Ukraine retakes part of Severodonetsk; revered church engulfed in flames

A towering wooden monastery that is part of a revered site of the centuries-old Ukrainian Orthodox Church caught fire and suffered heavy damage, officials said on Saturday.

Ukrainian leaders said in a statement on Twitter that Russia bombed the All Saints Monastery, which is affiliated with Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Videos posted on social media showed flames engulfing the ornate building, which attracted tourists and pilgrims before the war. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church said he had no information on whether Saturday’s attack left anyone dead or injured.

Ukraine’s mission to the UN office in Vienna wrote: “Would Patriarch Kiril finally call on President Putin 2 to end the war or would he continue to bless the Russian army?

Russian Ministry of Defense refuse that his forces were involved in the attack. Instead, he blamed Ukrainian troops for firing on the monastery and starting the fire.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Saturday evening called on Russian church leaders to “clearly condemn everyone who condones aggression.”

“Russia deliberately and systematically destroys the cultural and historical heritage of Ukraine,” he said.

The monastery is part of the Svyatogorsk Lavra, a sacred site along the Siversky Donets River. In March, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church said a bomb fell near a bridge and blew up the facility, smashing windows. Church leaders said more than 500 people were seeking refuge there at the time of the attack.

UNESCO has included the Svyatogorsk Lavra on a listing of cultural sites damaged during the war.

The war increased tensions between the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox churches; Christianity is the dominant religion in both nations. Kirill has been a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the invasion. Religious and secular leaders in Ukraine and other countries have called on Kirill to take a stand against the war. In May, Pope Francis warned him not to be “Putin’s altar boy”.

Jerry B. Hatch