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'The cult of war and the temple of the Ministry of Defense': Russian priest on helping Ukrainian refugees and how the Kremlin abuses religion

Christmas truce at the front, which on January 6 объявил Vladimir Putin failed. As reported the Ukrainian side, Russia, from the very first hours began to violate it: on January 6, an air raid alarm was announced throughout Ukraine, and a fire station was attacked in Kherson. Kyiv, in turn, initially rejected the Russian proposal for a temporary ceasefire, calling his "hypocritical and propagandistic gesture". However, a number of US Republican politicians criticized Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for refusing a truce, and some commentators regarded his actions as "persecution of the faith."

Photo from the personal archive of Father George

About how fair such accusations are, ForumDaily talked with the archbishop of the Apostolic Orthodox Church (AOC), a member of the Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg Grigory Mikhnov-Vaitenko. Father Gregory was one of the few priests who, back in 2014, condemned the position of the official Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. In his sermon on August 31, 2014, he announced the excommunication from Communion of those involved in waging and unleashing the war, and in 2015 he became a member of the Apostolic Orthodox Church.

Now Father Gregory is helping Ukrainian refugees who ended up in Russia, and thanks to him many of them were able to leave for Europe. The priest also shared with our publication the main difficulties faced by Ukrainians entering Russia.

“A civil religion has been created in Russia”

According to Father Gregory, modern Russia cannot, in principle, be called a Christian country.

«The Ministry of the Interior publishes statistics every year, and according to their data, 1 people came to the last Christmas service. It is easy to calculate that this is less than one percent of the population of Russia - given that there are no covid or any other restrictions now', says the priest.

Moreover, Father Gregory emphasizes that the ideology created in Russia on the basis of Orthodoxy cannot be considered truly Christian. Recall that the Russian Orthodox Church officially supported the war. Patriarch Kirill (Gundyaev), for example, repeatedly statedthat the Russian military in Ukraine "driven by an inner moral feeling based on the Orthodox faithand theydefend Russia on the battlefield».

Individual preachers periodically release videos inspiring people "God's will" that the war would melt the Russian people, eradicating the "poison of Western civilization" from them, and they assure that, just killingRussians can "become themselves".

Following the church leaders, secular propagandists also picked up the "religious" justification for the war. For example, Vladimir Solovyov said that life is greatly overestimated, and the Russians should not be afraid of death, because they, according to words Vladimir Putin, "they will go to heaven."

«It's worth living for something you can die for." But that's the way it should be", - summed up Soloviev.

At the same time, Father Grigory Mikhnov-Vaitenko notes that the cult of death has little in common with real Christianity, and Russians are far from guaranteed paradise.

«In this case, we see a typical manipulation. All Christianity is built on a sermon in which Christ says that "those who stand here today will see the kingdom of heaven." It is not so much about life after death, but about the fact that this Kingdom is available to a person in his earthly life, subject to the commandments of goodness, love and mercy. To put it simply, Christianity is a manual on how to be happy in this life without expecting a “happy future” or posthumous reward.", explains the priest.

On the subject: Former ideologue of Putin's party predicted Russia's loss in the war, its division and collapse

Father Gregory recalls that even in Orthodox prayers it is customary to ask for a peaceful death in the family circle, and not at all on the battlefield. According to him, Christianity really postulates that earthly life is a preparation for eternal life, but the value of earthly existence is not denied, and there is no Christian death without Christian life.

«To make an idol out of the state and for the sake of its illusory interests to kill other people is clearly a bad preparation for death. It does not agree with Christianity, but it fits perfectly into the civil religion that was created in Russia - as well as the cult of war, the temple of the Ministry of Defense, in which, along with shrines are stored personal belongings Adolf Hitler, etc", explains the priest.

Mariupol tragedy

The results of a kind of Russian "religiosity" speak for themselves. Family Shishkin from Mariupol has long wanted a child. After the first unsuccessful pregnancy, the couple's dream finally came true: Vika became pregnant and was ready to give birth. On March 9, after an air strike on the Mariupol maternity hospital, Vika was wounded in the stomach, as a result of which lost a child. Her husband Vladimir, trying to get to his wife, came under fire and was also wounded. As a result, he had to amputate his leg. The relatives of the spouses managed to leave the city earlier and were at the Temporary Accommodation Center for Refugees in the Leningrad Region. It was they who turned to Father Gregory with a request to accept a couple.

«Volodya's wound was very severe, and complications continued even after the amputation of his leg, which he had in Donetsk. He became ill on the train. Fortunately, we knew from relatives about his condition, and we met him immediately in an ambulance, after which we immediately took him to intensive care", says the priest.

Father Gregory and his team of volunteers managed to raise the necessary money and send the family to Germany for treatment, where Vladimir underwent another operation.

«They are coping with their trauma surprisingly well given their situation and still dream of having a baby. Maybe it helped that the reality turned out to be somewhat better than it seemed at first. For example, in the first days after the strike, Vika had no news from Vladimir, and she believed that he had died. As a result, the joy that he was alive somewhat obscured the horror of what happened.", says the priest.

Volunteers prepare a Christmas tree for refugee children. Photo from the personal archive of Father George

To Russia - through filtration

Nevertheless, Father Gregory notes: people from Ukraine often come with severe psychological trauma, and they have to be sent to the appropriate clinics. At the same time, not everyone who gets to Russia would like to evacuate in this direction.

«Strictly legally, this cannot be called deportation, since people are not taken out by force. However, there are often no humanitarian corridors in the combat zone, so leaving, especially from Mariupol or Kherson, was only possible in the direction of Russia. Of course, people had the opportunity to refuse evacuation and stay at home. But if you are told that you have 15 minutes to leave, after which severe shelling will begin in the area where you live, you yourself understand that you have little choice”, says the human rights activist.

According to Father Gregory, refugees generally have no problems with documents and travel to Europe, but even here everything depends on specific cases. For example, it was quite difficult to restore Ukrainian documents from patients of neuropsychiatric dispensaries or from people who agreed to give their passports to the Russian migration authorities in exchange for refugee status. At the same time, most often people apply for such a status, because they have no savings left.

«Do not forget that many travelers go through the so-called filtering. We are talking not only about former Ukrainian military personnel or members of their families, but also about ordinary people who are suspicious of Russian border guards. For example, one person worked as a carrier and before the war quite often traveled to Crimea from the mainland of Ukraine. The Russian authorities decided that he might be a spy. As a result, he had to spend several months in prison.”, says Father Gregory.

According to the human rights activist, the main problem is that even the norms stipulated by Russian legislation for detainees are not applied to people detained during the “filtering”. For example, in Russia, such people often end up in overcrowded special detention cells, where there are not enough toilets or places to sleep, and in the so-called DPR, cold basements and other places unsuitable for finding people are used as places for detainees. People are not told the reason for their detention, their relatives are not informed about the fact of arrest, and detainees are deprived of access to lawyers and doctors.

bureaucratic problems

Father Gregory calls another problem the lack of consular support for Ukrainians in Russia.

«Diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Russia have been de facto terminated, while people often need to restore their documents. For example, those who left Mariupol often lost all their papers. In this case, it is necessary for some state to take over the functions of consular support for Ukrainians in Russia, but so far it has not been possible to reach agreements on this topic"He explains.

You may be interested in: top New York news, stories of our immigrants, and helpful tips about life in the Big Apple - read it all on ForumDaily New Y.

Inside Russia, you can get a certificate proving the identity of a foreign citizen, and theoretically you can travel abroad with it. However, not all European countries readily accept Ukrainian refugees. For example, Estonia has repeatedly refused to let Ukrainians into their territory, who, according to the border guards, "stayed too long in Russia." As a result, volunteers have to look for other routes. The worst, according to Father Gregory, is for lonely old people who need constant support and medical care.

«Sometimes it is not so easy for Ukrainian relatives to take their children out of Russia. However, most often this happens when one of their Russian relatives, being under the influence of propaganda, does not want to give up the child, explains the priest. - In other cases, children can most often be found and returned if they are still alive.».

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