For a long time, journalists of the newspaper “Crimean Svitlitsia,” the online publication “Voice of Crimea. Culture” and lawyers of the Regional Center for Human Rights since 2014 have been documenting and cleared the anti-Ukrainian activities of the Crimean dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in unity with the Moscow Patriarchate (hereinafter the UOC): Simferopol and Crimean diocese of the UOC, Dzhankoy diocese of the UPU, Feodosia diocese of the UOC.
The facts of supporting the Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine by the entire structure of the UOC in the Crimea against Ukraine (including the legitimization of the occupation of the Crimea and the justification of the full-scale invasion taking place on February 24, 2022) are recorded in journalistic and expert publications.
The materials clearly define the interaction of the Crimean dioceses of the UOC with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the entry into subordination with it. Over the period from 2016 to 2022, more than 20 monitoring and analytical materials were prepared and published on this topic – the list of articles is attached.
Topics covered by journalists and experts
- Propaganda and support of Russian militarism in Crimea
From the very beginning of the occupation of Crimea, the Russian authorities began to carry out its consistent and intensive militarization, condemned by the UN General Assembly Resolutions of December 17, 2018 , December 9, 2019 , December 7, 2020 , December 9, 2021 . These resolutions, among other things, emphasize the international legal prohibition of the occupying power to force the population of the occupied territory to join its armed forces, including to incite to voluntary service by means of propaganda.
Meanwhile, the Russian authorities on the territory of the Crimea throughout the occupation carried out intensive propaganda of militarism, the cult of “glorious traditions of Russian weapons,” prestige and honor of service in the Russian army, etc. As part of propaganda activities, large-scale work is underway in educational institutions, in which, representatives of the Crimean dioceses of the UOC are involved.
In particular, in April 2015, Metropolitan of Simferopol and Crimea Lazar (Shvets), on behalf of the diocese entrusted to him, signed with the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation “Agreement on Cooperation and Interaction” . This agreement is still valid, that is, the diocese entrusted to Metropolitan Lazarus is in cooperation and interaction with the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation, from the ships of which missile attacks are carried out on the territory of Ukraine.
In June 2016, the clergy of the Simferopol and Crimean Diocese of the UOC consecrated a monument to Russian soldiers who participated in the occupation of Crimea in 2014 .
Also, the clergy of the Simferopol and Crimean Diocese of the UOC in October 2016 conducted a series of “Lessons of patriotism” on the territory of Crimea, during which Russian militarism was actively extolled, and Russian President Vladimir Putin was presented to students as a “real superhero of modernity” .
In December 2016, the Crimean priests of the UOC consecrated a monument to the “People’s Militia of All Times” . On January 14, 2017, Metropolitan of Theodosia and Kerch Platon publicly consecrated the S-400 Triumph anti-aircraft missile systems of the Russian Armed Forces .
During the period of June 21-25, 2017 in Sevastopol, with the blessing of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, and with the support of the Presidential Council for Cossack Affairs and the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, the Second Eurasian Forum of Cossack Youth “Cossack Unity-2017” was held. Metropolitan of Simferopol and Crimea Lazar also participated in the grand opening of this event. Simferopol and Crimean diocese was listed as one of the organizers of this “Cossack” forum .
On October 22, 2018, the Dean of the Kirov-Belogorsk Church District, Archpriest Georgiy Barzul, during the solemn events blessed the conscripts for “worthy performance of military duty” before illegally sending them to military service in the ranks of the occupational armed forces . Subsequently, in 2018, numerous cases of cooperation between the Crimean clerics and the occupation forces of the Russian Federation were also documented 
Numerous cases of cooperation between the Crimean clergy of the UOC and paramilitary groups have also been documented, including those that played a significant role in the establishment of the Russian occupation regime in 2014 .
- Erasure of Ukrainian identity among children and youth.
In addition to promoting militarism, the church is also actively involved in the assimilation of Ukrainian children and youth of the occupied peninsula through the squeezing of Ukrainian identity into Russian .
On October 16, 2016, the head of the Simferopol and Crimean Diocese of the UOC, Metropolitan Lazar, took part in the grand opening of the Second Congress of Crimean Rusists (specialists in Russian philology). He was there together with representatives of the occupation authorities, who noted: “In the modern global space, the struggle to preserve the purity of the Russian word, for the active continuation of the great mission of Russian literature, is of absolutely special importance” .
On October 14, 2016, at the stadium of the “Main Directorate of the Ministry of Emergencies of Russia for the Republic of Crimea” took place a solemn event on the occasion of enrolling 32 students of the Simferopol Academic Gymnasium in the cadets of the Ministry of Emergencies of Russia, where students who are citizens of Ukraine by right of birth took a solemn oath of allegiance to the Russian Federation. Participation in this event was also taken by the official of the Crimean diocese – the head of the department for interaction with law enforcement agencies Archpriest Dmitry Krotkov .
On October 29, 2016, at the ceremony of joining the ranks of Yunarmia, about a thousand schoolchildren from the city of Sevastopol, the head of the religious education department of the Sevastopol deanery of the UOC, priest Mikhail Viktorov handed over to the schoolchildren the blessings of Metropolitan Lazar and wished “to carry through whole life those virtues that are famous primarily for the Russian human” .
In February 2021, the assistant to the dean of the Yevpatoriya church district, the priest of the Cathedral of Saint Nikolas Dmitry Chkana attended the oath-taking ceremony by the pupils of the military sports club “Patriot”, wishing them “non-hypocritical love for the Motherland” (of course, Russian Motherland) .
In March 2021, priests of the UOC Dmitry Krotkov and Grigory Kotsyuk held a meeting with students of the “Cossack” class of Simferopol school No. 10, during which сlericals told about the armed conflict in the Donbass as “aggression of the Kyiv regime” .
Active erasure of Ukrainian identity among adolescents and youth is also engaged in the organization “Brotherhood of Orthodox Pathfinders of the Simferopol and Crimean Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church,” acting on the blessing of Metropolitan Lazar under the slogan “Be ready! – Always ready for God and Russia!” .
- Illegal activity on the territory of the archaeological monument of national importance “Tauric Chersonese”.
The archaeological site “Ancient city of Tauric Chersonese and its Chora” is an archaeological monument of Ukraine of national importance and at the same time is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. According to the norms of international humanitarian law, the Russian Federation must fully comply with the established legal regime for the protection of monuments in the occupied territory, refrain from actions to damage or destroy them (Article 43 and Article 56 of the Hague Regulations of 1907 concerning on the Laws and Customs of War on Land), to support the efforts of the national authorities of the occupied territory to preserve the cultural heritage (para 1 of Article 5 of the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict). In practice, this, in particular, means that any construction work on the territory of Chersonese must be agreed with the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (Article 37-2 of the Law of Ukraine “For the Protection of Cultural Heritage”).
The Russian Federation completely ignores the above norms, treating the Tauric Chersonese at its own discretion. So, on December 15, 2017, the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, together with the Patriarchal Council for Culture (a structure within the Russian Orthodox Church), approved the concept of creating a historical and archaeological park. The project of this park was operated by the Foundation “My History” . As part of the concept of the park, large-scale construction work is planned on the territory of the monument, which will obviously affect its appearance and authenticity . On August 20, 2021, a memorial stone was laid in honor of the beginning of the construction of the park. The laying and consecration of the stone was attended by Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church Tikhon Shevkunov and the dean of Sevastopol, priest of the UOC Sergey Khalyuta. There was no agreement on the relevant actions with Ukraine as the legal owner of the archaeological site or with UNESCO.
Thus, the activities of official representatives of the UOC and the Russian Orthodox Church are aimed at legitimizing the criminal activities of the occupation authorities regarding the ukrainian monument of national importance and object of the UNESCO World Heritage.
- Support for Russia’s full-scale military invasion of Ukraine
Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Russian troops into Ukraine, which took place on February 24, 2022, the priests of the Sevastopol deanery of the UOC have repeatedly met with Russian servicemen, “reinforcing their morale and maintaining the right motivation,” as they themselves openly stated. So, on March 14, Archpriest of the Sevastopol deanery of the UOC Vasily Gumarov, who is also the “assistant” to the head of the department for working with believing military personnel of the military-political department of the occupational Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation, held a planned conversation with the military on the topic “Blessed are the peacekeepers” .
On April 25, 2022, clergyman of the UOC, deanery of Sevastopol Sergey Khalyuta gave an interview to the Russian pro-government media resource “Independent Television of Sevastopol,” where he noted that the Russians fighting in Ukraine “save the whole world,” and also called the Russian military the personification of Christianity . This is another confirmation that the structures of the UOC in the Crimea actively cooperate with the occupation authorities and assist them in waging war against Ukraine, carrying out propaganda work among the personnel of military units under the guise of pastoral activity.
On November 12, 2022, the TV channel “IST” (“Independent Sevastopol TV”) controlled by the Russian invaders published a recording of an interview with the assistant to the dean of the Sevastopol district for interaction with educational institutions archpriest Mikhail Viktorov, who tried to justify the war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine “with the spiritual values of our fatherland.” During the interview, calling Russian President Vladimir Putin “the man whom the God instructed to be responsible for each of us”. Mikhail Viktorov assured that the war he unleashed against Ukraine “deserves prayerful and spiritual support,” because, according to him, it is conducted “through a decision not to acquire or prove something, but to protect” .
The above-mentioned facts give grounds to assert that anti-Ukrainian activities are systemic, not reduced to the position of some individual clergy, but are a consistent policy of the dioceses of the UOC in Crimea. This is evidenced, in particular, by the regularity and consistency of such activities (it has been conducted since 2014), as well as the participation in it of officials of church structures (heads of dioceses, secretaries of dioceses, heads of diocesan departments, deaneries, etc.).
- The Moscow Patriarchate in Crimea and the decision of the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC) of Ukraine of December 01, 2022
On December 1, 2022, the Decree of the President of Ukraine put into effect the NSDC decision of December 01, 2022 “On certain aspects of the activities of religious organizations in Ukraine and the application of personal special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions).” Against a number of church leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate in Crimea, namely, against Metropolitan Lazar, Metropolitan Alexyi, Bishop Kalinik, Bishop Agathon, Metropolitan Platon were imposed sanctions.
At the same time, clerics of the Crimean dioceses that do not have episcopal dignity, but are also involved in systemic anti-Ukrainian activities, such as the Dean of Sevastopol Serhiy Khalyuta and the Secretary of the Simferopol Diocese Oleksandr Yakushechkin, were left out of the attention of the NSDC .
We believe that in the future, the state security agencies of Ukraine should take additional measures to study the anti-Ukrainian activities of the church structures of the Crimea and identify persons involved in such activities.
It is also important to realize the importance of recent changes in the canonical and administrative status of the dioceses of the Moscow Patriarchate in the Crimea in the light of the decision of the NSDC of December 01, 2022.
As part of the UOC in the Crimea until May-June 2022, there were three dioceses: Simferopol and Crimean diocese, headed by Metropolitan Lazar (Shvets), Dzhankoyska diocese, headed by Bishop Alexyi (Ovsyannikov) and Feodosyiska diocese, headed by Metropolitan Platon (Udovenko).
On May 27, 2022, the was held Council of the UOC , at which amendments to the Charter of this religious organization were adopted, aimed at a certain distance from the Moscow Patriarchate. The delegation of the Simferopol and Crimean diocese, headed by Metropolitan Lazar, took part in this Council via videoconference and unanimously voted against the amendments to the Charter, noting that it remains under the omophorion of the Patriarch of Moscow . There is no information about the participation in the Council of delegations from the Feodosia and Dzhankoy dioceses, but judging by the further development of events, their position does not differ from the position of the Simferopol and Crimean diocese.
On June 2022, a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church was held at the residence of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, at which the Synod heard statements by Metropolitan Lazar, Metropolitan Platon and Bishop Alexy about the transfer of the dioceses entrusted to them to the direct subordination of the Patriarch of Moscow. As a result, the statements were satisfied, the dioceses were accepted into direct canonical and administrative subordination to the Patriarch of Moscow and combined into a new church structure – Crimean Metropolis headed by Metropolitan Lazar. No objections to this from the leadership of the UOC were expressed.
Thus, at present, the Crimean Metropolis, which consists of the Simferopol, Dzhankoy and Feodosia dioceses and these dioceses themselves are clearly religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence in the Russian Federation in the understanding of the decision of the National Security and Defense Council of December 01, 2022. In case of further adoption by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine of legislation on the impossibility of activities on the territory of Ukraine of religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence in the Russian Federation, there will be legal grounds for banning the activities of the Crimean Metropolis, Simferopol, Dzhankoy and Theodosia dioceses as part of the Russian Orthodox Church.
- Violation of international law and legislation of Ukraine by the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate in Crimea.
1) Propaganda of militarism as a violation of international humanitarian law.
As mentioned above, the UN General Assembly considers propaganda of service in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation as one of the means of illegal militarization of the Crimea, which violates the obligations of the occupying power under international humanitarian law, in particular, under Art. 51 of the Geneva Convention of 1949 on the Protection of Civilians in Time of War. Accordingly, promoting the need and honor of service in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation for Crimeans, priests become accomplices in this violation.
2) Norms of criminal law of Ukraine, according to which the relevant activity can be qualified.
Systemic anti-Ukrainian propaganda, support for the armed forces of the Russian Federation, waging war against Ukraine may fall under the following articles of the Criminal Code of Ukraine:
– Article 111 High treason
– Article 111-1. Collaboration
– Article 161. Violation of equality of citizens depending on their racial, national, regional affiliation, religious beliefs, disability and other characteristics.
– Article 436-2. Justification, recognition as legitimate, denial of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, glorification of its participants.
- Anti-Ukrainian activity of church structures of the Moscow Patriarchate in Crimea is a consistent and systemic policy of these structures.
- Such activity can also be qualified as criminal offenses under a number of articles of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.
- Propaganda of militarism in order to motivate Crimeans to serve in the Russian army is a violation of international law.
- Since June 2022, the dioceses on the territory of Crimea have become directly subordinate to the Russian Orthodox Church. Thus, if the Verkhovna Rada passes legislation banning the activities in Ukraine of religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence in the Russian Federation, there will be a legal basis for banning the activities of these dioceses.
lawyer of the Regional Center for Human Rights, Expert of the Humanitarian Policy Group the International Expert Network “Crimean Platform” commissioned by the editors of the newspaper “Krymska svitlytsia”
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