Ukrainian Orthodox Church officials believe Russia is targeting houses of worship in its invasion as retribution for a May 27 declaration that essentially declared the church's split from its Russian counterpart.
In the Dontesk region alone, Russian shelling, missiles and airstrikes have destroyed 43 houses, churches and religious buildings, Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
The most recent attack targeted the Vsykhsvyatsky monastery in Donetsk. An artillery barrage set the wooden structure afire, which burned for days. The monastery was also acting as a shelter for 300 civilians, 60 of whom were children, hiding from Russian shelling.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said four people died and four others were seriously injured.
The monastery is an ancient building protected by UNESCO. The earliest mention of the monastery dates back to 1526.
''We expect justice from the UN and UNESCO. It's an organization for the unity of nations, not unity with terrorists,'' Zelenskyy said.
Andriy Pinchuk, a Ukrainian Orthodox bishop and activist who for years has advocated religious independence from Russia, predicted that Russia will use it FSB security service to absorb more churches in occupied territories by pressuring local bishops to sign all the necessary documents.
''As for next steps, we can't really predict what he'll do exactly,'' Pinchuk declared, referring to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kyryl, the head of the Russian church. ''He's a non-believer, cynic and anti-Christ. He's turning people away from Christ.''
The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest, independent autocephaly of the Eastern Orthodox religion. Autocephaly is a status of a church whose head bishop does not answer to any other bishop. The Russian Patriarch is considered the ''first among equals.''
But after months of disappointing, pro-Russia statements from Kyryl, accusations of Russian sympathies in Ukraine's Church and, at times, incidents of collaboration with Russia, the heads of the Ukrainian Church declared on May 27 a separation from the Russian branch and its own autocephaly. The head bishops also officially condemned the war and Kyryl's statements regarding it, and asked Ukraine and Russia to continue peace talks.
Shortly after the announcement, the Russian Church issued a counter-statement condemning the Ukrainian Church. More importantly, it asserted that churches that belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Crimea have requested that Russia seize their property. The statement also expressed support for all the priests of the Ukrainian Church who disagreed with the declaration of independence.
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