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 ‘The American faith’: Why Russia targets evangelicals in Ukraine

38 minutes
 ‘The American faith’: Why Russia targets evangelicals in Ukraine

Historically, Ukraine has been home to people of a variety of faiths and religious denominations, and it’s been exceptionally “open to receiving a wide spectrum of religious communities” in the years since the collapse of the U.S.S.R, according to expert Catherine Wanner.

This laissez-faire approach to religion stands in stark contrast to Russian state policy, which claims to embrace religious pluralism while systematically repressing religious liberty. In Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, experts have documented at least 76 incidents of religious persecution since the full-scale war began in February 2022, including forced conversion, abduction, and murder.

This persecution, which some experts say may constitute a “systematic” campaign, has affected Ukrainians of a number of faiths, including Orthodox Christians, Catholics, and Muslims. But members of one group have been especially likely to face repressions: Protestants, despite making up between two and four percent of Ukraine’s population, were the victims of 34 percent of cases of religious persecution, as writer Peter Pomerantsev noted in his article “Russia’s War Against Evangelicals,” published in Time last month. This includes evangelical Baptists, who were the most likely denomination to face persecution after Ukrainian Orthodox believers.

Russia’s disproportionate targeting of evangelical Christians in Ukraine is no coincidence. One Ukrainian pastor quoted in Pomerantsev’s article summed up the occupation authorities’ mindset like this: “You are the American faith, the Americans are our enemies, [and] the enemies must be destroyed.”

To learn more about Russia’s violent campaign against Ukrainian evangelicals and one organization’s efforts to raise awareness about it in the United States, Meduza senior news editor Sam Breazeale spoke to Steven Moore and Anna Shvetsova from the humanitarian aid organization the Ukraine Freedom Project, and Catherine Wanner, a professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University who studies religious life in Ukraine.

Timestamps for this episode:

  • (2:30) Exploring Ukraine’s religious landscape since 1991
  • (9:31) The persecution of Protestants in occupied Ukraine
  • (26:14) The Role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the conflict
  • (27:24) Navigating political disinformation and support for Ukraine in the U.S.

A scholarly look at Moscow’s ‘influence’ over American minds

Hosted by Sam Breazeale. Sound editing by Kevin Rothrock.

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