Russian Authorities Use “Soviet Approach”, Destroy Moscow Church Overnight

RUSSIA: Shock at Moscow church demolition

ICC Note:

Russian authorities rapidly demolished a three story Pentecostal church in Moscow yesterday after showing up with bulldozers in the middle of the night. The pastor, Vasili Romanyuk, was awakened in the early hours of the morning but arrived at the site too late to stop the destruction of his church. The church has a long history of being persecuted; the churches founder spent 18 years in a Soviet labor camp for his faith and the congregation was forced out of its previous building in 1995.

By Felix Corley

09/06/2012 Russia (Fourm 18)- Human rights defenders and church members have expressed shock and outrage at the sudden destruction of a Pentecostal Church in Moscow’s eastern suburbs, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Workers who did not identify themselves, accompanied by police and druzhinniki (civil volunteers), moved in soon after midnight today (6 September) and forcibly demolished most of the three-storey building. “In human terms, this is barbarism,” Mikhail Odintsov, an aide to Russia’s Ombudsperson for Human Rights, told Forum 18 from Moscow on 6 September. “This is the Soviet approach – to come in the middle of the night with mechanical diggers. This is unacceptable.”

Odintsov added that members of Holy Trinity Church in Kosino-Ukhtomsky District in Moscow’s Eastern Administrative District (Okrug) had already spoken to the Ombudsperson’s Office by telephone earlier in the day and are expected to lodge a written appeal to Ombudsperson Vladimir Lukin about the church destruction.

Holy Trinity Church was established in 1979 by Serafim Marin, a Pentecostal who had spent 18 years in Soviet labour camps for his faith. It gained registration with the Soviet authorities as an autonomous Pentecostal community in the late 1970s. However, the city authorities forced it out of its first building in 1995. The replacement “temporary” church – bulldozed today – was built on the current site in 1995-6.

Officials consistently refused to legalise the building and prevented it from being linked to the water and electricity supply and sewerage. Holy Trinity’s Pastor, Vasili Romanyuk, and the congregation have long battled to save their church from confiscation and destruction. “We put a lot of our resources into this building,” he told Forum 18.

Night-time destruction

Workers accompanied by the police arrived at the church building soon after midnight on 6 September, Pastor Romanyuk told Forum 18 and church members reported on church-related websites. They broke into the building, cut all the telephone lines and seized the mobile phone of the female caretaker. She was taken off to the police station, where she was held for the next three hours while the destruction began. She was not allowed to contact other church members while she was held.

While the caretaker was at the police, all the church’s valuables were removed, including service books and chalices for the eucharist. Two mechanical diggers then began demolishing the building.

Church members say that while the destruction was underway, men in plain clothes, who called themselves druzhinniki (civil volunteers), circled the site. As church members began to arrive to try to salvage what they could from the wreckage of the building, the men in plain clothes refused to allow them access, and behaved “highly aggressively”, church members complained.

“A car was destroyed, while a generator, the mixing desk with microphones, musical instruments and other valuable items were taken away,” church members complained in a web post. A safe had also been broken open. “Eyewitnesses report that violence occurred too. A hail of stones rained down on church members trying to take photographs. Mechanical diggers destroyed most of the building.”

Aleksandr Rodionov, who arrived at the site of the ruined church at 5 am, noted that the church’s main sanctuary, the pastor’s office and the room for the church’s youth club and had already been destroyed completely. “Only part of the roof and a room at the top remained undamaged,” he reported.

Once the workers had gone, church members spent several hours digging in the ruins to save what they could, including church books and items of furniture which were still usable.

Church members have posted testimony, photographs and videos on church-related websites, including on the site http://www.word4you.ru/news/16700/.

Although church members had long struggled to retain the church building, Pastor Romanyuk said that they had no official warning of the destruction. “In late August a district official told us verbally and unofficially that they would go ahead with the destruction by 15 September,” he told Forum 18. “We didn’t believe they would just do this.” (END)

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