The pro-Russians in eastern Ukraine declared allegiance to the Russian Orthodox Church, and other religions in the area have fallen under suspicion.
Father Sergei Kosyak with the Gospel Church told The Telegraph the story of his confrontation with pro-Russians on May 23. There was a prayer marathon, and the separatists did not approve.
“We were praying for peace in Ukraine – and we had a banner with the Ukrainian flag,” he said. “This angered the representatives of the ‘People’s Republic.’ They pointed guns at us while some of them took down the tent and threw it into the river.”
The people left, and Kosyak went to the Donetsk People’s Republic for an apology, but the people took him and “[F]ive men and one woman took turns to beat him with clubs and whips.” A gun was put to his head, and another person “threatened to break the priest’s fingers with a hammer.”
“I told them it was a meeting to pray for the peace of Ukraine,” he said. “They said a far-right activist was there with me. I said, ‘I don’t care who was there – we are all sinners.’ My answers angered them, so they started beating me. They had all the equipment they needed. They had metal and rubber clubs and whips; they had hammers.”
“One of the accusations they threw at me was that I’m not an Orthodox priest,” he continued. “It was a part of what happened to me. But the main reason was a political one: they perceived me as an enemy.”
Father Kosyak believes the people would have killed him if it was not for a high-level pro-Russian. This man belongs to a Protestant church, and “shamed by this treatment of a priest, he secured Fr. Kosyak’s release.” Unfortunately, not every priest is so lucky. From The Telegraph:
Four days later, another priest was kidnapped in broad daylight. Father Pawel Witek, a Roman Catholic clergyman from Poland, disappeared at midday on May 27. He was visiting Donetsk to meet the local Dean of his Church.
Fr. Witek was forced into the boot of a car and driven to a rebel base, where he was tied up and interrogated. His captors accused him of being a “Polish sniper,” sent by his country’s government to fight the rebellion. He was held overnight before being freed. Fr. Witek immediately left Ukraine.
Father Tikhon Kulbaka belongs to the Greek-Catholic Church and receives threats on a regular basis. A pro-Russian website published Father Kulbaka’s phone number and his chapel’s address. He knows his faith makes him a target.
He read a document that states Orthodoxy is the DPR state religion.
“I’ve read this document myself, and it is stated that the dominating religion is the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate,” said Fr. Kulbaka. “This particular statement contradicts every European and international law about the equality of religions. And the constitution of Ukraine also states that all religions are equal.”
But Father Kulbaka will not leave.
“I think they will do their best to oust us from here,” he said. “But the captain is the last person to leave the ship: we won’t abandon the people who believe in us.”