Religion often plays a role in violent conflicts. Entangled with ethno-national, economic and territorial issues, religious actors, leaders and institutions can exacerbate and ameliorate both the causes and course of a conflict. While some religious actors provide care and appeal for peace, others contribute to the brutality and provide faith-filled fuel to already tenacious confrontations.
The warfare currently engulfing Ukraine is no exception. Religion played a role as the specter of Russian invasion grew over the last several years. Now, after Russian forces began their aggressive assault on Feb. 24, 2022, religious communities within Ukraine, Russia and across the globe are responding.
This edition of ReligionLink provides background, resources and expert sources to help journalists cover the religious features of a war whose impacts will reverberate around the world.
Background information and related research
The following includes a mix of statistical data, expert analysis and in-depth looks at religion in Russia, Ukraine and the current conflict:
- Read “How Putin Turned Religion’s ‘Sharp Power’ Against Ukraine,” from the United States Institute of Peace on Feb. 9, 2022.
- Read “Why church conflict in Ukraine reflects historic Russian-Ukrainian tensions,” from The Conversation on Feb. 8, 2022.
- Read “2020 Report on International Religious Freedom: Ukraine,” from the U.S. Office of International Religious Freedom on May 12, 2021.
- Read “Religious Landscape of Ukraine Discussed at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute,” from Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University, on Oct. 10, 2019.
- Read “Religion and Forced Displacement in Ukraine,” from the Foreign Policy Centre, a London think tank, on July 23, 2020.
- Read “Religion in Russia,” from ThoughtCo on July 10, 2019.
- Read “Split between Ukrainian, Russian churches shows political importance of Orthodox Christianity,” from the Pew Research Center on Jan. 14, 2019.
- Read “Religious Rift Compounds Tensions Between Ukraine and Russia,” from The Russia File on Oct. 19, 2018.
- Read “Russia, Ukraine, and the battle for religion,” from the European Council on Foreign Relations on Oct. 12, 2018.
- Read “Religion and politics: key things to know as Kyiv and Moscow clash in a new church disagreement,” from Ukraine Crisis Media Centre on April 21, 2018.
- Read “Ukraine: Religion and (geo-)politics: Orthodox split weakens Russia’s influence,” a European Parliament briefing.
- Read “National Religion Data: Ukraine and Russia Comparison,” from the Association of Religion Data Archives.
- Read Understanding World Christianity: Russia, by Scott M. Kenworthy and Alexander S. Agadjanian
- Read Holy Rus’: The Rebirth of Orthodoxy in the New Russia, by John P. Burgess.
- Read Religion and Identity in Modern Russia: The Revival of Orthodoxy and Islam, by Marietta Stepaniants and Juliet Johnson.
- Read Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy: Religion, Politics, and Strategy, by Dmitry Adamsky.
- Read “Ukraine,” from the Global Religious Futures Project.
- Read “Russia,” from the Global Religious Futures Project.
With new reporting coming out every day, this is a brief list of reporting over the last two years:
- Read “For Jews fleeing Ukraine, Passover takes on new meaning,” from the Associated Press on April 13, 2022.
- Read “Why is Russia’s church backing Putin’s war? Church-state history gives a clue,” from The Conversation on March 21, 2022.
- Read “Ukraine’s Jews seek refuge in synagogues as Russia invades,” from the Los Angeles Times on Feb. 25, 2022.
- Read, “Russia Attacks Ukraine: Why Some Experts Insist Putin Is Motivated By Religion,” from Religion Unplugged on February 25, 2022 (analysis).
- Read “In Ukraine, Jewish leaders mobilize to provide essentials to a community in crisis,” from Jewish Insider on Feb. 25, 2022.
- Read, “Russia’s Assault on Ukraine Has a Crusader Element,” from Esquire on February 24, 2022.
- Read “Moscow Patriarch Kirill, Ukrainian Orthodox leaders issue calls for peace,” from Religion News Service on Feb. 24, 2022.
- Read “Kyiv Temple shuts down as LDS officials urge Ukrainians to pray leaders’ hearts will be ‘softened,’” from The Salt Lake Tribune on Feb. 24, 2022.
- Read “Next year in Kyiv?” from Religion News Service on Feb. 24, 2022 (commentary).
- Read “Putin’s spiritual destiny: The religious president wants to rebuild Christendom,” from UnHerd on Feb. 24, 2022 (analysis).
- Read “As Russian Troops Launch Invasion Into Ukraine, Church Members Pray For Peace,” from Religion Unplugged on Feb. 24, 2022.
- Read “Ukrainian Catholics: ‘Who can help us?,’” from News Press Now on Feb. 24, 2022.
- Read “‘There is still time.’ The Vatican assesses its influence as war breaks out in Ukraine,” from Religion News Service on Feb. 24, 2022.
- Read “Russia Keeps Punishing Evangelicals in Crimea,” from Christianity Today on Feb. 23, 2022.
- Read “As Russian threat escalates, prominent US faith leaders hold vigil for peace in Ukraine,” from Religion News Service on Feb. 23, 2022.
- Read “Israel’s diplomatic staff in Ukraine complete relocation from Kyiv to Lviv,” from The Times of Israel on Feb. 22, 2022.
- Read “Eastern Ukraine’s Jews brace for food shortages and antisemitic provocations,” from The Forward on Feb. 22, 2022.
- Read “Make no mistake: If there’s a war between Russia and Ukraine it will be a religious war,” from Religion Dispatches on Feb. 21, 2022.
- Read “The stormy, yet rich history of the Jews in Ukraine,” from The Forward on Feb. 21, 2022.
- Read “For Ukraine’s Jews, the Threat of War Stirs Memories of Past Horrors,” from The New York Times on Feb. 21, 2022.
- Read “Ukraine Crisis: 75 Ukrainian Jews make aliyah today amid escalating tensions,” from The Jerusalem Post on Feb. 21, 2022.
- Read “Amid War and Rumors of War, Ukraine Pastors Preach and Prepare,” from Christianity Today on Feb. 21, 2022.
- Watch “Religion, Language Emerge as Key Fronts in Rising Russia-Ukraine Tensions,” from VOA News on Feb. 14, 2022.
- Read “Ukraine: Rising tensions put Crimean Tatar Muslims at risk again,” from Al Jazeera on Feb. 10, 2022.
- Read “Why church conflict in Ukraine reflects historic Russian-Ukrainian tensions,” from Religion News Service on Feb. 9, 2022.
- Read “How Russia is weaponizing religion against Ukraine,” from Global News on Feb. 8, 2022.
- Read “Amid tensions, Muslims in eastern Ukrainian town hopeful for peace,” from The Express Tribune on Jan. 31, 2022.
- Read “Divided They Stand: Evangelicals Split Up in Politics to Keep Ukraine Conservative,” from Christianity Today on May 10, 2021.
- Read “Putin Wants God (or at Least the Church) on His Side: A contest over the future of Christianity in Ukraine goes to the heart of Moscow’s ambitions,” from Foreign Policy on Sept. 10, 2018 (analysis).
Dmitry Adamsky is professor at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy and is a head of the B.A. honors track in strategy and decision making at Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel. His research interests include international security; cultural approach to international relations; and American, Russian and Israeli national security policies.
John Burgess is a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (and a Presbyterian, of all things) who has spent years covering the revival of Orthodoxy in Russia.
Tarunjit Singh Butalia serves as executive director of Religions for Peace USA. He has been active in the interfaith movement for over two decades. He has been a member of the board of trustees of Parliament of the World’s Religions for 12 years as well as North American Interfaith Network. He is also a founding trustee of the Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations and serves on the advisory committee of the Global Sikh Council.
Jose Casanova is professor emeritus at Georgetown University, where he previously taught in the department of sociology and the department of theology and religious studies. He is head of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Politics.
Kathryn David is Mellon Assistant Professor of Russian and East European Studies at Vanderbilt University. She specializes in the history of Soviet Ukraine and Russia.
Caroline Dunbar of the Yale MacMillan Center’s European Studies Council researches church-and-state relations in 20th-century and post-Soviet Ukraine and Russia; Soviet anti-religious policy; and the historical role of Eastern Orthodoxy in the development of Ukrainian cultural identities.
Taras Dzyubanskyy is director of the Institute of Religion and Society at the Ukrainian Catholic University.
Mark Hetfield is the president and CEO of HIAS, or Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. HIAS is active on the ground in Poland and Moldova coordinating with Jewish organizations in those countries who have been taking in Ukrainian refugees. Arrange an interview through Bill Swersey.
Wasyl Hrynkiw is pastor at St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church in Hempstead, New York.
Juliet Johnson is professor in the department of political science at McGill University. Her research focuses on the politics of money and identity, particularly in post-communist Europe.
Mark B. Levin is Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry (NCSEJ) since 1992. He is an expert on national and international political and legislative issues. Mr. Levin travels extensively throughout the former Soviet region on a frequent basis.
Peter Mandaville is a professor of international affairs and a senior fellow at the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University in Virginia. He writes on political Islam and the origins of mainstream Islamism. As a senior visiting expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace with the religion and inclusive societies team he has written on the ongoing conflicts between Russia and Ukraine.
Elisabeth Palugyay was in charge as migration officer and head of section for refugee aid and migration for the Red Cross Austria in Vienna when she started her cooperation with the International Dialogue Centre KAICIID and became a founding member of the Network for Dialogue.
Serhii Plokhii is Mykhailo S. Hrushevs’kyi Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University and director of the Ukrainian Research Institute. His research interests include the intellectual, cultural and international history of Eastern Europe, with an emphasis on Ukraine.
Viktoriya Sereda is a research fellow at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany; senior researcher at the National Academy of Science, Ukraine; and professor of sociology at Ukrainian Catholic University. Her research focuses on urban sociology, memory studies, nationalism, migration and identity studies, and she has led or participated in more than 30 sociological research projects on Ukrainian society and its regional dimensions.
Meylakh Sheykhet is director of the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union, in Lviv, Ukraine.
Malkhaz Songulashvili is the metropolitan bishop of Tbilisi, Georgia. Songulashvili is the leader of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia and a professor of comparative theology and religious ethics. As leader of the Peace Cathedral in Tbilisi, he has been outspoken on Russian aggression in post-Communist states.
Chrissy Stroop is a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches, columnist for Open Democracy, co-editor of Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church and commentator on religion and politics, the U.S. Christian right, Russia and foreign policy.
Catherine Wanner is professor of history, anthropology and religious studies at Penn State’s School of International Affairs. Her research centers on the politics of religion, conflict mediation and human rights, especially in Ukraine, but more broadly in Eastern Europe.
Josef Zissels is executive co-president of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine (Vaad of Ukraine).
The Nanovic Institute for European Studies at Notre Dame University provides an interdisciplinary home for students, faculty and visiting scholars to explore the evolving ideas, cultures, traditions, beliefs, moral challenges and institutions that shape Europe.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has an official website that provides resources on houses of worship, beliefs, prayers and current news.
Autonomous Church of Eastern Orthodoxy in Ukraine, under the ecclesiastic jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.
The Ukrainian Research Institute is a research institute affiliated with Harvard University devoted to Ukrainian studies, including the history, culture, language, literature and politics of Ukraine.
- Explore “Publications of the Ukrainian Research Institute,” from Harvard University.
- Explore “Guide to Resources on Religions of Russia,” from Illinois University.
- Read “Religions for Peace Statement on the Ukraine Situation,” from Religions for Peace International.