Publication Search

Brylov, Denys; Kalenychenko, Tetiana; Kryshtal, Andrii

Mapping the Religious Landscape of Ukraine

United States Institute of Peace Press, Washington, DC, 2023

Peaceworks, 193

40 p.


Conflict dynamics in Ukraine are deeply rooted, highly nuanced, and complex. The conflict in eastern Ukraine that began in 2014, and its escalation into a war encompassing all of Ukraine’s territory following Russia’s February 2022 invasion, are the result of the intersection of numerous forces both geopolitical and ideological—many of which are not explicitly religious. Nevertheless, religion and religious actors have an important effect on Ukrainian society at large, the evolution of conflict dynamics, and prospects for future peacebuilding.
Despite its clear relevance, international policymakers, humanitarian actors, and peacebuilders have rarely engaged with religion as a key factor in understanding the conflict in Ukraine, its possible evolution, or opportunities for peace. The conflict in Ukraine is multilayered, and religion permeates every level. Better recognition of the nuanced role religious actors play in shaping societal and political narratives will provide much-needed insight into the causes and perpetuation of conflict and help to identify possible entry points for integrating religious actors into peacebuilding efforts.
At the same time, international nongovernmental organizations and policymakers will need to strike a delicate balance when engaging with religious actors, as tensions within different religious communities—sometimes based on personal disagreements, sometimes on local political or even geopolitical considerations—threaten to undermine bridge-building initiatives. Moreover, focusing too closely on the biggest religious actors in Ukraine obscures the important work done by grassroots-level actors or by individual religious leaders in the name of peace. Future work with the religious sphere in Ukraine must find ways to incorporate smaller, sometimes low-profile initiatives connecting warring religious factions. Overall, the United States and other international partners must recognize that religious organizations and institutions will, in all likelihood, continue to play a prominent role in Ukraine’s political, ideological, and humanitarian spheres.