How the war on Ukraine impacts religious liberty

by | Mar 4, 2022

A multitude of tragedies are unfolding in Ukraine as a result of Russia’s invasion. Among them is the increased threat to religious liberty in Ukraine if subject to Russian rule.

In an interview with Religion News Service, theologian and author Bradley Nassif explains that, for starters, the war on Ukraine could have significant ramifications for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, where tensions between the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches have escalated in recent years.

“If Russia should establish itself in Ukraine, the Russian Orthodox Church will have much more power to control the fate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. As a result, the political conflicts we are now watching on television could soon become a major religious conflict as well.”

The State Department’s most recent Annual Report on Religious Freedom notes that Russia employs a “disinformation campaign to fuel further conflict between the two churches.” (For more on the Orthodox Church conflict in Ukraine, see this helpful New York Times explainer).

But the damage to religion and religious freedom will not be limited to the Orthodox Church. As Nassif warns, Russian rule would be especially dangerous for evangelical Christians and other religious minorities in Ukraine.

“Evangelicals who take a ‘who cares’ attitude to what is going on now in Ukraine will be in for a big surprise once the dust settles. One needs only to look at what the Russians did to evangelicals after they annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.


Evangelicals may well face similar governmental penalties for church gatherings, preaching and evangelistic campaigns. The growing concern is over evangelicals who allegedly ‘sheep steal’ members of the Orthodox Church into their own Protestant ranks.”

Especially concerning is the plight of religious minorities in Russia. The country is on the State Department’s Special Watch List because it “engages in or tolerates severe violations of religious freedom.” As the State Department detailed in its report, religious persecution in a variety of forms is rampant in Russa. 

“[A]uthorities [in Russia] continued to investigate, detain, imprison, torture, and and/or physically abuse persons or seize their property because of their religious faith, including members of groups the government classified as extremist and banned…”

Religious persecution is an especially pernicious form of oppression: It’s an attack on a person’s right of conscience. It is one more reason to pray for a peaceful end to this invasion.