Father Grigory Borisov offers a prayer for Ukraine every day in a special liturgy at the Lasnamäe church, a towering, whitewashed place of Russian Orthodox worship in the centre of the most populous suburb of Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, where a majority are Russian speakers.
The Church of the Icon of the Mother of God was built in 2013 with the help of funds from a Moscow-based NGO. While in March the Estonian Orthodox church joined other churches in the Baltic country in condemning the bombing of civilians in Ukraine, the church’s leader back in Moscow, Patriarch Kirill, has been accused of providing theological cover for Vladimir Putin’s war.
Outside Lasnamäe’s imperiously situated church in the east of Tallinn, among high-rise apartment blocks as far as the eye can see, such blandishments contrast sharply with the reality of what is an increasingly anxious Russian community that is caricatured by some as a “fifth column” and among whom there is in turn a high degree of distrust of the state.
Estonia was a Soviet republic from 1944 until 1991, and about 322,000 of its population of 1.3 million people self-identify as ethnic Russians, with 90,000 having Russian citizenship. Many ethnic Russians turn to Russian television for their news, and a high degree of segregation remains.
Meanwhile, Estonia’s government, led by Kaja Kallas, has taken a strong line on the need to turn the screw on Russia by strengthening the economic sanctions imposed by the west on its economy, ban travel visas for the country’s nationals and tear down Soviet Union imagery, such as monuments commemorating the second world war.