Russian and Ukrainian military officers blamed each other for a fire that destroyed a historic wooden church at the Sviatohirsk Lavra monastery, one of Ukraine’s holiest Orthodox Christian sites.
The all-wood All Saints Shrine in the village of Tetianivka was reportedly burnt down as a result of shelling, local outlets stated on Saturday.
The sprawling, 17th-century monastic settlement, which sits on the bank of the Siverskiy Donets River, has been hit several times previously during the war, most recently on Wednesday, when two monks and a nun were killed.
In his nightly video address Saturday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of “deliberately and systematically destroying Ukrainian culture and its historical heritage, along with social infrastructures like housing and everything needed for a normal life.”
Zelenskyy said 113 churches have been damaged or destroyed during the invasion, including some that survived the battles of World War II.
Flames could be seen ripping through the timber walls of a church with onion domes in footage posted by Zelenskiy on his official Telegram channel.
“Russian artillery struck the Svyatohirsk Lavra in the Donetsk region again today. Destroyed All Saints Monastery. It was consecrated in 1912. It was first destroyed during the Soviet era. Later it was rebuilt to be burned by the Russian army,” the Ukrainian leader wrote.
Zelenskyy called for Russia to be expelled from the United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO and said there had been no military targets present at the site.
“Every church burned by Russia in Ukraine, every school blown up, every destroyed memorial proves that Russia has no place in UNESCO,” calling for Moscow to be expelled from the main cultural body of the United Nations.
Moscow has repeatedly denied targeting civilians and Russia’s Defence Ministry denied involvement in the shelling of the church, accusing Ukrainian troops of setting it on fire.
The Svyatohirsk Lavra complex belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and lies near Russian positions in eastern Donetsk, one of two regions that the Kremlin is focused on capturing.
The Moscow Patriarchate has been supportive of the war in Ukraine, with its Patriarch Kirill repeatedly backing Russian President Vladimir Putin and his policies.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which remained loyal to Moscow after a 2019 schism, said last month that it would break with Moscow over the invasion of Ukraine and the church’s support, stating that Russia has broken the “thou shalt not kill” commandment.
The Svyatohirsk Lavra monastic settlement dates back to 1627. The All Saints church was built from timber in 2009 to replace the one destroyed in 1947.