How the government uses the army to fight on the home front
Lately, we have often witnessed how people in military uniforms come to seize UOC churches. Who are they, why is this happening, and what will happen next?
On November 20, 2023, the whole of Ukraine (and probably not only it) was shaken by footage from Cherkasy, where people in military uniforms staged a brawl, seizing the UOC Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Convent. The videos of soldiers beating priests and capturing an Orthodox church look completely absurd. How can the military engage in looting in the rear instead of defending the Motherland on the front lines?
And the incident in Cherkasy is a reason to raise the issue when people in military uniforms, perhaps the most respected layer in Ukrainian society, take part in such "disrespectful" actions.
Since the beginning of the war, hundreds of temples have already been taken over. And in many cases, along with a handful of local residents – representatives of the territorial community or the OCU, people in camouflage have participated in raider seizures. But if earlier they represented the "territorial defense" units, now we increasingly see soldiers of the Ukrainian army near the UOC temples. It seems that in recent months, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have been more actively involved in the fight against the Church. Why and who is doing this? Let's figure it out.
The first, most resonant case of raiding an Orthodox church with the direct participation of people in military uniforms occurred in March 2022 in the Cherkasy region, in the city of Smila. At that time, an armed crowd literally threw the priest out of the Holy Protection Church of the UOC.
In June 2023, the chaplain of the OCU with the call sign "Ved'mak" ("Witcher") in Pereyaslav seized the Trinity and Assumption temples directly with the help of his "comrades" – people in uniform. At night, they came with grinders and crowbars first to the Trinity, then to the Assumption temple. In November of the same year, just recently, the Witcher confirmed that the temple in Pereyaslav was seized without the participation of local residents. In other words, if it wasn't regular military personnel, then someone posing as them.
On November 11, 2023, in the village of Luh in Rahiv district in Zakarpattia, people in military uniforms came to the UOC temple. One of them attacked a pregnant parishioner of the Holy Spirit Church of the UOC and a priest. On the chevron of this person, it was written that he was a "sergeant" from the "128th Separate Guards Brigade." At the same time, the police, who were standing nearby, did nothing and simply suggested filing a statement.
On the same day, in the village of Chechelivka in the Alexandria diocese, unknown individuals in camouflage and balaclavas broke into the doors and seized the Protection Church of the UOC. Eyewitnesses claim that among the raiders were representatives of the police and the SBU.
And if in Luh it could be argued that people in military uniforms were representatives of a security company, and in Chechelivka – employees of the SBU, then in the situation in Ladyzhyn, you can no longer say that. The fact is that on November 12, the military were brought to a meeting on the transfer to the OCU of the Kazan Church on their only day off. This church was transferred to the ownership of the religious community in 2011, and it is clear that the military who came there to "vote" have no relation to either the church or the community. Whether they were ordered or came to "convert" the shrine on their own is not so important. Because in any case, their actions can be classified as a crime.
But the most glaring case (of those that have occurred recently) is undoubtedly the seizure of the UOC monastery in Cherkasy. Broken jaws, beaten parishioners, a blocked hospital – all under the cover of camouflage.
In Cherkasy, as in the previous examples, we see that military uniforms (or the military themselves) are used in the fight against the Church.
The reason for this is clear. The authorities no longer enjoy the same level of trust among the people as they did at the beginning of the war. Against the backdrop of corruption scandals, regular official "shameful" incidents involving theft and bribery, the only institution that the people still trust is the army, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU). Yes, there are corruption problems there too, but the army continues to be the leader in public trust. Simply because almost every Ukrainian has relatives and acquaintances who defend the country on the front lines, die, or get injured. And for this reason, the use of the military in the struggle against the Church looks particularly cynical and disgusting. Even more disgusting are situations where robust, athletic guys, donning military uniforms, come to beat priests and elderly women, while the latter can only cry in helplessness. After all, the police are on the side of the criminals.
It is clear that these people come to the churches of the UOC not because they suddenly have a desire to pray to God. They, or those who sent them, simply exploit military uniforms as a “guarantee of immunity,” reasonably expecting that no one will stop the military.
MP Artem Dmytruk speaks about it this way: "When a criminal, committing a crime, puts on a military uniform, it doesn't mean he automatically became a good person. No, he's just a criminal in a military uniform."
In another place, the MP wrote, "Today, when the best children of Ukraine pay with their health and lives for our freedom and independence, healthy and strong raiders have chosen the path of robbery. They are armed and dressed in military uniforms, but they are fighting against their own people. The authorities support them. Moreover, they have given them guarantees of immunity and impunity."
And he is right. Moreover, the problem is not only that the authorities use the authority of the military for their dirty, blatantly criminal purposes. The problem is that with their "ecclesiastical" activities, they humiliate our army. And this is not just a supposition.
Very recently, a 69-year-old rector of the cathedral in Uzhhorod, Dmytro Sidor, was served a military draft notice. And this is not the first or only such case. The authorities constantly threaten defenders of Orthodox churches with mobilization into the AFU (recall the cross procession in Pochaiv and many other cases). Today, the draft notice, thanks to the efforts of those in power, has turned into a black mark. But such an approach to military service is an outright discredit of the armed forces, turning them into some kind of penal battalion. Often, if they cannot send someone to prison, they send them to the army.
Why is this done? Because the authorities understand that the people have long been not with them. In the absence of significant victories on the front, the army and the military can be used for a "victory" over their own citizens. And this is an extremely shameful and unsuccessful tactic. Because the "gray mass," which is currently silent while witnessing the persecution of the Church, has relatives on the front lines, among whom there are a large number of believers.
And they, returning from the war, will surely ask who and how fought in the rear against their mothers and sisters. Against their temples. Against their faith.