500 churches and religious sites have been destroyed in Ukraine during the war

At least 494 religious buildings in Ukraine have been destroyed, damaged, or looted as a result of the Russian invasion – and the seizure of religious buildings for use as Russian military bases increases the scale of destruction of religious sites in Ukraine, reports the Institute for Religious Freedom.

The Institute for Religious Freedom (IRF Ukraine), a non-governmental human rights organisation founded in 2001 in Kyiv, Ukraine, has recently presented data on the impact of the war on Ukrainian religious communities.

Most churches, mosques, and synagogues have been destroyed in the occupied Donetsk (at least 120) and Luhansk (more than 70) regions of Ukraine. The scale of destruction is also high in the Kyiv region (70), where desperate battles were fought in defence of the capital, and in both the Kherson and Kharkiv regions, with more than 50 destroyed religious buildings in each.

Even if the most affected are the eastern regions of the country, damaged religious sites are spread across all of Ukraine, from Kherson in the south to Chernihiv in the north. Russian air strikes on civilian targets, including drone attacks, have affected almost all regions of Ukraine and continue to this day.

The Institute for Religious Freedom also documented many cases of seizure of religious buildings in Ukraine for use as Russian military bases or to conceal the firing positions of Russian troops. “This tactic of the Russian military provokes an increase in the scale of destruction of religious sites in Ukraine,” reports IRF Ukraine.

Targeted attacks on religious figures and believers by the Russian military and intelligence services, primarily in the occupied territories of Ukraine, are also documented by IRF Ukraine. Believers and clergy often became targets for Russian occupation authorities because of the Ukrainian language, belonging to a different denomination, or any other manifestation of Ukrainian identity.

According to the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnic Affairs and Freedom of Conscience, at least 307 religious sites in Ukraine were ruined during the 11 months of Russia’s attacks, including churches, mosques, synagogues, educational, and administrative buildings of Ukraine’s religious communities.

The majority of the religious sites damaged during the Russian invasion are Christian (297), five of them are Muslim, and five Jewish.

Thirty of the sites affected belong to various Protestant communities, 21 to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, five to the Roman Catholic Church, four to the Greek Catholic Church, and 95 to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Forty-eight per cent of all Christian religious sites that were fully or partially ruined during the Russian attacks – 142 sites – belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which declared its independence from the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church after its council meeting on 27 May 2022.

Meanwhile, UNESCO has verified damage to 238 cultural sites in Ukraine since 24 February 2022, which include religious buildings, museums, historical and cultural buildings, monuments, and libraries.

(Mother of God Joy of All Who Sorrow Orthodox Church in the village Bohorodychne, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Photo: Volodymyr Kutsenko)

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