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How Buddhism Left the Donbas


Until 2014, the Donetsk region was the most Buddhistic in Ukraine in amount of the communities of different movements, which actively carried out their activities since the 1990s. As far back as two years ago, 20 of the 59 Buddhist organizations officially operating in Ukraine were in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. There was at least one temple (the only one in Ukraine, included in the report of the Ministry of Culture of 2014) here, and one of the organizations claimed to be the Spiritual Administration, although officially it did not have such status. Nowadays the situation has changed dramatically due to the fact that the “DNR” and “LNR” took some Donbas territories under control. So, Buddhism, by all accounts, has not become the traditional religion in the “L/DNR”, although the law on freedom of conscience is just being discussed there and will be apparently developed on the basis of the “Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations” of the Russian Federation, where there is such wording “Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and other religions constituting an integral part of the historical heritage of the peoples of Russia.”

Back on the Spiritual Administration of the Buddhists of Ukraine, it should be noted that it was centered on the Sheychen-ling monastery in the Donetsk region and the personality of its abbot Dorje Jambo Choidje-lama. The abbot, in addition to his activity in Buddhist circles, was also known as a Ukrainian nationalist, and the SABU repeatedly expressed support for nationalism and the right-wing prisoners, etc. After the beginning of the ATO, the monastery, located in the zone of active hostilities, suspended its work, and Dorje Jambo Choidje-lama (mundanely known as Oleg Muzhchil) joined the Right Sector's Ukrainian Volunteer Corps, leading one of its units. In 2015, the lama, known under the pseudonym “Forester”, prepared reservists in the RSUVC, but his work came to the attention of the Security Service of Ukraine in connection with the possible participation in illegal armed formations. At attempt of arrest, he was killed in Kyiv. Followers of the lama continue public activity, organize the events in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, the site of the Spiritual Administration also continues to work.

Another major Buddhist center in the region was the site of the Path of the Nipponzan Myohoji Order in Pankivka village in the Luhansk region. This order, which continues Nichiren tradition, has a long-time representation in Ukraine, its head, Junsei Terasawa, came here many times. In particular, he was in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 2014 for the last time, leading the “March of Peace and Solidarity in Ukraine.” The march ended in mid-April, just in Pankivka, where the Buddhist stupa and park had been built for more than 10 years at that time. Later the Cossack squadron was placed in Pankivka, which took the community lodging, and its members left the territory under control of the “LNR”. Today, the Nipponzan Myohoji communities are not active in the territories controlled by the “DNR” and “LNR”, the monks left for Ukraine and other countries (as well as many lay people). Pankivka itself lost much of its population, as there was one of the “hottest” spots for a long time there (the village is not far from Stanytsia Luhanska). The principal place of the Path in Ukraine was transferred to the Cherkasy region, where the monks of the Donbas are living now. About a week ago, Junsei Terasawa visited the country again.

In the territory controlled by the “L/DNR” there were communities of other Buddhist organizations, which have also frozen or nearly frozen their activities for now. Most famous Buddhist figures, including relatively loyal to the established regime Dzogchen master Igor Berkhin, refrain from trips to the territory controlled by the “L/DNR”. Active community representatives also left the ATO zone, set up their own projects in other regions. There are still no groups who would like to take the development of Buddhism within the “republican” paradigm upon them. Buddhist life in the region came to a standstill.

See also:

Hybrid Borders in the XXI Century

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