Evangelical pastor taken hostage by Kremlin-backed militants
Taras Sen, Pastor of the Church of the Christian Evangelical Faith, has been seized by militants from the so-called Luhansk people’s republic.
The Church reports that Taras Sen was taken hostage on Sunday, Sept. 27 in the city of Sverdlovsk in the Luhansk oblast by armed militants. It states that Pastor Taras has been one of the most active religious figures in the occupied territory since the beginning of “the armed aggression”. The Church in Sverdlovsk has continued its major social work even during the military conflict with Pastor Taras and his colleagues constantly providing food and other aid to the needy.
There were a number of abductions of religious figures during 2014, but that had stopped, so this new disappearance is extremely worrying.
As reported, in both Russian-occupied Crimea and the areas of Donbas under Kremlin-backed militant control, there is widespread persecution and / or discrimination of all religious groups except for believers linked to the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
A recent study entitled ‘When God becomes the weapon’ put together evidence of religious persecution with the authors’ stated aim being to ensure that the perpetrators of human rights abuses answer for their deeds and that their victims can seek legal redress in domestic or international courts.
The report identifies systematic and widespread religious persecution, and also points out that religion is one of the key motivating factors and justification cited for criminal activities by unlawful paramilitary groups within the so-called ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’ [hereafter ‘DNR’, ‘LNR’].
Fighting for the ‘Russian World’
The report clearly identifies the major role played by unlawful armed groups who “under the banners of the Russian Orthodox Army and the Cossack Army, openly manifest their adherence to orthodoxy and have begun a ‘crusade’ across the Donbas region’.
While conflicts have arisen between differing armed formations, especially in ‘LNR’, this adherence to a specific form of Orthodoxy and political ideas around this is largely shared by all pro-Russian militants.
According to the ‘DNR’ ‘constitution’, issued on May 16, 2014 “the leading and dominant faith is the Orthodox faith ... as professed by the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). The historical heritage and role of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) are recognized and respected, including as a main pillar of the Russian World doctrine ".
This concept of a supposed ‘Russian World’ – encompassing Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, as well as Russia itself – has been repeatedly endorsed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill.
These armed fighters, and the position of the militants in general, as seen in their ‘constitution’ have had a profound impact on the areas under militant control, with attacks on churches, abductions and torture of representatives of other churches, the murder of four members of an evangelical church in Sloviansk in June 2014, and the prohibition of religious practice other than that linked with the Moscow Patriarchate.
The authors of the report note that the Russian Orthodox Church, like the Kremlin, denies any role in stirring up the conflict in Ukraine. They point however to increasing “evidence of close ties between the Moscow Patriarchate and the pro-Russian cause”.