День Незалежності в Херсонесі. Фото з архіву ІА "Голос Криму".

Discrimination of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in the occupied Crimea is Russia’s attack on the rights of believers and Crimean Ukrainians


The Crimean Peninsula is a special region of Ukraine in historical, ethnic, religious, and geographical aspects. Supporters of two world religions – Christianity and Islam – are numerically dominant in Crimea, and representatives of various ethnic communities live, connected by a common historical experience – both positive and traumatic. Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine, which began with the seizure of Crimea and Sevastopol in 2014, led to a number of negative consequences, in particular, to systematic and large-scale violations of citizens’ rights to freedom of conscience and religion in the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territory.

Among the religious organizations of Crimea, the Crimean Diocese of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (hereinafter – OCU) occupies a special place. Probably, its faithful are the second largest Orthodox community among the Crimeans. However, the signing in January 2019 by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Holy Synod of the Constantinople Orthodox Church of the tomos on the autocephaly of the OCU gave the latter, from the point of view of canon law, special legitimacy throughout the territory of Ukraine, including Crimea. OCU became the 15th canonical autocephalous church, a full-fledged and self-governing administrative part of the single Ecumenical Orthodox Church. For many Orthodox believers, the question of the canonicality of the church plays an important role.

In addition, the majority of parishioners of the OCU in the temporarily occupied territory of Crimea are ethnic Ukrainians, whom the occupying state turned into one of the two most discriminated ethnic communities. Russia illegally destroyed the political and public structures of the Crimean Ukrainians, the Ukrainian-language mass media, educational and cultural institutions that existed before 2014 in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, displaced the Ukrainian language from business administration, persecutes the leaders and activists of the Ukrainian community, therefore participation in the life of Crimea dioceses of the OCU for Crimeans is one of the few ways to support and protect Ukrainian identity. The UOC KP/OCU is one of the leading and most important religious organizations among the community of Crimean Ukrainians. Human rights defenders note that the persecution of the OCU by the Russian occupation authorities in Crimea not only violates the right of citizens to freedom of conscience and religion, but is also a means of discrimination against the Ukrainian community, which counted as as of 2001, 576,600 people and is the second largest on the temporarily occupied peninsula.

Legally, the OCU was established at the end of 2018 – January 2019, when the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople returned to its jurisdiction the Kyiv Metropolitanate, representatives of the clergy and laity, who were previously part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (hereinafter – UOC KP), the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (hereinafter – UAOC) and the UOC of the Moscow Patriarchate (hereinafter UOC MP), held the Unification Council and formed the OCU, and the mother church granted it a tomos on autocephaly. In December 2018, in the Unification Cathedral of all branches of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, Crimean believers were represented by a delegation of the clergy and faithful led by Archbishop of Simferopol and Crimea Klyment (Kush), who previously belonged to the UOC of the Kyiv Patriarchate. In 2019, the OCU Synod appointed him as the head of the Orthodox Mission to help victims of human rights violations and persons deprived of their liberty. The following year, the Crimean bishop was elevated to the rank of metropolitan. The vast majority of UOC MP bishops, including the heads of three Crimean dioceses, did not participate in the Unification Cathedral. As a result, the Crimean Eparchy of the OCU actually “inherited” the structures of the UOC Kyiv Patriarchate, its clergy and parishioners in the temporarily occupied Crimea. Therefore, in this article we will analyze the situation of the Crimean dioceses of the UOC-KP and OCU in 2014-2022 together, since they can be considered as one organizational structure, which in December 2018-January 2019 changed its status from the point of view of secular laws and canonical rights.

Since the research touches on modern events of the last eight years, it can be stated that there are no fundamental works on this issue. We note only a number of analytical publications of the Razumkov Center in the journal “National Security and Defense” in recent years, in particular, regarding the religious situation in Ukraine, its state and development trends in the first decades of the 21st century. and the attitude of Crimean residents to Ukrainian Orthodoxy, ways of interfaith harmonization in Crimea. In 2021, an expert-analytical report by A. Ivanets was published, in which the author analyzed the state of the ethnic Ukrainian community in Crimea in 2014-2020, including touched on the violation of their rights to freedom of conscience, in particular the discrimination of the UOC of the Kyiv Patriarchate and the OCU. A. Shchekun and L. Shchekun highlighted the problem of Russian occupiers blocking the OCU Cathedral in Simferopol. Due to constant violations of the rights of believers of these faiths, they are reflected in the monitoring and other materials of human rights defenders, international organizations and some states.

Interesting informative material is contained in the mass media, in particular the newspapers “Krymska svitlytsia”, “Voice of Orthodoxy”, “Den” and on the Internet resources pages “Orthodox Church of Ukraine”, “Religious Information Service of Ukraine”, “Voice of Crimea” , “Virtual Museum of Russian Aggression”, “Radio Liberty”, “Crimea. Realiy” and others.

Some information about the attitude of the Crimean population to the UOC KP is provided by the research of sociologists. According to a sociological survey by the Razumkov Center, in 2008, every tenth Crimean resident (11%) identified himself as a supporter of the UOC KP.

At the beginning of 2011, the relative majority (47%) of religious organizations in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea belonged to Muslim communities; the share of Orthodox communities was 29.2%; in particular, UOC communities – 26.5%. Note that the number of religious structures in this case does not correlate with the number of their supporters.

At that time, 18.2% of the Orthodox in Crimea had a positive attitude towards the UOC-KP, 7.2% had a negative attitude, and 13.4% and 5.3% respectively had a positive attitude towards the UOC.

So, at the time of the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, the inhabitants of Crimea had a positive attitude towards Orthodoxy in general, and the Crimean Diocese of the UOC KP, although it was a religious minority, had a relatively positive “balance” in its attitude among the Crimean Orthodox, and also played a special role in the spiritual life of the community of Crimean Ukrainians.

The position of the Crimean hierarch of the UOC KP and OCU Kliment regarding the attempted annexation of Crimea and the protection of the identity of Crimean Ukrainians

The ruling diocesan bishop plays a special role in the life of the diocese, and in the tragic situation of occupation, his position and actions for the preservation of diocesan structures are critically important. The head of the Crimean Diocese of the OCU Klyment (real name Pavlo Kush) was born in Simferopol in 1969 in a family with Ukrainian and Bulgarian roots (Bulgarian ancestors lived in Crimea, according to family traditions, as early as the 18th century). In 1995, he became a cleric of the Kyiv Patriarchate, two years later he was appointed secretary of the Crimean Diocese, and in 2000 he was consecrated as the bishop of Simferopol and Crimea. In 2012, Kliment was elevated to the rank of archbishop. During the Revolution of Dignity, together with his flock, he supported the Euromaidans. At the beginning of Russia’s disguised attack on Ukraine, on February 28, 2014, he signed the statement of the Ukrainians of Crimea to the people of Ukraine and the world community, which, in particular, contained a call to the nuclear states-guarantors of the territorial integrity and security of Ukraine, “in accordance with the Budapest Memorandum, to take measures for prevention of foreign interference in the internal affairs of our state”, as well as to leading international organizations – “to influence the position of Russia regarding the inadmissibility of provoking separatism in the regions of Ukraine, in particular, in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol”.

Immediately after the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, pressure on the OCU began. Bishop Klyment publicly supported political prisoners, openly expressed his position, defended Ukrainian military units, and refused to re-register the church in Crimea under Russian law.

On March 11, 2014, the Synod of Bishops of the Kyiv Patriarchate in an official statement condemned the occupation and blessed the Ukrainian army and people to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of their state. Thus, the leadership of the UOC-KP demonstrated its attitude towards the Russian government in Crimea exclusively as an illegally established and occupying one. In addition, the statement of the Synod of Bishops recorded violations of the rights of believers that had already taken place in the first days of the occupation, in particular, the abduction of parishioners Andrii Shchekun and Anatolii Kovalskyi.

Thanks to this position of the bishops of the UOC KP/OCU, including Bishop Klyment, supported by the majority of the clergy and parishioners, the parishes of the UOC KP/OCU in Crimea in 2014–2022 are centers of spiritual Christian and Ukrainian cultural life. Services are held mainly in the Ukrainian language, Ukrainian national holidays and commemorative dates are celebrated, including the Independence Day of Ukraine and the Holodomor Memorial Day. In 2014–2022, the Crimean Diocese of the UOC KP/OCU did not cooperate with the occupying forces, instead its clergy and faithful prayed for the Ukrainian army, the Ukrainian government and the state. The position of this religious organization sharply contrasted with the attitude of the Crimean dioceses of the UOC MP, which since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian war participated in attempts to legitimize the criminal aggressive actions of Russia, in particular, its attempts to annex the southern regions of Ukraine, and actively cooperated with the occupation administration and troops.

For eight years, Bishop Kliment constantly took care of those Crimean citizens of Ukraine whom the Russian authorities turned into political prisoners in the occupied Crimea and in Russia. Moreover, he sought to provide help not only to the faithful of his church, but to compatriots of various religious beliefs. Among them are film director Oleg Sentsov, farmer Volodymyr Balukh, journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko, analysts Volodymyr Dudka and Oleksiy Bessarabov, pensioner and public activist Oleg Prykhodko, deputy chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people Ilmi Umerov. Regarding the fate of the latter, in 2018 he appealed not only to the President of the Russian Federation, but also to the heads of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of the Russian Federation, and the Central Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Russia.

In 2014–2022, Bishop Kliment repeatedly appealed to international organizations (UN, OSCE, Council of Europe, etc.), the heads of countries of the Budapest Memorandum, the presidents of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelensky, the head of Russia Volodymyr Putin, the heads of the Orthodox Churches and other denominations regarding the provision of rights Crimean faithful of the UOC KP/OCU and Ukrainians of Crimea in general. So, for example, in October 2016 in Strasbourg, at a round table with the participation of delegates of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the archbishop stated that the Crimean Diocese of the UOC KP, Ukrainian education, Ukrainian culture, and the Ukrainian-speaking space on the territory of Crimea are under threat of destruction. In this regard, he called on the leading international organizations, states-guarantors of the integrity of Ukraine, which signed the Memorandum on Security Guarantees in connection with the accession of Ukraine to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and other actors to take decisive measures to protect the basic principles of rights and freedoms of Ukrainians in Crimea, in particular, the immediate introduction of an international mission to monitor human rights and discriminated ethnic communities on the Crimean peninsula.

Archbishop Kliment’s speech at the Forum on the Promotion of Religious Freedoms in Washington, to which he was invited by US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, was important. At that time, the archbishop called, in particular, to increase and consolidate the efforts of international institutions and countries in the protection of freedom of religion and belief on the Crimean peninsula occupied by Russia, the preservation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, as well as the cessation of religious and national persecution of ethnic Ukrainians living in Crimea.

In early March 2022, after the start of a new large-scale Russian offensive, Metropolitan Kliment, in an address to the mothers of Russia, condemned the war launched by the Russian Federation against Ukraine and called on Russian mothers to take their children from the army so that they would not die on Ukrainian soil as murderers.

To a large extent, precisely because of the position of the Metropolitan of Crimea, the Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons of Ukraine stated in July 2020: “It is no exaggeration to say that the OCU in Crimea is currently one of the symbols of non-violent resistance to the illegal attempt to annex the peninsula of the Russian Federation.”

Destructive influence of the occupation on the legal status of the Crimean Diocese of the OCU

In accordance with the norms of international humanitarian law operating under occupation, the Russian Federation must adhere to the principle of status quo ante bellum, refraining from extending its own legislation to the occupied territory. Russia grossly violated this principle in relation to Crimea, since the aggressor state extended the effect of its legislation there in the very first days of the occupation.

According to the legislation of the Russian Federation, which was illegally extended to the territory of Crimea, membership in a religious organization is possible only in the presence of Russian citizenship or another legal basis for staying in the Russian Federation, for example, a residence permit. That is, if a person wants to openly be a member of the community, he must issue a passport of the Russian Federation or a residence permit. In case of refusal to receive these documents, a person cannot be a member of a religious association and, moreover, is deprived of the opportunity to permanently stay in Crimea according to the migration legislation of the Russian Federation.

This approach had an extremely negative impact on the religious life of the parishioners and priests of the Crimean Diocese of the OCU, who did not have permanent registration of their place of residence in Crimea at the time of its occupation. For example, there was a case of a priest being forced to move to the mainland of Ukraine due to the impossibility of obtaining a passport or residence permit due to the lack of Crimean registration. Before the start of Russia’s large-scale offensive in Ukraine in February 2022, he performed ministry, coming to Crimea periodically, but for no more than 90 days during each 180-day period. This situation significantly worsened the quality of religious life of the parishes entrusted to him.

Contrary to international law, after the annexation of Crimea, Russia demanded that religious organizations re-register by March 1, 2015. Its implementation was complicated by the additional need to comply with the Federal Law of the Russian Federation “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations.” According to it, only an association registered as a legal entity has the status of a religious organization. At the same time, the occupying authorities repeatedly denied the community of OCU believers in Crimea state registration as a local Crimean religious community on formal grounds, thereby depriving it of its official status and the corresponding rights that such status entails.

The Crimean Diocese of the UOC KP, which since December 15, 2018 has been part of the only local autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine – the OCU, fundamentally refused to register with illegitimate Russian authorities, which led to its structures losing their legal personality in the eyes of the occupation administration and, accordingly, made it impossible to conclude agreements, open bank accounts and carry out other actions important for full functioning. In addition, with the beginning of the occupation, human rights activists note, the Russian policy of intolerance towards Christian denominations (with the exception of the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate) spread to the territory of Crimea, which led to a significant deterioration of the position of the UOC-KP (now OCU) on the peninsula.

Oppression by the Russian occupiers of the clergy and believers of the UOC-KP and OCU

In 2014–2022, the Russian government and its power structures, occupation administrations constantly oppressed priests and believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (after the Unification Council – OCU) in Crimea. Violations of their rights to freedom of conscience and religion have become systematic and large-scale. At times, the aggressively pro-Russian public was involved in illegal actions against the OCU.

On March 9, 2014, parishioners A. Shchekun and A. Kovalsky were kidnapped by the pro-Russian illegal paramilitary formation “Self-Defense of Crimea”, who were subjected to torture and inhumane treatment, including those motivated by religious hatred (both had their Orthodox crosses forcibly torn off their bodies).

July 21, 2014 in the village Unknown persons burned down the country house of the head of the diocese, Metropolitan Klyment, in Marmorne, Simferopol district. On March 3, 2019, he was detained by the occupation police while trying to leave Simferopol for Rostov-on-Don for a court hearing in the case of Ukrainian political prisoner Pavlo Hryb. Priest Maksym Vologodin, who was forced to leave Crimea, reported on FSB employees’ attempts to recruit him to obtain information about the diocese. According to him, attempts to recruit priests by Russian security forces take place regularly.

The headman of one of the communities, who also left Crimea, reported that he had been called to “conversations” by employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, who directly stated that the activities of his parish were undesirable.

One of the parishioners of the OCU in Crimea told about the cases when, after the Russian annexation of the peninsula, civil servants asked their parents not to visit the Ukrainian church, because it could cause them problems at work.

On August 23, 2021, the archimandrite of the OCU Damian (in peace – Pavlo Georgyovich Skokov) was brought to administrative responsibility by the occupiers for performing the Divine Liturgy as “illegal missionary activity”. At the same time, it should be noted that conducting a liturgy is not a missionary activity, even according to the laws of the Russian Federation, since it takes place for people who are already Orthodox believers and is not aimed at attracting new members to the church from among non-church people.

After the occupation of Crimea in Sevastopol, the Russian military forcibly took the Church of the Holy Martyr Clement of Rome from the Kyiv Patriarchate. Soon after, the occupation administration forced his abbot, Makarios, to stop worshiping at home, which led to the forced termination of the community’s activities. And on June 1, 2014, in the village of Perevalne, near Simferopol, armed members of the Prussian paramilitary structures “Cossacks” destroyed the Church of the Intercession of the Holy Mother of God. The attackers smashed the priest’s car, beat his daughter, who has cerebral palsy, and a pregnant woman. The Russian police in Crimea initially ignored the appeals of the victims, and when the police arrived at the scene three hours later, they sided with the attackers. Both the “Cossack” bandits and the policemen explained their actions by the fact that “the Kyiv Patriarchate conducts anti-Russian activities and such activities have no place in the Russian Crimea.”

It is obvious that the attack on the Intercession Church in the village of The pass was a planned action. After all, the day before, a priest of the Moscow Patriarchate came to his superior Father Ivan Katkal’s home and demanded that he voluntarily “vacate” the church, saying: “these are your last days in Crimea.”

Later, this temple was handed over to the UOC of the Moscow Patriarchate on the condition of providing assistance in the “patriotic education” of servicemen of the occupation forces of Russia. The rector of this church, I. Katkalo, was forced to leave Crimea with his family due to threats and the opening of a criminal case for separatism by the occupation authorities. Other representatives of the clergy of the UOC KP/OCU were also forced to take women and children out of the occupied territory due to the threat of physical violence.

Andriy IVANETS, candidate of historical sciences


head of the department of historical studies of the

Research Institute of Ukrainian Studies of the Ministry of Education and Culture of Ukraine,

candidate of historical sciences

Continuation of the material at the link: https://culture.voicecrimea.com.ua/uk/dyskryminatsiia-pravoslavnoi-tserkvy-ukrainy-v-okupovanomu-krymu-udar-rosii-po-pravam-viruiuchykh-ta-krymskykh-ukraintsiv-prodovzhennia/


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