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07/20/2023 Russia (International Christian Concern) – The outspoken religious freedoms advocate and head of Global Christian Relief, David Curry, has warned that Russia is conducting a religious persecution campaign in Ukraine backed by the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church.  

Many leaders within the Russian Orthodox Church feel that Russia’s ongoing “special military operation,” which began in February 2022, is “divinely inspired,” a belief that they allegedly used to justify the persecution of pastors and churches in Ukraine, according to the previous head of Open Doors.  

A report published by Global Christian Relief in June detailed the publicized occupation by Russian forces of the Ukrainian Christian Evangelical Church of the Holy Trinity in Mariupol in May, where the clergy were ousted by thirty troops. Around 500 religious buildings, theological institutions, and sacred sites were either completely destroyed, damaged, or looted by Russian operatives since the invasion began, according to data shared at the Summit on International Religious Freedom in January by the Ukrainian Institute for Religious Freedom.  

Curry has called on U.S. government officials, including the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain, and Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, on the state of the ongoing persecution. The last time Curry spoke with Blinken was in October when he called for the international court system to deem these acts as crimes of religious persecution.  

In November 2022, the Department of State listed Russia as a “Country of Particular Concern,” although ostensibly to no sanctions specific to this. However, increasing religious persecution by the Russian government did cause the Department of State in February 2021 to release a statement urging Russia to lift the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses and to respect the right to the free exercise of religion. Other religious groups within Russia have spoken out against this persecution, notably Russia’s “Old Believers,” an Orthodox Christian group that separated from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1666 and suffered persecution under both the Czarist and Bolshevik regimes. 

Criticism of the Russian state has been further complicated by renewed demands on Saturday by Russia, demanding the release of a senior Orthodox cleric detained (pre-trial) in Kyiv “on suspicion of inflaming religious hatred and justifying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Reuters reported. The spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, demanded under “its [Ukraine’s] international legal obligations, the immediate release of Metropolitan Pavlo, who is suffering serious illness,” linking the case to Ukraine’s decision to evict Orthodox monks from a renowned monastery in Kyiv.  

Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, on Saturday, appealed to Pope Francis and the head of the United Nations, among others, to show support for an elderly cleric – under house arrest since April. To the World Council of Churches in May this year, the Russian Patriarch claimed that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is ‘currently subject to very strong repression and restrictions in its activities. 

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