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'What if he had come from Ukraine?' How a small-town Russian priest reported a parishioner to the FSB for criticizing the war

Source: Mediazona

On October 12, former Usolye-Sibirskoye City Duma deputy Sergey Uglyanitsa was charged with inciting hatred against the Russian military, the police, and Vladimir Putin himself. Uglyanitsa soon learned that his "crime" consisted of comments and posts he'd made months earlier on social media — and that he'd only caught the authorities' attention because the priest at his church of 10 years had reported him to the Russian FSB based on a single conversation. Both the deputy and the priest spoke to journalists from the independent Russian outlet Mediazona about the case. In English, Meduza summarizes what they learned.

Sergey Kandybin, a rector at a church in the village of Telma in Russia’s Irkutsk region, filed a report to the FSB against Sergey Uglyanitsa, a former deputy from Russia’s Communist Party, after Uglyanitsa criticized the war in Ukraine. According to documents obtained by journalists, Kandybin told authorities about a conversation he had with Uglyanitsa in the spring of 2022.

“On April 11, in the first half of the day, a man who was previously unknown to me and who, according to the clerk at the church shop, had been trying to meet with me for a week, visited the church at 1 Zuyeva Street,” Kandybin reportedly told investigators.

According to the priest, the man wanted to discuss a sermon he had given soon after the start of the war in Ukraine. In it, Kandybin had blamed the war on the U.S., claiming that the humanitarian disaster in Ukraine was being exacerbated by “certain people who have committed atrocities in Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Syria from overseas.”

Church of Our Lady of Kazan, Telma

Kandybin told FSB officers that the man, who he referred to as a “blogger,” had come to express his objection to his sermon, arguing that “the war is one of aggression” and that Russia’s leaders and military are responsible for it.

The priest also said he tried to change the man’s mind by appealing to his sense of patriotism, but that the “blogger” responded by saying, “If you ask me, it will be better if this war ends in Ukrainian victory. I await the day when they show the Ukrainian army marching through Red Square on TV.”

“My attempts to calm him and engage in a dialogue were unsuccessful; they were met with hostility. He proceeded to keep talking about his wish to see a Ukrainian counteroffensive as soon as possible. Our conversation reached a dead end, and he said to me, ‘I’m going to light candles for Ukraine’s victory and get out of your church,'” Kandybin told the FSB.

Sergey Uglyanitsa himself told Mediazona that much of Kandybin’s account is false; for one thing, he said, he’s not a blogger and never told Kandybin he was. In addition, he said, he’s been a parishioner at the church for 10 years:

So when the priest says he had no idea who I was, he’s being disingenuous, to put it lightly: he’s known me for a decade. I hadn’t spoken to him about such sensitive topics before, but I always chipped in to support Orthodoxy in Russia.

The former deputy also told journalists he never said he was looking forward to seeing the Ukrainian army in Red Square: “I asked, ‘What will you do, Holy Father, if the Ukrainian Armed Forces hold a parade on Red Square and take Moscow or the Kremlin? What will happen to you then if you openly support violence? Don’t you understand what you’re being pushed into? In the end, you won’t be in the Russian Orthodox Church.’ And I didn’t light a candle for [Ukrainian victory]. I lit a candle for the souls of everyone who has died in this war,” Uglyanitsa said.

Kandybin confirmed to Mediazona that he reported Uglyanitsa to the FSB, claiming he did it out of “fear for the country’s security”:

I have no idea who he is, this Uglyanitsa. He came in, sniffed around, peppered me with questions, and gave some unsavory speeches. What if he had come from Ukraine? What if he was a saboteur? If he allows himself to say those things out loud, it means somebody needs to deal with him! So what’s the problem with what I wrote? I did a good thing!

After the priest’s denunciation, Russian law enforcement launched a preliminary investigation into Uglyanitsa. On October 12, he was charged with inciting hatred against the military, the police, and the authorities, as well as against “a wide range of people and representatives of the government, specifically Russian President Vladimir Putin,” for posts and comments he made on social media.

In November, a judge reclassified Uglyanitsa’s case under Russia’s law against “discrediting” the army, and later dropped the case due to the statute of limitations expiring.

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