Russia abducts two priests from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in occupied Donetsk
A fortnight after two priests of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine were seized in Russian-occupied Donetsk oblast, Russia’s state-controlled RIA Novosti has claimed that two priests have been “expelled from Russia” by a ‘court’ in what it is continuing to call the ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [DPR]. This is especially disturbing as the Donetsk Exarchate has refuted this, saying that Father Khrystofor Khrimli and Father Andriy Chuy are believed to have been taken to Russia, where they are doubtless imprisoned.
Serhiy Horobtsov, Metropolitan Bishop of Donetsk and Mariupol, on 18 September that Father Andriy (Chuy), a priest monk living in occupied Donetsk, had been abducted. Two days later, Vchasno that both Father Andriy and Father Khrystofor (Khrimli) had been seized by the Russian occupiers on the same day. At that stage, it was assumed that they were being held in a Donetsk prison.
Metropolitan Serhiy explained that Father Andriy had remained in Donetsk after its effectively occupation in 2014. He had continued to serve as a priest and had carried out charitable work, helping the needy and ill.
Father Khrystofor is the head of a monastery in Bolnovakha raion. He had been unable to leave occupied territory because of his gravely ill mother.
Metropolitan Serhiy stresses that both priests had simply served the Church and had not been involved in any propaganda, nor had they taken part in pro-Ukrainian demonstrations. In fact, the only ‘pro-Ukrainian demonstration’ following the seizure of parts of Donetsk oblast in 2014 was the Prayer Marathon in the centre of Donetsk which continued for 158 days, despite the abduction and torture of several participants. The two men were described as “an example of selfless, spiritual, honest and pure service. Both had not wished to leave their congregation on enemy-occupied territory without spiritual care.” He explains that both had faced repeated visitations from the so-called ‘DPR ministry of state security’ or ‘MSB’, ‘people’s militia’, etc., trying to get them to transfer to the Moscow Patriarchate and to take Russian citizenship.
Both men had refused to do so and were now imprisoned. “It is most likely that they will try to use methods of force on these two priests to coerce them into renouncing the Ukrainian Church and transferring to the Moscow patriarchate. You know yourself that the FSB and ‘MSB’ use many different methods, from electric shocks to anything they feel like.” He stressed then that the occupiers had not formally accused the two men of anything and said that the Exarchate had asked the SBU [Ukraine’s Security Service] to add Father Khrystofor and Father Andriy to the exchange list.
The § 5 of Russia’s code of administrative offences (‘infringing legislation on freedom of conscience and religious organizations’). RIA Novosti purportedly quotes the unnamed ‘judge’ in asserting that the men had “carried out religious activities, presenting themselves as representatives of the religious organization ‘The Orthodox Church of Ukraine’ [[sic!], the activity of which is of an anti-Russian, extremist nature, expressed in the public support of the Ukrainian authorities and Ukrainian armed formations, as well as in inciting hatred and enmity on national and ethnic grounds.” The men had, it was claimed, been fined 30 thousand roubles and “expelled from the Russian Federation”. claimed that a ‘DPR court’ had expelled two priests of what it called “the schismatic OCU [Orthodox Church of Ukraine]. Russia is now claiming that the areas of Donetsk oblast currently under its occupation are ‘part of Russia’ and the report asserts that the two priests were “expelled from Russia”. This unrecognized ‘court’ had found Father Khrystofor and Father Andriy ‘guilty’ of the administrative offence envisaged by Article 5.26
This is not only deranged nonsense from an aggressor state that had no right to abduct the two priests, nor to ‘expel’ them from Ukrainian territory. The claim about expulsion is also, according to Metropolitan Serhiy, false. Both priests remain in Russian captivity. He that the men’s relatives had initially been able to pass on food and other items to them in the SIZO [remand prison] in occupied Donetsk. The relatives had, however, received information that the men had been taken to Russian territory where, it is believed, they are imprisoned.
Russia has driven out, harassed and / or persecuted all Christian churches, except the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate in all parts of Ukraine that have fallen under its occupation since 2014. The Russian Orthodox Church and Moscow Patriarch, Kirill (Gundyaev) have been open in their support for Russia’s aggression and are actively complicit in the annexation through their effective seizure of churches on occupied territory.
Father Andriy (Chuy) and Father Khrystophor [whom the Russian reports call Viacheslav Khrimli) are not the only priests in Russian captivity. It will soon be a year since the Russian invaders of Berdiansk (Zaporizhzhia oblast) seized two Greek Catholic priests - Father Bohdan Heleta and Father Ivan Levytsky, with their whereabouts unknown.