Patriarch Kirill I, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has gone one step further in its unconditional support of the invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking the first Sunday after President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of 300,000 men to support the military action, Kirill praised those who fight with a “sense of duty and the need to fulfil their oath”. And added: “If in the fulfilment of this duty a person dies, then he is undoubtedly committing a sacrificial act, he sacrifices himself for others. This sacrifice washes away all the sins that a person has committed”.  

Kirill also asked to pray for the war to end as soon as possible, so that “brothers” no longer die, and the “spiritual space of the holy Russia is not destroyed”. These messages reinforce the very controversial idea of Russki Mir (or “Russian world”) that has led the Russian Orthodox Church to collide with other Orthodox churches in the rest of the world.

The remarks came after thousands of citizens were listed to join the military action in Ukraine. So-called referendums to annex occupied territories of Eastern Ukraine to Russia are being held and could lead to an escalation of the war.

A very high number of men have left Russia in the last week. Queues of kilometres have formed in the south of Russia, as whole families tried to leave to neighbouring Georgia, whose government said 250,000 Russians have entered the country since August. Finland said its borders saw an 80% increase in crossings from Russia over the weekend.

Hundreds have been detained for protesting against the military mobilization in many cities of Russia.