The U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has reported on how Russian millbloggers have been distorting the historic event which occurred in Kyiv on Jan. 7.

Russia continues to weaponize religion to perpetuate long-standing information operations and discredit Ukraine.

Russian milbloggers responded to footage posted on Jan. 7 of uniformed Ukrainian servicemen attending Orthodox Christmas services at the Kyiv-Perchesk Lavra and decried it as a reprisal and open war on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP). Several milbloggers referred to the footage as evidence that the Lavra has been “captured” by “heretics and schismatics.” The milblogger vitriol at the footage of Christmas services at the Lavra follows the decision by the Ukrainian government to take back control of the main cathedral of the Kyiv-Perchesk Lavra from the UOC MP and allow the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) to hold Orthodox Christmas services at the Lavra on Jan. 7. The Russian response to the Ukrainian government’s decision to transfer control of the Lavra to the OCU exemplifies Moscow’s continued weaponization of religion in order to frame Ukraine as evil and position Russia as the protector of Orthodox Christian values, as ISW has previously reported.

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Ukrainian servicemen arrive to attend the Christmas service in the Assumption Cathedral of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra on January 7, 2023. AFP

The Ukrainian government has not disrupted the ability of observers to celebrate Orthodox Christmas in Ukraine.

Russian milbloggers falsely presented the legal transfer of the Kyiv-Perchesk Lavra from the UOC MP, which the Ukrainian government maintains has explicit links to the Kremlin and has provided material and spiritual support to the Russian war in Ukraine, to the OCU as an attack on the ability of observers of Orthodox tradition to celebrate Christmas. Orthodox services continued through Ukraine, including in the Kyiv-Perchesk Lavra, throughout the course of the day on Jan. 7. The Ukrainian government position that elements of the UOC MP, from which Kyiv removed control of the Lavra, is supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s continued association with the Russian Orthodox Church. In his speech on Orthodox Christmas, Putin thanked the ROC for its continued support for Russian troops in Ukraine. Ukraine is not suppressing the religious liberties of Orthodox Christians, contrary to the Russian information operation, and is instead taking the steps it deems necessary to distance Ukrainian cultural heritage from religious elements it asserts are linked to the Kremlin and its conduct of the war.

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