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Church authorities fear two kidnapped priests could be facing torture

by Alex Collett
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A call has been made by church authorities to release two priests who they fear are being tortured by Russian operatives.

Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) have recieved a copy of a statement from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Exarchate of Donetsk expressing concerns that Fathers Ivan Levitsky and Bohdan Geleta are being tortured, to obtain a false confession, after being charged with terrorist offences.

John Newton, from Aid to the Church in Need, said it is not the first time religious leaders have been taken by Russian operatives:"This is certainly not the first time that Christian ministers have been held by the Russian forces. It's one of the few accounts that we've heard of Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests however.

"So it's unusual, as much as these, are members of one of the largest churches in the country and also a church, which is very close to the Russian Orthodox Church.

"This is the first time that certainly we've heard of the Russian forces targeting members of a church which are so close to them in terms of outlook."

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, released a statement saying the priests had been framed and is also calling for their release.

In the statement he posted on the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church's official website and wrote: "They were arrested, then some military items were planted in the church and the authorities accused these Fathers of illegally possessing weapons."

Mr Newton stresses there are two things that can be done to help the priests with their release: "There are two things we can do, the first thing is we can write to our local MP, write to our local parliamentary representative and flag up the case of these two priests, because this is absolutely unprecedented. 

"The idea that priests may be being tortured while in Russian captivity. 

"The second thing we can do is pray for them. 

"We can pray that they will be kept free from torture while they are in captivity, we can pray that they are speedily released, that God will touch the hearts and minds of those whose hands they're in. 

"Let's not forget that many of the Russians who are in Ukraine, they are themselves Christians, maybe they were Russian Orthodox. They are believers. Let's pray that God touches their hearts and they realise that what they're doing to these fellow believers in our Lord isn't right, and that they will release them."

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