church in September 2023. They allowed the congregation to salvage their communion supplies, before taking over the building. Members of the church were praying for the invaders. 

Russian forces conducted a search in the Roman Catholic Church of St. Therese of the Child Jesus on the 22nd of August. They broke the windows and door of the church building, claiming to be looking for explosives and drugs. They accused the previous parish priest, Father Dominik Fiszer, to be a drug lord. The church building is now sealed and Father Fiszer has since returned to Poland, his native country.

Russia is running a propaganda campaign, part of which is the broadcast of a Russian-controlled program about the “odious sects” of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Region. The report, which aired on the 1st of October, attacked members of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, as well as Protestants, Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses. These false accusations rationalize Russian occupation and enforce further restrictions. The Russians not only close churches but also press criminal charges against religious leaders. There are reports of tortured detainees, whilst others are kept in detention for days, weeks or even months.


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