Institute for Religious Freedom says 500 churches, religious sites destroyed during Ukraine war

Posted Feb 23, 2023

St. Mitrofanov Church in Lysychansk, in the Luhansk region of Ukraine, was damaged by Russian missile strikes in 2022. Photo: State Service of Ukraine for Ethnic Affairs and Freedom of Conscience

[World Council of Churches] At least 494 religious buildings in Ukraine have been destroyed, damaged, or looted as a result of the Russian invasion—and the seizure of religious buildings for use as Russian military bases increases the scale of destruction of religious sites in Ukraine, according to the Institute for Religious Freedom.

The Institute for Religious Freedom (IRF Ukraine), a non-governmental human rights organization founded in 2001 in Kyiv, Ukraine, presented data on the impact of the war on Ukrainian religious communities during the Summit on International Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 1.

Destruction across all regions of Ukraine

Most churches, mosques, and synagogues were destroyed in the occupied Donetsk (at least 120) and Luhansk (more than 70) regions of Ukraine. The scale of destruction is also high in the Kyiv region (70), where desperate battles were fought in defense of the capital, and in both the Kherson and Kharkiv regions, with more than 50 destroyed religious buildings in each.

Even if the most affected are the eastern regions of the country, damaged religious sites are spread across all of Ukraine, from Kherson in the south to Chernihiv in the north. Russian air strikes on civilian targets, including drone attacks, have affected almost all regions of Ukraine and continue to this day.

The Institute for Religious Freedom also documented many cases of seizure of religious buildings in Ukraine for use as Russian military bases or to conceal the firing positions of Russian troops. “This tactic of the Russian military provokes an increase in the scale of destruction of religious sites in Ukraine,” reports IRF Ukraine.

Targeted attacks on religious figures and believers by the Russian military and intelligence services, primarily in the occupied territories of Ukraine, are also documented by IRF Ukraine. Believers and clergy often became targets for Russian occupation authorities because of the Ukrainian language, belonging to a different denomination, or for any other manifestation of Ukrainian identity.

All religions and denominations affected

According to the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnic Affairs and Freedom of Conscience, at least 307 religious sites in Ukraine were ruined during 11 months of Russian attacks, including churches, mosques, synagogues, educational and administrative buildings of Ukraine’s religious communities.

The majority of the religious sites damaged during the Russian invasion are Christian (297), five of them are Muslim and five are Jewish.

Thirty of the sites affected belong to various Protestant communities, 21 to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, five to the Roman Catholic Church, four to the Greek Catholic Church and 95 to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Forty-eight percent of all Christian religious sites that were fully or partially ruined during the Russian attacks—142 sites—belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which declared its independence from the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church after its council meeting on 27 May 2022.

As of Feb. 1, UNESCO has verified damage to 238 cultural sites in Ukraine since Feb. 24, 2022, which include religious buildings, museums, historic and cultural buildings, monuments and libraries.