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World News

Ukrainian Catholic churches under threat as forced closures by Russian forces continue

by Lydia Davies

Russian forces have intensified their clampdown on Catholic congregations in Russian-held regions of Ukraine, resulting in the closure of several Ukrainian Greek Catholic Churches in the Donetsk region.

The Institute for Religious Freedom, based in Kyiv, reported that Russian militants calling themselves "Cossacks" have seized church properties while barring "believers of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to enter the churches and the territory for prayers and worship".

The officials of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic have yet to respond to appeals for reopening these churches.

Consequently, Greek Catholics are "deprived of the opportunity to visit their churches and perform divine services," according to the Institute for Religious Freedom.

Priests who served these congregations have been "expelled from the occupied territories".

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church now faces a complete absence of clergy in Russian-held regions including Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia, as Felix Corley from Forum 18 highlighted.

In Berdyansk, two priests were detained in November 2022; Redemptorist Father Ivan Levitsky is likely being held in Russia's Rostov region. His colleague, Father Bohdan Geleta, suffers from acute diabetes and is reportedly detained in Crimea. Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk revealed that the priests are being "tortured without mercy".

Despite Russia's aggression towards Ukraine escalating since February 2022, many priests chose to stay with their parishioners.

Human rights reports describe Russia's actions as genocidal, with over 128,551 war crimes documented by Ukraine since February 2022.

Russian operations have resulted in "at least 660 churches and other religious structures" being damaged or destroyed.

During a panel discussion hosted by the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Metropolitan Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak pointed out that "the lack of religious freedom in Russia is now being spread to Ukraine." He further stated that "in Russia, religious institutions are able to function if they support Putin and the government... In the occupied territories those that don't support actively the occupying regime are destined for annihilation."

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