European leaders ask Russia to stop destroying religious sites

Elise Ann Allen
|Senior Correspondent
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ROME – Representatives of both the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have condemned the destruction of churches and religious sites in Ukraine and have asked Russia to refrain from targeting them.

In a joint April 13 statement, the organizations said that as the war in Ukraine drags on, “we mourn the victims of war and lament the millions forced to leave their homes and their country behind, seeking shelter and safety within Ukraine, in Europe and beyond.”

“Children, women, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable. Many victims of the war suffer from profound psychological trauma,” they said.

The organizations also said they are “appalled” by the destruction of religious sites and places of worship, including churches, synagogues, and mosques.

These places “are vital to the country’s diverse religious communities, more than ever in times of crisis,” they said.

It was noted that the Council of Europe was established in the aftermath of the second world war while OSCE was formed in the midst of the Cold War, “with the promise of maintaining peace and security for the European continent.”

“As representatives of both organizations committed to promote peaceful dialogue, we call on Russia to stop the destruction of religious sites and places of worship, which, together with the indiscriminate killing of tens of thousands of civilians, constitute crimes against humanity,” they said.

The statement was signed by interreligious representatives of each organization, including Rabbi Andrew Baker, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office on Combating Antisemitism, and Ambassador Mehmet Paçacı, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office on Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims.

Other signatories include Daniel Höltgen, Council of Europe Special Representative on Antisemitic, anti-Muslim and other forms of religious intolerance and hate crimes, and Professor Regina Polak, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination, with an additional focus on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians and Members of other Religions.

The statement comes after the United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO said Wednesday that at least 98 religious and cultural sites in Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed in the 50 days that have elapsed since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

So far, shelling in Ukraine has hit heritage sites in eight regions of Ukraine, including some dating to the early medieval era as well as others seen as icons of early Soviet architecture.

Experts have voiced concern that as the war drags on, more religious and cultural sites will be damaged or destroyed as a result of shelling.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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