Thursday, 8 Dec 2022

Russia’s religious chief is urging men to war for Putin

Patriarch Kirill: Trump gives hope for Russia

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Russian soldiers who die in the war against Ukraine will be cleansed of all their sins, the head of the country’s Orthodox Church, a key ally of President Vladimir Putin has claimed. In an extraordinary intervention days after Putin ordered Russia’s first mobilisation since World War 2, Patriarch Kirill urged the nation’s men to join the fight and even offered what religious believers may take to be an incentive.

Kirill, 75, has previously opponents of the war as well as urging Russians to rally round the Kremlin.

In his first Sunday address since Putin’s mobilisation order, which will see 300,000 reservists called up, Kirill said: “Many are dying on the fields of internecine warfare.

“The Church prays that this battle will end as soon as possible, so that as few brothers as possible will kill each other in this fratricidal war.

“But at the same time, the Church realises that if somebody, driven by a sense of duty and the need to fulfil their oath goes to do what their duty calls of them, and if a person dies in the performance of this duty, then they have undoubtedly committed an act equivalent to sacrifice.

“They will have sacrificed themselves for others. And therefore, we believe that this sacrifice washes away all the sins that a person has committed.”

The mobilisation, taken after a series of military setbacks which has seen Ukraine take back large swathes of land in the east, has stoked public anger, resulting in to an exodus of military-age men and triggering protests across the country, with hundreds arrested.

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Kirill’s support for the war in Ukraine has deepened a rift between the Russian branch of the Orthodox Church and other wings of Orthodoxy around the world.

Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, has been a vocal opponent of the war, and has appeared to scold Kirill’s position in several public addresses, including earlier this month when he said God does not support war.

Meanwhile Ukrainians in the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol fear they will be called up by Moscow after a referendum on joining Russia in which some residents were forced to vote at gunpoint, its exiled mayor said on Monday.

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Mayor Ivan Fedorov said the last official route out of Melitopol to territory controlled by Ukraine had been closed, with the concerns of residents rising since voting got underway in the four-day referendum on Friday.

He told a news briefing via video link: “Our residents are frightened, they are panicking, they don’t know what will happen tomorrow, and when people will start being called up to Russia’s army.”

Melitopol, in southeastern Ukraine, was one of the first cities to fall after Russia’s invasion in February. It is also one of four regions holding referendums which Kyiv and the international community both say are a sham.

Mr Fedorov said he believed the main reason for holding the referendums was to enable Moscow to conscript Ukrainians following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilisation last week.

He added: “The voting takes place in front of assault rifles, Russian men with weapons.

“People are grabbed by Russian soldiers right on the street and forced to vote, not only for themselves but for their whole families.

“When the soldiers enter a rental house with the tenant inside, they make him vote for every person registered in that particular building.”

Mr Fedorov said that passage through the Vasylivka crossing, the only official way to reach territory controlled by Kyiv, had been closed to men aged 18-35 for four days and was completely shut on Sunday.

The referendums on becoming part of Russia were organised hastily after Ukraine recaptured large swathes of the north-east.

Russia’s parliament could move to formalise the annexations within days.

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