by Oleksander Kostiuk, PhD of Philosophical Sciences, Associate Prof., Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine
Russians destroy Orthodox churches and mark their equipment with a pentagram, while Ukrainians mark themselves and their weapons with the sign of the cross. What is the reason?
According to the Ukrainian project “Religion on Fire”, which registers Russian military crimes in the religious sphere, from February 24, 2022 to August 24, 2022 the destruction of 251 religious facilities was documented, of which 177 were Orthodox churches. According to the Institute for Religious Freedom, as of January 2023, 494 religious buildings, religious educational institutions, and shrines were destroyed or damaged. In particular, in Donetsk region – 120, Luhansk region – 71, Kyiv region – 70, Kharkiv region – 51, Chernihiv region – 18, Sumy region – 14.
The destruction of cathedrals and churches is becoming widespread. The Russians might think that there could be stockpiles of weaponry and ammunition there, actually considering the church as a part of the state. This is a common position for Russia, because their priests mostly have military ranks and serve the Russian government instead of God and flock. Even Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church is part of the Russian state apparatus, belonging to FSB. In particular, the archives of the Swiss police show that Vladimir Gundyaev (Patriarch Kirill), when he lived in Switzerland in the 1970s, was an officer of the KGB of the USSR. There is a detailed investigation by Tagesanzeiger, Le Matin Dimanche and DW. His actions supporting and encouraging Russia’s war against Ukraine in the 21st century only confirm this position.
At the same time, Russian troops are destroying many local churches, which are not built in Ukraine for budget money as in Russia. Ukrainian Orthodox churches are built at the expense of the money allocated by the municipalities, ordinary people who want to pray and be close to God. In other words, in Ukraine, these churches are the epicenter of the active religious life of the communities.
Organizations that collect information and evidence of the crimes of the Russian military cannot give an unambiguous answer to the question: why do Russians destroy religious sites or turn them into weaponry stockpiles, barracks, hospitals, and command posts? Either they see huge warehouses there, or they think that there are really personnel there, or it is simply hatred of everything Christian Orthodox or everything they consider not theirs. Thus, it seems like they do not consider Orthodoxy to be theirs, because when they see a Christian church, they immediately strike it with artillery, tanks, or blow it up, and these sites are not necessarily on the front line, they can be in the relatively far, several kilometers from the front line.
In particular, the following churches were completely destroyed: St. George’s Church (1873), Zavorichi village (Kyiv region).
Perhaps this is due to the fact that in the understanding of Russians, Orthodox churches are buildings where no holy sacraments are performed, people do not go there. In Russia, Orthodox churches are built by the state for budgetary funds. Their (Russian) churches exist for show, there is a huge number of them, but it may turn out that the number of churches is greater than the number of parishioners.
Contrary to Ukraine where each church is a center of social and spiritual life. That is why, in the understanding of the Russian military, Orthodox churches are basically not related to people – they are just some empty buildings they come across and they just shoot, just as they do with people’s homes and even pets. Only for fun or because they can.
Eventually it doesn’t matter what the reason is for committing this acts. The only important thing is that this is done by a society that practice hypocrisy, pretends to be Orthodox Christians, but inside does not follow any values, any feelings and personal involvement with the Christian God and, in principle, humanism.
On the other hand, Ukrainians have a real, not just statistical, religious life. Even the Ukrainian army has the sign of the cross on its weapons and equipment, which symbolizes the struggle for Christian civilization. Ukrainians are fighting not only for survival, but also against people who have declared Christianity as their banner, but in reality have the devil in their hearts.
But how can we expect anything else from a society that still honors the Soviet pentagram (red star) as the main sign of the Russian army. This is a sign that symbolizes not only totalitarianism and concentration camps, but also the most radical form of atheism that was inherent in the USSR.
For the entire 70 years of its existence, the Soviet government was engaged in the destruction of churches and atheistic propaganda, and modern Russia has become the heir to this cause, only now their atheism is called Orthodoxy.
However, in essence, it has nothing to do with Christianity. It is enough to look at the icons of Putin and Shoigu to understand that Russian Orthodoxy is not Christianity, but a so-called civil religion that primarily aims to honor authoritarian power and the state.
In contrast, Ukrainians are actually marching to defend orthodox values, just remember that Ukrainians go into battle with the sign of the cross on their weapons, while Russians go into battle with the red pentagram.
The people of Ukraine have seen the true face of Russians and have the opportunity to tell other nations who might still be under the illusions about Russian spiritual culture. The sense of culture ultimately comes down to the actions in the everyday lives of people. Meanwhile these Russian people set up torture chambers in Orthodox churches, where they interrogate and kill civilians and organize weapons depots and barracks.
The use of the Church of the Ascension in the village of Lukashivka, Chernihiv region, as a headquarters, weapons depot, and place of torture and murder of local residents is documented. This was reported by the commander of the “North” command, Major General Viktor Nikoluk, who was in charge of the defense of Chernihiv. Later, during the demining of the area, the information about the executed residents was confirmed by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.
Photos credit: culturecrimes.mkip.gov.ua, mkip.gov.ua, Facebook account of National Police of Ukraine, dess.gov.ua, twitter accounts @ArkChaplygin, @den_kazansky