Religion during the Russian war and Orthodox Church dilemma in Ukraine

July 28th is an annual religious holiday in Ukraine, marking the Christening of Kyivan Rus. It is a date of significance, as in 2019 79% of Ukrainians identified as Orthodox Christians – although much fewer are indoctrinated and consider their religious identity to be a primary one. Behind the seemingly simple idea of Ukraine as an Orthodox Christian country, however, there is a more complicated reality.

Orthodox Christianity as a religion is represented by different, and often competing, religious institutions. As of 2019, the most popular and enjoying the most support from the population was Orthodox Church of Ukraine, specified by 49% of Orthodox Christians as their church. As an institution, it is rather new and it’s autocephaly was recognized in 2019 following years of struggle. This struggle was of ultimate importance to Ukraine as it moved further away from the Russian influence – including the aspect of religion.

Previously, the most popular religious institution had been Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate. A subsidiary to the Russian Orthodox Church, it was heavily dependent on decisions made in Moscow, where church became increasingly aligned with the government. The situation became critical in 2014, with the start of Russian war against Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. Russian Orthodox Church has been heavily endorsing the Kremlin’s aggressive foreign policy and used Moscow Patriarchate to destabilize Ukrainian society from within. In the eastern regions, heavily affected by combat in 2014, the churches of Moscow Patriarchate were sometime used as storage for Russian weapons and parishioners were blessed to eliminate Ukrainians as “fascists” in line with Russian propaganda.

The large-scale invasion of February 24th, 2022 has become a tipping point, encouraging a split within Moscow Patriarchate. As many of its parishioners increasingly leave for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, members of the church are also challenged, and while some demand distancing from the Russian Orthodox Church that justifies Russian invasion and the resulting violence, some others have shown willingness to collaborate with the invaders.

Additionally, Russian propaganda and the perception of Ukraine it is rooted in consistently try to appropriate Ukrainian history and cultural heritage, including the Kyivan Rus – and its Christening. In such circumstances, religion and church become important factors in the war that are explored in Ukraine In Flames #140.


  • Mark, Bishop of Kropyvnytskyi and Holovanivsk, Orthodox Church of Ukraine
  • George Kovalenko, orthodox priest, rector of Open Orthodox University of the Saint Sophia the Wisdom.

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