Bulletin N°37

mai 2022

“Whoever saves one life saves the world entire”: Ukrainian religious denominations during the war – English version

Tetiana Kalenychenko and Denis Brylov

The Russian full invasion on the 24th of February put Ukrainian religious organizations in front of a serious challenge in a social service. How is it possible to act in the frames of full-scaled war? How concrete confession could help for their believers and other people? How each person could reflect on the experience of war

Religion, and specifically Orthodoxy, has played a critical role throughout Ukrainian life and history. Now it could also play a special role in conflict transformation and peacebuilding[1]The Religious Factor in Conflict, Report for PAX International, 2021 [online] … Continue reading. Orthodoxy in Ukraine, however, is not a monolith. Perhaps the most important religious dynamic at play across the country is the fragmentation of the Orthodox Church into two (or more) competing factions: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). A November 2021 study reported 60% of Ukrainian respondents identified as Orthodox, with 13,3% aligning with the UOC-MP and 24,1% with the newly-independent OCU (21,9% - “simply Orthodox”)[2]Особливості релігійного і церковно-релігійного самовизначення громадян України: тенденції 2000-2021 рр. Razumkov … Continue reading.

Despite the predominance of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine, there are a number of notable religious minorities throughout the nation. Legally, the Government of Ukraine recognizes all registered churches within its borders, creating a highly pluralistic religious landscape.

The largest Catholic community in Ukraine (and the second largest religious community overall) is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), which as of 2019 numbered roughly 7% of the population. UGCC followers are located primarily in the western regions of Ukraine. There are a variety of other religious communities in Ukraine, though considerably fewer than in many other European states. The Crimean Tatars are a Muslim ethnic group indigenous to the Crimean Peninsula. They were systematically deported under the Soviet Union but have nonetheless maintained the largest Muslim population in Ukraine. Together with immigrants from the Muslim regions of the former Soviet Union (primarily the Volga-Ural Tatars, Azerbaijanis, representatives of the peoples of the North Caucasus and Central Asia), Muslims make up about 0.9% of the population, according to the most recent census[3]On the number and composition of the population of Ukraine according to the results of the All-Ukrainian population census of 2001 [online] http://2001.ukrcensus.gov.ua/results/general/nationality/.

Ukraine was a flourishing center of medieval Judaism, home to several key Jewish sites and the birthplace of major Jewish theologians. Current estimates indicate a Jewish population in Ukraine between 56,000 and 140,000, or approximately 0.2% of the population[4]Ibid..

Protestantism began to spread in Ukraine following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Congregations of every major Protestant tradition exist in contemporary Ukraine, though numbers are still comparatively small. A 2021 study Razumkov’s Center noted 1,5% of the population identified as Protestant[5]Особливості релігійного і церковно-релігійного самовизначення громадян України: тенденції 2000-2021рр. Razumkov … Continue reading. However, State religious statistics show that the number of Protestant religious communities is about 30% of all Christian communities in Ukraine (10774 Protestant communities, 5280 – Catholic and 19860 – Orthodox)[6]Report on the religious organizations network. [Online] https://dess.gov.ua/statistics-2020/. Still there are some circumstances why we could argue State statistics and they did not check the activity of existed parishes.

Since the beginning of Russian invasion, All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) that unites almost 95% of religious communities in Ukraine kept in touch with the Office of the President and the government. AUCCRO regularly speaks with various humanitarian initiatives and appeals condemning Russia's aggression[7]Online https://vrciro.org.ua/ua and calls to stop the aggression. In addition, the leaders of religious organizations and independently, on behalf of their confessions, appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as to world state and religious leaders, for support and assistance in stopping active hostilities. Another NGO “Institute for Religious Freedom” connected to AUCCRO, made a proposal to protect freedom of conscience and religion in the conditions of war, offering to sign a general appeal, where he was supported by more than 70 different organizations[8][Online] https://irs.in.ua/p/102?fbclid=IwAR33-RgAqDQ-0P3fQ8lesq5ctPcGWSLJk0jpjJmxLQcsNhOGvyTVwar8ovc.

Mass humanitarian activities were launched by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). Humanitarian activity in the UOC MP is both centralized and widely represented at the level of individual dioceses. In addition, the leadership of the UOC MP received humanitarian support from the Polish Orthodox Church and the Romanian Orthodox Church. Such a wide involvement of the clergy of the UOC MP in helping civilians affected by the war has several reasons. First of all, despite the data of sociological surveys indicating a decline in the popularity of this organization among Ukrainians, the UOC MP remains the largest religious organization in Ukraine, with about 12 thousand communities and more than 10 thousand priests. In addition, the UOC MP communities are most widespread in those regions of Ukraine that have suffered the most from Russian aggression. In particular, 14 out of 53 dioceses of the UOC (MP) turned out to be in the combat zone, including more than 3 thousand parishes and 62 monasteries, where 3.5 thousand clergymen and almost 2 thousand monks and nuns are currently located[9]The report on Holy Synod of UOC MP from the 12th of May 2022. [Online] https://news.church.ua/2022/05/12/pidsumki-svyashhennogo-sinodu-ukrajinskoji-pravoslavnoji-cerkvi-vid-12-travnya-2022-roku/.

Another reason for the active humanitarian work of the UOC MP was the guilt of many priests towards their parishioners for the pro-Moscow position of the leadership of the Church, which to a certain extent persisted even after the start of the war. Therefore, it is not surprising that the most active in the humanitarian sphere were those priests of the UOC MP who took a pronounced pro-Ukrainian position, and after the start of the Russian invasion, called on the leadership of the UOC MP to break canonical relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, which supported the war.  For example, priest Andrii Pinchuk from the Dnipropetrovsk region, who organized the charitable organization "John's Center", which is engaged in the rehabilitation of children with neurological diseases, and after the start of the war, helps Ukrainian servicemen to rehabilitate after injuries. After the start of the Russian invasion, he organized a shelter that evacuated more than 6 thousand people (including disabled people unable to move independently) from the war zones - Kharkov, Lysychansk and others[10]Our mission. [Online] https://www.facebook.com/100001981718431/videos/545305863631974/. It was Father Andrey who sent an open letter to the court of the Pentarchy (five heads of the oldest Orthodox Churches) with a request to condemn Patriarch Kirill (to whom the UOC MP is formally subordinate) for propagandizing the “Russian World” doctrine for years, which became the ideological basis for Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine[11]Moscow-aligned Ukrainian Orthodox clerics call for tribunal for Patriarch Kirill, key Putin ally. [Online] … Continue reading. His appeal collected more than 400 signatures of UOC MP priests from all over Ukraine.

However, despite its humanitarian activity and attempts to justify itself to the Ukrainian society for a long period of pro-Moscow position, today the UOC MP has found itself in perhaps the most serious crisis in its entire existence. First of all, this is an internal schism in the church itself, when ordinary priests have taken a predominantly pro-Ukrainian position and refuse to commemorate Patriarch Cyrill in their liturgies, while bishops take a wait-and-see attitude, and some are openly pro-Moscow.

On the other hand, taking advantage of the situation, the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) increased pressure on the UOC (MP), which not only calls on priests from the UOC to move with their parishes to the OCU[12][Online] https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/zvernennya-mytropolyta-epifaniya-5-bereznya-2022-r/, and it could be done in a different ways[13][Online] http://pravoslavye.org.ua/2022/03/ивано-франковск-в-упц-заявили-о-похище/.

In addition, due to cases of cooperation on the part of individual priests of the UOC MP with the occupying forces, an increasingly negative attitude towards the UOC MP is observed on the part of the Ukrainian militaries, who today have absolute authority in the eyes of the society. As noted by another priest who is critical of the wait-and-see position of the church leadership, father Seraphim (Pankratov) from the Sumy diocese, «…in the military administration of Akhtyrka they told me: “We are now watching you and waiting for your reaction to what is happening, but we will not wait for a long time. You don’t know the mood among the military towards the UOC, we are now at war, but then, after the war, we will take you out of the temples if you still don’t decide which side you are on, Cyrill, who blesses this war, or your people[14]Архиерейские «яйца». [Online] https://www.facebook.com/archimandrite.seraphim.pankratov/posts/pfbid0TzgvX15KLckvDREsWhx6DBHTNzkMtKCYZvkAsH3XVCQMVzZn9eHKpQe96WqqW9iRl». While there is the emerging conflict between the militaries and the UOC MP, there have been cases of a ban on the activities of the UOC MP in certain cities, which is contrary to the Constitution of Ukraine and religious legislation. However, the initiators of such bans refer precisely to the “legal regime of martial law[15]Moscow Patriarchate is prohibited in Lviv region. [Online] https://vgolos.ua/news/na-lvivshchini-zaboronili-diyalnist-cerkvi-moskovskogo-patriarhatu_1416226.html». Mayor of Konotop (Sumy region) Artem Seminikhin, who banned the activities of the UOC in the territory of his city, generally referred to the head of the military-civilian administration Dmitry Zhyvitsky, who, according to him, said that he considers the Moscow Patriarchate an enemy of Ukraine, and the enemy should be called an enemy[16]« We have a problem - we never punish evil to the end. " Interview with the mayor who banned the UOCMP. [Online] … Continue reading.

On the part of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), humanitarian assistance to the war-affected residents of the country is coordinated by the Department for Social Service together with its representative office in the form of the public organization Eleos-Ukraine. The organization is engaged in several areas of assistance: the evacuation of civilians from the Kyiv and Kharkov regions (500 people during the period of March); delivered about 50 tons of medications and equipment for the Central Military Hospital in Kyiv; opens three shelters for temporarily displaced persons in Ivano-Frankivsk, Rivne and Chernivtsi regions (each of the shelters will accommodate 30 IDPs for temporary residence)[17]Organization’s report on March 2022 [online] https://eleos.com.ua/35-days-of-eleos-ukraine-social-service-under-full-scale-invasion/.  Since this department is headed by the Metropolitan of Donetsk and Mariupol Sergii Gorobtsov, his ministry was especially actively developing in this region. The regional team of the foundation opened a volunteer headquarters "Good morning, we are from Mariupol" in Dnipro, where every day they receive several hundred refugee families, feed them hot meals and provide the necessary services. Also, the employees of the Department help in serving military chaplains, evacuating the population and supporting through ministers in the field. About 100 tons of humanitarian deliveries were unloaded and distributed, including food, personal hygiene products, clothes, bedding sets, medicines, etc. The regional Eleos-Donetsk[18][Online] https://www.facebook.com/Eleos-Donetsk-1548497125463176 helps military hospitals and supports several military departments as chaplains. In Kostiantynivka team continues to provide hot lunches to servicemen and the people in need (more than 5 000 persons received help).

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) is actively developing humanitarian activities, which provides support to the victims through the network of the Caritas charitable organization. Since the beginning of the war, Caritas-Ukraine has launched a project “Emergency appeal – response to emergencies resulting from hostilities in Ukraine”, in which 29 regional branches and about 1000 employees take part. The project provides assistance to people who are in close proximity to the war zone, assistance to "internally displaced persons" (IDPs), assistance to residents of de-occupied cities and villages. Humanitarian assistance is provided in 6 main areas as hot meals and food delivery; temporary shelters for IDPs, medical supply, psycho-social support for victims of war and advocacy for IDPs[19]The project “Еmergency appeal ”. [Online] https://caritas.ua/multimedia-en/video-en/proekt-emergency-appeal-reaguvannya-na-nadzvychajni-sytuacziyi-vnaslidok-bojovyh-dij-v-ukrayini/.

In parallel with the active work of Caritas-Ukraine, humanitarian support is provided by a network of organizations of the Roman Catholic Caritas-SPES, which provide food packages, medical care and hygiene products for beneficiaries, assist in evacuation, organize shelters and conduct psychological counseling for victims[20][Online] http://caritas-spes.org/ua..

A wide network of support for the civilian population, the organization of evacuation from areas of active hostilities is carried out by various Protestant churches and unions. One of the symbolic associations took place on the basis of international funds Overseas Council[21][Online] https://uwm.org/overseas/ and Scholar Leaders [22][Online] https://www.scholarleaders.org/ who united 10 seminaries from different regions of Ukraine and different denominations as Baptist, Charismatics, Pentecostals: Ukrainian Evangelical Theological seminary, Evangelical theological university, Kremenchuk Evangelical seminary, Odesa theological seminary, Tavriya Christian university (on the occupied territories) and others. Overall for the first 50 days of invasion they have evacuated more than 9,5 thousands of people from danger zones, 16,5 people used temporary shelters, delivered 560 tons of humanitarian aid, engaged 350 volunteers and host 1500 people in long-term shelters and especially families with children and people with disabilities[23][Online] https://www.scholarleaders.org/ukrainian-relief-fund-donor-update/. On behalf of other Protestant initiatives were organized shelters abroad, mainly on the basis of summer camps. Moreover, many students of Protestant seminaries were even able to complete their studies while in different regions or abroad, as representatives of the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary did, adapting programs and exams to new realities.

Muslim organizations in Ukraine also provide humanitarian assistance to those affected by the war. The Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine (SAMU) provides assistance to affected civilians through its communities, primarily in Odessa, Poltava, Kyiv - for example, the Mosque of Kyiv "Ar-Rahma" serves as a shelter for residents of nearby areas, as well as Muslim refugees from the affected regions Ukraine. At the same time, humanitarian support for the SAMU is provided by charitable foundations from the UAE, in particular – the Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation. With the support of Turkish charitable foundations, assistance to the victims of the war (primarily Crimean Tatars) is provided by the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea together with the Association of Muslims of Ukraine (which unites Salafi communities). Humanitarian activities, shelters, as well as chaplain work with Muslim military personnel are also carried out by the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine "Ummah" together with the NGO "Congress of Ukrainian Muslims" (both organizations are closely connected with the European "Muslim Brotherhood"[24]Denis Brylov, “Political Practices of Ukrainian Muslims: Between the Apolitical and the Radical.” e-Rhizome, 3(2), 2021, 110. doi: 10.5507/rh.2021.007 and operate with the support of their charitable foundations).

In this short material, we will not be able to remember all those who provide assistance, but this list of religious activists and organizations is much wider. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons[25][Online] https://uk.churchofjesuschrist.org/ukraine-europe-area-emergency-response?lang=eng-gb) also provided active assistance with humanitarian products, medicines and evacuation, working in various regions of Ukraine. In addition, these are representatives of Eastern religions, for example, Krishna Consciousness Fellowship who fed people in the Kharkov metro, and other religions. In general, at present, we can say that Ukrainian religious organizations play an important role in the consolidation of Ukrainian society in the face of Russian occupation, on the one hand, and also took on a significant part of the social burden, providing humanitarian support to refugees, evacuating civilians from war zones, helping them to equip their lives in the relatively safe regions of Ukraine or transporting them to neighboring countries. The very mechanism of coordination and readiness for active assistance and service is important, which is beyond doubt in the context of Ukrainian society.

*This material is possible to do thanks to the support of Documenting Ukraine project at IWM, Vienna, Austria (https://www.iwm.at/program/documenting-ukraine).



1 The Religious Factor in Conflict, Report for PAX International, 2021 [online] https://paxforpeace.nl/what-we-do/publications/the-religious-factor-in-conflict?fbclid=IwAR2avlTKEdA3w7JwsFCJnkqRWR1IQOaA06umjX26YgBFwo06puGQuRnKrDk
2 Особливості релігійного і церковно-релігійного самовизначення громадян України: тенденції 2000-2021 рр. Razumkov Centre. 2021, 39, 41.
3 On the number and composition of the population of Ukraine according to the results of the All-Ukrainian population census of 2001 [online] http://2001.ukrcensus.gov.ua/results/general/nationality/
4 Ibid.
5 Особливості релігійного і церковно-релігійного самовизначення громадян України: тенденції 2000-2021рр. Razumkov Centre. 2021: 39.
6 Report on the religious organizations network. [Online] https://dess.gov.ua/statistics-2020/
7 Online https://vrciro.org.ua/ua
8 [Online] https://irs.in.ua/p/102?fbclid=IwAR33-RgAqDQ-0P3fQ8lesq5ctPcGWSLJk0jpjJmxLQcsNhOGvyTVwar8ovc
9 The report on Holy Synod of UOC MP from the 12th of May 2022. [Online] https://news.church.ua/2022/05/12/pidsumki-svyashhennogo-sinodu-ukrajinskoji-pravoslavnoji-cerkvi-vid-12-travnya-2022-roku/
10 Our mission. [Online] https://www.facebook.com/100001981718431/videos/545305863631974/
11 Moscow-aligned Ukrainian Orthodox clerics call for tribunal for Patriarch Kirill, key Putin ally. [Online] https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2022/apr/11/moscow-aligned-ukrainian-orthodox-clerics-call-tri/ https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2022/apr/11/moscow-aligned-ukrainian-orthodox-clerics-call-tri/
12 [Online] https://www.pomisna.info/uk/vsi-novyny/zvernennya-mytropolyta-epifaniya-5-bereznya-2022-r/
13 [Online] http://pravoslavye.org.ua/2022/03/ивано-франковск-в-упц-заявили-о-похище/
14 Архиерейские «яйца». [Online] https://www.facebook.com/archimandrite.seraphim.pankratov/posts/pfbid0TzgvX15KLckvDREsWhx6DBHTNzkMtKCYZvkAsH3XVCQMVzZn9eHKpQe96WqqW9iRl
15 Moscow Patriarchate is prohibited in Lviv region. [Online] https://vgolos.ua/news/na-lvivshchini-zaboronili-diyalnist-cerkvi-moskovskogo-patriarhatu_1416226.html
16 « We have a problem - we never punish evil to the end. " Interview with the mayor who banned the UOCMP. [Online] https://glavcom.ua/interviews/u-nas-bida-mi-nikoli-ne-karajemo-zlo-do-kincya-intervyu-z-merom-yakiy-zaboroniv-moskovskiy-patriarhat-844310.html
17 Organization’s report on March 2022 [online] https://eleos.com.ua/35-days-of-eleos-ukraine-social-service-under-full-scale-invasion/
18 [Online] https://www.facebook.com/Eleos-Donetsk-1548497125463176
19 The project “Еmergency appeal ”. [Online] https://caritas.ua/multimedia-en/video-en/proekt-emergency-appeal-reaguvannya-na-nadzvychajni-sytuacziyi-vnaslidok-bojovyh-dij-v-ukrayini/
20 [Online] http://caritas-spes.org/ua.
21 [Online] https://uwm.org/overseas/
22 [Online] https://www.scholarleaders.org/
23 [Online] https://www.scholarleaders.org/ukrainian-relief-fund-donor-update/
24 Denis Brylov, “Political Practices of Ukrainian Muslims: Between the Apolitical and the Radical.” e-Rhizome, 3(2), 2021, 110. doi: 10.5507/rh.2021.007
25 [Online] https://uk.churchofjesuschrist.org/ukraine-europe-area-emergency-response?lang=eng-gb
Pour citer ce document :
Tetiana Kalenychenko and Denis Brylov, "“Whoever saves one life saves the world entire”: Ukrainian religious denominations during the war – English version". Bulletin de l'Observatoire international du religieux N°37 [en ligne], mai 2022. https://obsreligion.cnrs.fr/bulletin/whoever-saves-one-life-saves-the-world-entire-ukrainian-religious-denominations-during-the-war-english-version/
Numéro : 37
mai 2022

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Tetiana Kalenychenko and Denis Brylov, European Center for Strategic Analytics, Dragomanov University (Kyiv, Ukraine)

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