Appeals for release of two priests seized by Russian authorities in Ukraine

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The Ukrainian Catholic Archdiocese of Donetsk has called for the release of two priests it says were wrongfully detained by Russian troops.

According to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Ivan Levitsky, rector of the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary in Berdiansk, and Father Bohdan Geleta, a chaplain at the church, have been accused of terrorism-related offences. 

They have been detained since 16 November but the authorities only announced they had taken them into custody a week later.

They are currently being held at a pre-trial detention centre in Berdiansk, which is situated in the south-east of Ukraine.

The archdiocese said that the church was searched illegally by Russian authorities the day after the arrest of the priests. 

The statement released by the archdiocese addressed claims by the Russian authorities that explosives and evidence of "subversive" and "partisan" activies were found at the church during the search.

The archdiocese said that the search had been carried out when the priests were already in custody so they could not be held responsible for the items allegedly found in the church.

"This is a clear slander and a false accusation," the archdiocese said.

The statement continued, "We demand the speedy release from custody and imprisonment of our priests ... as well as ensuring their unhindered legitimate service to the spiritual needs of the faithful ... living in the city of Berdiansk.

"We ask for maximum dissemination of information in order to release the captured fathers. We appeal to the authorities and all people of goodwill to join the cause of the release of priests, as well as for increased prayer in this intention."

ACN is asking supporters to pray for the "speedy release" of the priests.