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Russia bans religious freedom in Ukraine


WORLD Radio - Russia bans religious freedom in Ukraine

In occupied territories, only the Russian Orthodox Church is allowed, all others are oppressed

A Russian Orthodox Church priest conducts a service for Russian servicemen in Ukraine, Jan. 7. Associated Press/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: Russia and religion.

It was two years ago this Saturday that Russia invaded Ukraine.

For the people of Ukraine, the cost of the war is in human lives and material, but there’s also the spiritual cost. Russia has destroyed hundreds of religious buildings, including nearly 200 Ukrainian Orthodox churches. That’s according to last year’s report from Mission Eurasia, the church mobilization group.

What is the role of Christian churches in this war?

Joining us now to talk about it is Sergey Rakhuba. He’s originally from Ukraine and is the President of Mission Eurasia.

Sergey, it’s good to have you back on the program.

SERGEY RAKHUBA: It's a pleasure to be on your show, guys, you know, so thank you.

REICHARD: First, let’s get some background. Russia’s official religion is Russian Orthodoxy, part of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Russia claims to be reuniting Ukraine with its religious roots. What is Ukraine’s relationship with the Orthodox church?

RAKHUBA: You know, there is actually two Orthodox churches, two branches: Orthodox Church of Ukraine that broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church when the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukraine wanted to be independent. And they wanted to have independent church and be a part of the Orthodox family community in the world. They wanted to report to Constantinople, where the main offices and where the universal Patriarch, Bartholomew, is. So Russia, of course, did not want to accept it. So they believe that the Ukrainian Church of Moscow Patriarchate, that's the only right entity for Ukraine. When they invaded and took over all those eastern Ukrainian regions, of course, they bring their ideology - ideology of the Russian world if you've heard this definition. So that's where they only recognize a Russian Orthodox Christianity. So other Orthodox Churches of Ukraine, Catholics, Protestants, evangelicals, any kind of faith except Muslims, by the way that they play games with, you know, so they are trying to oppress.

REICHARD: Tell us about religious liberty in Ukraine prior to Russia’s invasion.

RAKHUBA: I can tell you, you know, so being Ukrainian, and work in Ukraine, I lived in Russia for many years, you know, but also monitoring the issues of religious freedom in the countries of the former Soviet Union thoroughly, I can tell you, there is no more religious freedom than in Ukraine before Russia came. So when the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine was producing or sending more missionaries than any other country in Europe. Every single town in Siberia, Mary, there were Ukrainian missionaries sent by Ukraine, either Baptist, Pentecostals, charismatic, you know, independent, you know, so they had that missional vision to go and transform Russia, Siberia, for Christ.

REICHARD: You mention that Russia oppresses people of faith who are not part of the Russian Orthodox church. What would happen if Russia were to take over Ukraine?

RAKHUBA: This is what terrifies everybody. Our director for religious freedom at Mission Eurasia, he was in the occupied territory, he is one of the pastor of one of the churches that was seized, he was detained, arrested, interrogated, you know, pressured, threatened to be killed and so on. So he stood against that and finally you know, so they just simply deported, kick him out, you know. So, and he says if Russia will take over Ukraine, this will happen everywhere. The first thing they will try to do is to suppress the church, the community of the faith community, that still have, you know, more open, you know, opinion about issues, you know, and those congregations and leaders of the congregation, they have a spiritual power, leadership power in our congregations and communities. And that's, that's what they will do, just simple, oppress, and try to eliminate any other faith community, or religious communities but orthodox in entire country.

REICHARD: Last question here. What signs of hope are you seeing?

RAKHUBA: So the hope is in the church that is rising in the midst of this crisis amid this war, from the ashes of destruction, economical, humanitarian, spiritually. You know, there are thousand and tens of thousands of volunteers that help people, either who are oppressed refugees or displaced. And I where I'm so much involved in it, you know, so we have trained ourselves, you know, over 3,000 young Christian volunteers that work around the clock, helping people, those who are in need because of this war. If Ukraine will win in this war, that we all hope, and the church will be involved in transforming, rebuilding, and reconstructing, you know, evangelizing that community. By the way, Mary, there is another fact. So there is a tremendous growth of the church in the time of war. I can give you stories, the church has doubled and tripled in numbers through all their, you know, outreach programs to so many needy people in the community, so community starts recognizing. And with a huge outpouring from all over the world, but specifically from the church in America, the Ukrainian church using that help, they are making a huge difference transforming the lives of people who are in need in such an unbelievable crisis of the war in Ukraine now.

REICHARD: Sergey Rakhuba is President of Mission Eurasia and is originally from Ukraine. Thank you so much. Appreciate your time!

RAKHUBA: Thank you. Thank you, Mary.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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