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Commission sees attack on religious liberty in Ukraine

U.S. concerned about influence of Russian Orthodox church

Published: May 17, 2023   
OSV News / CNS, Oleksandr Ratushniak, Reuters
A Ukrainian serviceman holds an Orthodox icon inside a destroyed church near the town of Lyman, Ukraine in this file photo from Oct. 7, 2022.

WASHINGTON — Russia's invasion of Ukraine also has been an attack on religious liberty in the country, witnesses and lawmakers said at a hearing of the U.S. Helsinki Commission April 27.

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is an independent U.S. government agency created in 1976 that monitors and encourages compliance with the Helsinki Accords, a major but nonbinding international agreement aimed at reducing Cold War tensions between the Soviet and Western blocs by their acceptance of a post-World War II order in Europe.

In a hearing at the Capitol, Reps. Joe Wilson of South Carolina and Steve Cohen of Tennessee, chairman and ranking member of the Helsinki Commission, respectively, expressed concern about the Putin regime's use of the state-run Russian Orthodox Church in an effort to achieve its ends in the invasion of Ukraine.

Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has backed Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, equating it to a defense of the Orthodox faith, despite international condemnation.

"War has made life dangerous for many Christians in occupied areas of Ukraine, who not only have to worry about their physical safety, but the protection of other freedoms, including the right to believe and worship according to one's conscience," Wilson said. "Occupation authorities have used various tactics to deny believers the right to practice their faith, including by de facto banning religious groups not approved by the Russian-led occupation's government and destroying religious materials."

Cohen said although Putin claims to be religious, he has never known a person who is truly religious "who is in favor of killing his fellow citizens, condoning the rape of children and women, and the activities that Putin has engaged in in Ukraine and other places."

"These are far from religious; they are the antithesis of religion," Cohen said.

Wilson and Cohen also introduced the Ukraine Victory Resolution, a bipartisan resolution affirming that it is the policy of the United States to see Ukraine victorious against Russia's invasion.

Wilson called Ukrainian victory "the only path to peace."

"We must ensure that Ukraine is well armed and outfitted so that the upcoming counteroffensive can meet expectations, and Ukraine can win the war as quickly as possible," Wilson said in a statement. "Ukrainian victory is good for U.S. national security and economic stability, denies Putin any reward for his invasion, and deters China and Iran. Ukraine’s existence depends on victory."

Cohen said Ukrainian victory "is also critical for the United States."

"Ukraine is preventing an incursion into NATO and demonstrating to autocrats that borders cannot be changed by force alone —  a fundamental underpinning of the peaceful international system," Cohen said in a statement. "The Ukrainian fight is our common fight. There is no alternative to victory."

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