Nearly 500 churches, religious sites destroyed during year-long Ukraine war

A sign reading “World, help us” is hung near St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery in Kyiv. Photo/LWF/Albin Hillert

As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at least 494 religious buildings, theological institutions, and sacred places have been wholly destroyed, damaged, or looted by the Russian military, according to the Ukrainian Institute for Religious Freedom

The institute presented updated data on the impact of the war on Ukrainian religious communities during a summit on international religious freedom held in Washington, D.C. Jan. 31-Feb. 1. The one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion was Feb. 24, 2023.

According to the IRF Ukraine, since the presentation at last year’s IRF Summit, in July 2022, the number of religious infrastructure facilities in Ukraine affected by Russian aggression has more than doubled.

Most churches, mosques, and synagogues were destroyed in Donetsk region (at least 120) and Luhansk region (more than 70). The scale of destruction is also enormous in Kyiv region (70), where desperate battles were fought in defense of the capital, and in Kharkiv region – more than 50 destroyed religious buildings. Russian air raids, including those using Iranian drones, have affected almost all regions of Ukraine and continue to this day, according to the institute.

The Institute for Religious Freedom also documented many cases of seizure of religious buildings in Ukraine and their further 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.

At least 143 churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate) have been destroyed. The scale of destruction of evangelical church prayer houses is immense – at least 170 in total, of which most affected were Evangelical Christian churches – 75, Evangelical Baptist Christian prayer houses – 49, and Seventh-day Adventist churches – 24, the institute reported.

The updated IRF data now contains information on the destruction of the Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses – a total of 94 religious buildings, of which seven were utterly destroyed, 17 were severely damaged, and 70 were insignificantly damaged. 

The Institute for Religious Freedom also documented targeted attacks on religious figures and believers by the Russian military and intelligence services, primarily in the occupied territories of Ukraine.

IRF executive director Maksym Vasin said at the summit that believers and clergy often became targets for the Russian occupation authorities because of the Ukrainian language, belonging to a different denomination than the orthodoxy of the Moscow Patriarchate, or for any other manifestation of Ukrainian identity.

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