Andrei Lemeshonok and Alexander Lukashenko at St. Elisabeth Convent
Picture of Nicolas


UK 2022.11.23 Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market: Russian-linked stall banned

Рождественский рынок в Винчестерском соборе: Связанный с Россией ларек запрещен


The nuns of St Elisabeth Convent in Minsk, Belarus, have been selling religious trinkets at the market since it started. 

Reports from Belarus claim the volunteer group ‘Help to Brothers’ was set up in August under the leadership of nun Alexandra.

With the blessing of the confessor of the monastery, Archpriest Andrei Lemeshonok, who is known for his pro-Russian views, the project works with the same group, created six months earlier by sisters in Moscow.

In one photo, posters can be seen encouraging parishioners to support the military by bringing them warm clothes, transferring money to the “skarbonka,” buying a postcard and writing a letter.

Letters with the text ‘to the dear soldier from White Russia/Belarus’ have been sent to the front lines, while the nuns are given lists of who to pray for.

Such lists include wounded soldiers and those in captivity.

On the same Facebook page, it used to announce the nuns were returning to Winchester’s famous market. The monastery wished Patriarch Kirill a happy birthday.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has a close relationship with Putin and formerly told civilians that “sacrifice in the course of carrying out your military duty washes away all sins” after the Kremlin’s announcement of a partial mobilization to replenish Russian forces fighting in Ukraine.

The monastery has been delivering civilian aid for years and says it is still doing that under the Help to Brothers movement, but insisted it is unable to form a separate group due to resources.

Nun Alexandra further claimed the church did not support the war, instead maintaining that it simply responded to those in need.

Born in Belarus to a Ukrainian father, Tatiana Salvage, who runs LinguaFAST, a language school in Micheldever, has been a key figure in welcoming refugees to the Winchester district.

She said churches in both Belarus and Russia are widely used to spread propaganda because of the position of trust they hold within their communities.

“The money they will raise with this stall, or at least part of it, may end up supporting Russian soldiers who go to Ukraine to kill civilians,” she said. 

“It’s outrageous and probably not safe for those people to even be at the market, never mind the ethical side of it. A lot of Ukrainian people would understandably be very angry, and who knows what could happen. 

“I have no doubt this information is correct. Winchester is a small place, and word will quickly spread.”

The stall had been suspended when the market launched on Friday, November 18, in order for the cathedral to carry out an investigation.

A spokesperson said: “Concerns were raised regarding a chalet at this year’s Christmas market. After considering the matter carefully, the Cathedral made the decision to close the chalet.”

Councillor John Tippett-Cooper has supported the decision. He said: “The concerns about the St Elisabeth Convent in Minsk first came to my attention through one of the Winchester Ukraine community Facebook groups.

“Winchester’s Ukrainian community was very concerned about this group and some online material suggesting its possible sympathies towards the Russian invasion inflicted on Ukraine.

“I have no doubt that some within the Convent will have charitable and genuinely decent aims. However, a brief search online shows that there are a number of very concerning public comments by leaders within the Convent about a range of subjects that do not align with Winchester’s values as a City.

“Winchester is a City of Sanctuary for all refugees, and we care deeply about our Ukrainian community who have settled here.

“I have been in touch with the Cathedral, which has been at the forefront of supporting our Ukrainian community.

“I am pleased the Cathedral has done the sensible thing and closed the Convent’s chalet within the Christmas Market to avoid any distress and upset it may cause.”

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By Frankie Rudland

Reviewed Oct. 2023