UKRAINE — A new report from the Institute for the Study of War claims Russia is ‘weaponizing religion’ in its conflict with Ukraine. It says Russia is persecuting churches in the occupied areas.
Here’s Andrew Boyd from Release International.
The report says Russian forces have closed or taken over 76 places of worship, looted or destroyed 13, and have killed or seized 29 religious leaders in occupied Ukraine. Russia, it says, continues to weaponize religion.
According to the report, Russian soldiers are harassing Baptists, calling them American spies and enemies of the Russian Orthodox people. It’s alleged one Russian officer told Christians in Ukraine, Evangelical believers like you should be completely destroyed. You need to be buried alive. The new report confirms what Release International is hearing from its partners in Ukraine. The pastors are being targeted and churches closed in areas under Russian occupation.
In 2016, President Putin required all religious organizations and churches in Russia to register with the government. It effectively outlawed foreign missionary work and has led to the persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the occupied territories, along with Baptists and other Protestant denominations. This counter-terrorism measure has been used to prosecute American Baptists and Pentecostal missionaries and to burn Bibles. In Russia itself, there are signs that the state is clamping down on religious protests against the war.
On March 30, a Moscow court jailed a 63-year-old Orthodox Christian for seven years for condemning Russia’s war on social media. Mikhail Simonov posted, “We Russia have become godless. Forgive us, Lord.” Human Rights Organization Forum 18 says Simonov is the first person to be jailed for expressing his religious opposition to the war.Others are also now standing trial.
Musician Anna Chagina was arrested for displaying the Bible verse “Blessed are the peacemakers” during an anti-war protest in March 2022.
About Release International
Release International is a Christian ministry working through local church partners in around 30 countries across the world, helping persecuted Christians prayerfully, pastorally and practically. The ministry was founded in 1968, inspired by the testimony and ministry of Pastor Richard Wurmbrand. Following the demise of Communism in Eastern Europe and the increase in the persecution of Christians elsewhere in the world, the Ministry broadened its activities and changed its name to Release International.