A 16th century Orthodox monastery has been burned to the ground after shelling by Russian artillery in eastern Ukraine, says Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but Russian media and supporters claim Ukrainian nationalists set it ablaze, as Moscow’s ongoing invasion carries on for more than 100 days.,
The wooden structure of All Saints Monastery of the Svyatogorsk Lavra, which is located in Gorlovka city in Donetsk region and belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, was set ablaze Saturday after a series of targeted shelling by Russian forces, Fox News reported.
On his official Telegram channel, Zelenskyy posted a video of the burning monastery, saying, “Russian artillery struck … and destroyed All Saints Monastery,” the Qatari government-run news agency Al Jazeera said.
The Ukrainian president also said Russia should be expelled from the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO. “Every church burned by Russia in Ukraine, every school blown up, every destroyed memorial proves that Russia has no place in UNESCO.”
The monastery lies near Russian positions in eastern Donetsk, which the Kremlin is focused on capturing.
“There were about 300 refugees, about 60 children. Racists continue to prove inability to be part of the civilized world,” wrote Tkachenko Oleksandr, the minister of culture and information policy of Ukraine, on Twitter, adding that 133 religious buildings in Ukraine had “suffered from Russia.”
Oleksandr told media that “when the Russians destroy Ukrainian heritage, they don’t care whether these are their [spiritual sites] or not, they just destroy them.”
Ukraine World, an English-language media outlet, wrote, “Earlier this week several monks & nuns were killed in the Russian shelling of the monastery. Is this ‘friendly fire,’ a part of denazification?”
Agatha Gorski, the Ukrainian journalist who was the first to report on the fire, wrote on Twitter, “The Lavra dates back to the 1500s. Second time Russia shells it. This is yet another act of Russian barbarism. For them, nothing is sacred.”
However, the Russian government-run network RT blamed the burning down of the monastery on “civil conflict” in eastern Ukraine, saying that the Donetsk region is “the site of ongoing bloody confrontations between Kiev’s military and self-defense troops.”
“Several other churches have sustained damage since the beginning of the bloody conflict in east Ukraine. Five clerics have been killed,” the channel said, adding that “Russia’s Orthodox Church has called on Kiev authorities to provide safety for clerics and shrines, urging them not to allow the civil conflict to develop a ‘religious dimension.’”
Russia’s defense ministry has also claimed that Ukrainian troops set fire to the monastery, according to Al Jazeera.
The setting ablaze of the monastery is likely to deepen the rift in the ecumenical relations between Ukraine and Russia.
Since Russia began its invasion on Feb. 24, at least 4,183 civilians have been killed and 5,014 injured as of a Friday update from the U.N. Among those killed are 268 children.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was condemned by nearly 300 Russian Orthodox leaders in an open letter issued in March.
“We mourn the ordeal to which our brothers and sisters in Ukraine were undeservedly subjected,” the Russian Orthodox clerics wrote in their open letter. “The Last Judgment awaits every person.”
“No earthly authority, no doctors, no guards will protect from this judgment. Concerned about the salvation of every person who considers himself a child of the Russian Orthodox Church, we do not want him to appear at this judgment, bearing the heavy burden of mother’s curses.”
Moscow Patriarch Kirill, an ally of Putin’s, has been accused of lending religious justification for the invasion, although countless religious leaders have called for him to condemn the violence.
Over 400 ministers of Evangelical churches in Russia have also called for reconciliation and an immediate end to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
The Orthodox Public Affairs Committee, which advocates on behalf of the global Orthodox Christian Church, said in an earlier statement that Kirill’s words enable Putin by “giving religious cover to this unconscionable and unjustified conflict.”
“Kirill’s statements ring hollow and have the stench of direct government interference,” the OPAC statement shared with The Christian Post reads. “Is this because he owes his position and the lucrative benefits he receives to Vladimir Putin? Why does he not speak out for his Ukrainian Flock? Why does he endorse the Russian military, even presenting them with a holy icon?”