On July 23, a Sunday, a Russian missile struck and heavily damaged the Transfiguration Cathedral, a Ukrainian Orthodox church and Odesa’s largest. This adds another Ukrainian religious site to the 116 already damaged or destroyed by the Russian military, a part of President Vladimir Putin’s drive to wipe out Ukrainian culture and heritage.
Yet just three days after the destruction of Odesa’s main cathedral, Russia called a meeting of the UN Security Council to complain about what it calls the persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. At issue is a proposed law that would ban Russia-affiliated Orthodox churches. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy described the legislation as designed to deny Moscow further ability to "weaken Ukraine from within."
Russia’s complaints are “cruelly ironic, given that Russian forces destroyed Odesa’s historic Transfiguration Cathedral just this week with a targeted Russian missile,” said United States Representative to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield:
“According to UNESCO, roughly 270 cultural sites have been damaged since President Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The loss of Ukrainian cultural heritage is staggering, and it is truly shameful. And the attack on the historic Transfiguration Cathedral was just one of the many attacks Russia has carried out in the Odesa region this week.”
Furthermore, Russia is “cynically complaining of mistreatment of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church while it engages in systematic religious oppression in territories under its occupation,” said Trina Saha, United States Deputy Political Counselor at the United Nations:
“Russia continues to mistreat members of religious minority groups in areas of Ukraine it occupies during its illegal war. Russia’s calling for this meeting after its destruction of Odessa’s historic Transfiguration Cathedral, which belongs to the very Ukrainian Orthodox Church the Russian government claims to be defending today, is appalling.”
According to Nihal Saad, Director of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, a monitoring mission documented enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture, and deportations perpetrated by Russian armed forces against clergy and members of Ukrainian Greek Catholic and Christian Evangelical communities. They also ransacked and closed three Baptist places of worship in Melitopol.
“The United States takes seriously allegations of violations of human rights, including freedom of religion or belief. We expect all governments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms,” said Counselor Saha. “We urge the Kremlin to cease its senseless war and respect the human rights of all and the safety of Ukraine’s civilian population, including members of all religious communities.”