The situation of UOC during the war

UOC believers are suffering all over Ukraine. Photo: UOJ

The UOC is the only Ukrainian denomination that is suffering both from the war in the east and from the hatred of "patriots" in the west.

War is raging in Ukraine. People are dying, houses are being destroyed and families are being torn apart. Now it is difficult to find a person who is not affected by these events. The Church is no exception. In the east of the country, UOC churches and believers are suffering from the war, while in the west, paradoxically, they are being attacked by "patriots".

The UOC in the east and centre of the country

The main hostilities are now unfolding in southeastern Ukraine and around Kiev.

A war map as of 11 March 2022. Source: Institute for the Study of War

These are regions dominated by UOC religious communities. The Uniates and the OCU are poorly represented there. Therefore, the UOC bears the brunt of the war more than anyone else, its believers fight within the AFU and the territorial defense units, and its churches are destroyed by shelling.

As of 14 March, the following temples were damaged or destroyed: the Church of St. Joseph of Belgorod in Kyiv. St. Mitrofan’s Church in Lysychansk, St. Alexander Nevsky Church in Oleksandrivka, St. Catherine’s Church in Shchastye, St. George’s Church in Nizhyn, the Dormition Cathedral, St. Anthony’s Church and the Church of the Holy Myrrhbearers in Kharkiv, the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin in Talakivka near Mariupol, the Ascension Church in the village of Bobrik, St. Nicholas’s Church in Novoignatyevka, the Church the Most Holy Theotokos in the village of Viazovka, Zhytomyr region, St. George’s Church in the village of Zavorichi, Kyiv region, St. George’s Church in the village of Romanivka near Irpin, the building of a theological seminary in Sumy, St. Tikhon’s Church in the village of Guliaypole, Zaporizhzhiz region, the Nativity Cathedral in Lysychansk, the Intercession Church in Malyn, the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin in Yasnohorodka, the Intercession Church in the village of Byshiv, St. Ilya’s Church in the village of Mostyshche, St. Theodosius’s Church in Chernihiv, Peter and Paul’s Church in Bucha, the Nativity Cathedral in Severodonetsk, Queen Tamara’s Church in Pyatykhatki near Kharkiv.

And this is probably an incomplete list, as many of the hotspots are simply unconnected at the moment.

The ruined St. Tikhon Church in Guliaypole. Photo: the Berdiansk Eparchy press service

On 12 March 2022, an unprecedented crime was committed against the UOC in general: a bomb attack was carried out on the Holy Dormition Lavra in Sviatogorsk. A bomb fell near the bridge that connects the Lavra and the city of Sviatogorsk. The main church of the monastery, the Assumption Cathedral, as well as the monastery hotel, which accommodated 520 refugees from Kharkiv and Izium, including 200 children, were hit. Metropolitan Arseniy, the Lavra's abbot, called it madness.

The rhetorical question is: Which denomination has the greatest number of believers among the fearless defenders of Kharkiv, Mariupol, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Odessa and other cities? Which denomination has the greatest number of those who suffered from the war? The answer is obvious: most of the soldiers, the thousands killed, the hundreds of thousands who lost their homes are UOC believers.

The Holy Dormition Sviatogorsk Lavra after the airstrike. Photo: t.me/s/alwian

Most of the soldiers, the thousands killed, the hundreds of thousands who lost their homes are UOC believers.

We repeat it is the UOC that suffers most from the war due to the fact that UOC communities are most numerous in the regions where active hostilities are taking place. The Primate of the UOC, the hierarchies and the clergy from the first days demanded an end to the war and urged the faithful to defend the country. The children of UOC priests also take up arms and stand shoulder to shoulder with their brothers-in-arms.

Archpriest Nikolai Ilyuk and his son, soldier Nazariy. Photo: the Volyn Eparchy press service

The merits of the UOC in helping to conduct humanitarian convoys were recognized by V. Zelensky in his address of March 12, 2022.

“This day, we sent another humanitarian cargo to Mariupol. I am grateful to every driver who is trying to realize this difficult mission, to the representatives of the Church who joined the efforts to protect the humanitarian corridor to Mariupol from shelling,” the President said. Here we are talking about the fact that the Primate of the UOC, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, personally and with the participation of other hierarchs and clergymen, helped to organize a humanitarian corridor in Mariupol. Metropolitan Luke of Zaporizhzhia and Melitopol sent more than 90 tons of food and medicine to Mariupol as part of a humanitarian caravan.

It would seem that all this should have changed the attitude towards the UOC on the part of its ill-wishers, but, unfortunately, we see the opposite.

The situation of the UOC in western Ukraine

This situation can be described in one word: lawlessness. In the Ivano-Frankivsk region alone, 7 churches have been seized over the past week.

First, in Tseniava the Unites threw out the worshippers in a bandit fashion from their Church of the Icon "Vsetsaritsa". Then the occupation of the Intercession Church in Holovy, a chapel in Shkindovsky Grun’, the Archangel Michael Monastery in Babianka, St. Nicholas’s church in Kalush, the Anna-Zachatyevsky Church (St. Anne’s Conception Church) in Verkhovyna and the Trinity Monastery on Mount Dukonia.

And the way all this is happening is shocking. During the seizure in Verkhovyna, people with machine guns dragged worshippers out of the church, lined them up and openly threatened them. The man in the balaclava shouted at the people so much that it seemed as if he was about to start shooting at them.

A particularly outrageous case occurred in the Ivano-Frankivsk region, where on March 8, 2022, unknown armed men kidnapped the abbot of the Holy Trinity Dukonsky Monastery, Archimandrite Titus (Drachuk) together with a novice Trofim who, according to local residents, were forcibly taken to Verkhovyna for questioning. What dangers do the monastery's inhabitants pose in the Carpathians?

Archimandrite Titus (Drachuk), the abbot of the UOC Dukonsky Monastery in the Carpathians. Photo: t.me/orthobuk/1227

The other churches of the eparchy are also under strong pressure and can be seized at any moment. All this is happening with the consent (and possibly under the direction) of the authorities. 

On March 7, 2022, Ruslan Martsynkiv, the mayor of Ivano-Frankivsk, on behalf of the Ivano-Frankivsk City Council, demanded that parishioners of the UOC join the OCU: "Now is the time when all faithful Christians, who until now belonged to the Moscow Patriarchate, should make their choice... Together with the head of the local OCU, Metropolitan Epifaniy of Kyiv, we urge you to take the canonical path – the path of unity with the OCU.”

And in the neighbouring Lviv region, it seems that Ukrainian laws, in particular the Constitution, where every Ukrainian is guaranteed freedom of religion, no longer apply. On March 10, 2022, the Drohobych City Council banned the activities of the UOC in the city. Explaining its decision, the City Council said it was doing so "for the purpose of consolidation of the Ukrainian people" and that the UOC's activities have "openly anti-state and anti-Ukrainian nature”.

Even earlier, on February 28, 2022, the Horodok City Council in the same Lviv region took a similar decion, accusing the UOC of anti-state and anti-Ukrainian activities, "artificial confrontation between certain groups of the Ukrainian people" and "splitting the Ukrainian society on the religious ground”. It is noteworthy that in both Horodok and Drohobych the authorities banned the UOC following an appeal by local Uniates.

With the outbreak of the war, there were also many fakes that weapons were hidden in UOC churches and monasteries. All these reports turn out to be false, which after checks was confirmed by the SBU, the National Police and other law enforcement agencies.

However, the authorities should not only refute the fakes but also protect the UOC communities from raider attacks. It can be assumed that Uniates and other ill-wishers of the UOC are closely watching how the situation with the ban on the UOC’s activities in Horodok and Drohobych of the Lviv region will develop. If the Kyiv authorities remain silent, this will be an eloquent signal for further bans on the UOC in other Galician cities. A domino effect can occur, when each seizure of a UOC church will trigger the next one. Who will get churches of the "banned UOC" in such a scenario? And isn’t the church property of the UOC rather than the concern for the security of Ukraine the goal of the Uniates?

If the Kyiv authorities remain silent, this will be an eloquent signal for further bans on the UOC in other Galician cities.

On double morality and the unity of Ukraine

It turns out that while the Ukrainian soldiers (mostly believers of the UOC) defend the country on the frontline in the East, the Uniates smash the Orthodox in the peaceful and quiet West. The "patriots" have found an "enemy" within their strength – they are fighting against women, the elderly and children in parishes of the UOC, launching a "witch hunt".

Here the question arises: does such activity help to defend Ukraine or, on the contrary, do harm, sowing enmity where there should be none? We think the answer is obvious.

In addition, the bans on UOC activities have nothing to do with Ukrainian law, not only in peacetime but also in wartime. It seems that in some western regions the laws of the country are no longer in force.

The UGCC: back to the USSR?

Today many Uniates are demanding a ban on the UOC’s activities and seizing its churches like bandits. At the same time, the UGCC very loudly resents the prohibition of the UGCC itself, which was adopted by the Soviet government in 1946. At that time a plan was developed "for the separation of the parishes of the Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church in the USSR from the Vatican and their subsequent annexation to the Russian Orthodox Church”. The central point of that plan was the Lviv Council in 1946, at which over two hundred Uniate priests took the decision to reunite with the Russian Orthodox Church. One can take different views of that council. The question of the reunification of the Uniates with Orthodoxy is quite complicated and multifaceted. But the position of the Uniates themselves is understandable, they consider the Lviv Council to be a pseudo-council and the liquidation of the UGCC to be a lawless act.

But the same thing they are doing now in relation to the UOC. It turns out, as in the well-known story, when a Christian missionary asked the savages what is good and evil. The savages told him that evil is when a neighbouring tribe attacks ours, destroys our huts, rapes our women and enslaves our men. Good is when we do the same to our neighbouring tribe.

***

And a few words on unity. President V. Zelensky stated in his video address on 12 March 2022: "We must be focused. It is necessary for all of us, all Ukrainians to continue working single-mindedly for the defence of our state. We must work together. Without internal divisions, supporting each other, all over Ukraine, from Uzhhorod to Melitopol, from Chernihiv to Mariupol, from Lviv to Kharkiv." For its part, the UOC is doing everything to protect Ukraine, to help people, to bring the long-awaited peace closer.

The war will end sooner or later. It is very possible that in this war the real and true Ukraine will be born, as we all want to see it: with its real, not declared unity, its national idea and its values. A country where religious confessions will not be divided into "patriotic" and "non-patriotic", where people will not seize other people's churches and expel priests' families from their homes simply because they serve in the "wrong" church. Where people will not be divided on the language, ethnic or other grounds. Where everyone will respect each other's rights and where the freedom to practice one's faith without fear of reprisal will be realised.

No matter how we build this country, its foundation should be the Orthodox faith with the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

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Poll

How has your life changed since the outbreak of war?
It hasn't changed in any way
68%
My church has been seized by OCU members
5%
My church has been damaged/destroyed by shelling
11%
I'm going to another church because of displacement
16%
Total votes: 19

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