While Russia has been bombarding Ukrainian civilians and seeking to subjugate a country of forty million people, Putin has also been lying to the world about who Ukrainians really are.
Putin has pushed lies that Ukraine is an authoritarian state that has persecuted its religious communities, especially Christians. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We are a fifteen-person delegation from the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, the organization representing the leadership of every major religious group in Ukraine. We’re visiting the United States to make it clear that religious life is flourishing in Ukraine, and that Russia is the real persecutor—killing Christians, Muslims, and Jews alike.
Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion last year, Russian forces have deliberately bombed over 500 places of worship. They killed more than twenty religious leaders. Before invading in 2022, Russia assembled lists of Ukrainians, including religious leaders, who would be rounded up and either executed or detained in camps to keep the Ukrainian people disorganized and unable to resist Russian forces.
In August 2023, Russia bombed and destroyed the beloved Orthodox Christian cathedral in Odesa, killing one person and injuring twenty-two others, including four children, in the process.
In 2014 when Russian soldiers captured Crimea, they began a large-scale persecution of Crimean Tatars, accusing them of religious extremism. They’ve even tortured those in captivity.
During the Battle of Kyiv, Russian forces bombed Babyn Yar, the site of one of the worst Nazi massacres of the Holocaust, where more than 33,000 Jews were executed. Russia also uses pervasive antisemitism in its attempts to delegitimize the Ukrainian nation and its leader, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish.
There is no religious group safe from Russia’s persecution.
Ukraine is under attack in part because it chose to take a different path than Russia. Ukraine is a democracy with a civic national identity, like the United States. Anyone can be Ukrainian, no matter the circumstances of their birth or their faith.
We are a nation with a Jewish president, a Muslim defense minister, and a Christian foreign minister. Like America, Ukraine is a pluralistic nation where we are all stronger when our communities come together in service of our national community.
The American people have been a stalwart ally of Ukrainians, supporting us and sharing with us the tools we need to survive and to care for those who have suffered from the unjust invasion. Above all, we want to say thank you for your support.
The Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (UCCRO) represents fifteen churches and religious organizations, and is independent of Ukrainian government, political parties, and other non-governmental organizations.
Image: Members of UCCRO. (UCCRO)
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