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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Meet The Mufti Of Ukraine, From Friday Prayers To The Front Line

Russia has a complicated history with Islam, often built on Moscow's repression of the religious minority. Now, Muslims in Ukraine are ever more committed to a project for a multi-religious society that Kyiv espouses. Ukrainian Mufti Said Ismagilov has taken up arms for that cause, and to defend his nation.

Meet The Mufti Of Ukraine, From Friday Prayers To The Front Line

Ismagilov's photographed on the street by Yevhen Titov

Yevhen Rudenko

BAKHMUT — Before Feb. 24, Said Ismagilov dedicated his service to the Muslims of Ukraine. Since Feb. 24, his service has shifted to the front line.

A native of Donetsk, Ismagilov was the Mufti of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine (UMMA). His decision to volunteer at the front, currently fighting in one of the paramedic brigades in Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, is connected to his roots.

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"Russians have been coming to my family for a century, destroying and taking away everything we own, everything we value," says the 44-year-old.

Recently, a video appeared on social networks of Said reading out Sura 48 of Al-Fath, one of the chapters of the Quran dedicated to victory. The clip showed the ruins of Bakhmut, against the background of the unfinished mosque, delayed due to the full-scale invasion.

Among the many motives for Ismagilov to take up arms is a personal one that embodies the history of Ukraine.

"In 2014, the same Muscovites came to Donbas and persecuted me," Ismagilov recalled. "I had to go to Kyiv to settle in Bucha. But the Muscovites came there in 2022 and robbed my apartment. Honestly, I'm getting sick of them. We have to destroy this empire."

In an interview with Ukrainian outlet Pravda, Said Ismagilov spoke about the spiritual emptiness of Russia, the motivation of Ukrainians in this war, and the most potent human weapon.

Ismagilov talking to his congregation

Ismagilov's Facebook

Russian spirituality

“Before the war, I was a mufti [Islamic legal jurist], you know? I met with kings, presidents, ministers, and deputies. Now, I can live in the cold, without heating or electricity, in the mud up to my knees.

I have never been in such a meat grinder. It is difficult to predict how you will behave when you get to war. Many people panic. Someone is confused. Others, on the contrary, are highly concentrated and do their job well.

They say Putin promised to take Bakhmut by the New Year. They threw all their forces and resources there. They are pushing like crazy, not counting the losses. He has a fanatical desire to capture Bakhmut as the Crusaders were constantly sailing from Europe to the Middle East to capture Jerusalem for the sake of some idea.

The spirituality of Russians is empty.

I have no sympathy for the enemy. I see with my own eyes how inhumanly they act. It is a shock for Ukrainians and all normal people. And for the Russians themselves, it is the norm. They have such a pathetic level of morality that they commit terrible crimes and do not care about them.

When they talk about Russian spirituality, it is the same myth as the myths about the "second army of the world" and "Russian culture."

In religious studies, there is a term — "ritualism," when a person believes not in God, moral virtues, or values; but when the most important thing is to perform the rite correctly. He hung a cross on himself, came to the church, lit a candle, and donated something — done! All so spiritual.

But all these rites do not add up to humanity. And the same person in life can behave like the worst criminal and sinner. The spirituality of Russians is empty.

Back to Ivan the Terrible

I have many personal motives in this war. The main one is that the Muslims of Ukraine do not want Russian occupation. Russia is not friendly or tolerant of Islam.

Since Ivan the Terrible's time, Muslims have suffered great losses from Muscovites. He arranged a massacre in Kazan and ordered the killing of all men and even boys. Since then, Muslims have been exterminated all over Russia. In Ukraine, this is seen in the history of the Crimean Tatars. Now Muscovites in the occupied Crimea continue the same repression.

Muslims of Ukraine know that all our rights, freedoms, religious life and spiritual revival will be finished if Russia comes here.

Most Muslims in modern Russia, no matter what is done to them or how their language, culture, and religion are destroyed, swallow everything. They have no will.

After the victory, we need a national dialogue.

Only the Muslims of the North Caucasus, who constantly opposed slavery, Russification, and the destruction of national identity, differ from this mass. In the Caucasus, consciousness is higher. In other regions of the Russian Federation, it is terrible. We see that some have become more Russian than the Russians themselves.

Ismagilov laughing with his army comrades

Ismagilov's Facebook

Unity is victory

We must all understand: Ukraine will win only in the unity and awareness of who we are and what we are fighting for. This spirit of brotherhood, values of democratic freedoms and moral principles must remain after the war.

There can be no reconciliation with collaborators who worked with Russia in the occupied territories. After the war, we will have to live with what we have overcome for a long time. The main thing is that these contradictions do not become a pretext for internal conflicts. Therefore, after the victory, we need a national dialogue.

I do not doubt our victory. To all soldiers, defenders, volunteers, and those who work for Ukraine in one way or another, victory does not begin with weapons. It always starts in the head and heart.

When you are confident in yourself and your country, understand what you are fighting for, and do not complain about the lack of light, you are already a winner."

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Pro-Ukrainian Hackers Have Undermined Russia's War Every Step Of The Way

Authorities in Moscow continue to struggle to stem the tide of data breaches from hackers inside and outside Ukraine, who have been one of the unsung heroes in the resistance to the Russian invasion.

Screenshot of a masked Ukrainian "hacktivist"

A masked Ukrainian "hacktivist" in a video posted by hacking groups Falcons Flame and Trinity

Falcons Flame and Trinity YouTube screenshot
Lizaveta Tsybulina

Updated Nov. 20, 2023 at 5:45 p.m.

It was a concerted effort that began with Russia's Feb. 24, 2022 full-scale invasion, and has not relented since: pro-Ukrainian hackers have been targeting Russian government agencies and businesses, gathering secret information and passing it on to the Ukrainian security and intelligence forces.

Discrepancies exist in total reported breakthroughs and leaks obtained over the past 20 months. This year so far, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s digital watchdog, identified 150 major leaks, while Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity firm, reported 168 leaks, totaling about 2 billion lines of data, including 48 million with top secret passwords.

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Following the Russian invasion, a substantial number of hackers worldwide expressed solidarity with Ukraine, and took action. "My colleagues and I operate under the principle that 'if it can be hacked, then it needs to be hacked,'” said a representative of the Cyber.Anarchy.Squad group. “We believe in targeting anything accessible, especially if it's significant to defeating the enemy."

“BlackBird,” one of the founders of the DC8044 community, explained that the primary objective of hacking Russian entities is to acquire data useful to Ukrainian security forces.

"The personal data obtained by our groups is typically shared with security forces,” he said. “They aggregate and analyze this information to support their operations effectively.”

Hackers closely cooperate with Ukrainian intelligence services as well: they are engaged in reconnaissance, sabotage and information operations. Andrey Baranovich, co-founder of the Ukrainian CyberAlliance group said that “If we spend 24 hours hacking something, our victims should spend at least a week recovering, and in the optimal case, the victim should not recover at all.”

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