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The persecution of the PCU in Crimea is systematic and consistent

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During all the years of occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (until 2019 it was called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate)[1] suffers from a policy of harassment by the occupation authorities. This material aims to highlight the main elements of this policy and analyze it as a systemic phenomenon.

Where did it all begin and why is the occupying power persecuting the church?

On March 11, 2014, the Council of Bishops of the Kyiv Patriarchate made 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 church leadership demonstrated its attitude to the Russian government in Crimea exclusively as an occupation and illegally established one. In addition, the statement of the Council of Bishops noted violations of the rights of believers that had already taken place in the first days of the occupation, in particular, the abduction of parishioners Andriy Shchekun and Anatoliy Kowalski.

Subsequently, the Crimean Diocese of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has repeatedly supported and provided assistance to Ukrainian citizens who suffered from repression by the occupying power [2].

The Orthodox Church of Ukraine in the conditions of occupation openly positions itself as a local church of the Ukrainian people, develops Ukrainian-language liturgical tradition and prays at the services of “God-protected state of Ukraine, power, people and its army”, which clearly shows its rejection of the ideology of “, Which is planted in the Crimea by the Kremlin regime.

Being openly authoritarian in nature, the Russian government does not, in principle, accept a dialogue with dissidents, trying to overcome them, usually by force. In the context of Crimea, this trend is exacerbated, as the occupation regime faces the task of creating a narrative of “originally Russian Crimea” in order to prevent its deoccupation. Accordingly, the Russian government is trying to assimilate or displace everything that does not fit into this narrative and opposes it. In the religious sphere, this is due to the oppression of religious organizations that are not under the control of the Crimean occupation administration. Accordingly, the openly pro-Ukrainian position of the PCU is a reason for constant and diverse pressure on it.

In addition, the persecution of believers and clergy of the PCU is part of the general policy of the Russian Federation to expel the indigenous population from the territory of Crimea and colonize it with their own citizens[3].

Dissemination of Russian legislation in the Crimea as a factor in violating the rights of believers of the PCU

According to the norms of international humanitarian law (hereinafter – IHL), operating under occupation, the Russian Federation must adhere to the principle of status quo ante bellum, refraining from spreading its own legislation to the occupied territory [4]. As for Crimea, this principle is grossly violated, as the legislation of the Russian Federation was distributed there in the first days of the occupation[5].

According to the legislation of the Russian Federation, illegally distributed on the territory of Crimea, membership in a religious organization is possible only in the presence of Russian citizenship or other legal grounds for stay in the Russian Federation, such as a residence permit[6]. That is, if a person wants to be openly a member of the community, he must issue a Russian passport or residence permit. If you refuse 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 the Crimea in accordance with the migration legislation of the Russian Federation.

This approach had a very negative effect on the religious life of parishioners and priests of the Crimean Diocese of the PCU, who did not have permanent registration of residence in the Crimea at the time of its occupation. For example, there was a case of forced relocation of a priest to the mainland of Ukraine due to inability to obtain a passport or residence permit due to the lack of Crimean registration [7]. Today he continues to serve, coming to the Crimea periodically, but not more than 90 days during each period of 180 days. This situation significantly impairs the quality of religious life of the parishes entrusted to him: without a priest, parishioners can not regularly participate in worship and attend church sacraments.

Also, the forced transition to the legal field of the Russian Federation led to the forced re-registration of all legal entities. For the church, this action 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 this law, the status of a religious organization has only an association registered as a legal entity [8]. At the same time, the occupying authorities repeatedly for formal reasons denied the PCU community in the Crimea state registration, which in fact deprived it of its official status and the corresponding rights that such a status determines[9].

In 2016, the so-called Yarova’s Law, which, among other things, introduced a new norm into the Russian Code of Administrative Offenses, which provides for liability for “illegal missionary activity.” Arbitrary interpretation of this norm was used in August 2021 for the administrative persecution of Archimandrite Damian of the PCU for the completion of the Divine Liturgy.

Pressure on the clergy and believers of the PCU in the Crimea and the seizure of church property

From the very beginning of the occupation, priests and believers of the PCU suffered various oppressions and human rights violations from the occupying authorities and the aggressive pro-Russian public.

In March 2014, Crimean Self-Defense abducted parishioners Andriy Shchekun and Anatoliy Kovalsky, who had been subjected to torture and inhuman treatment motivated by religious hatred.

On July 21, 2014, the country house of the head of the diocese, Metropolitan Clement, was burned by unknown individuals[10].

On March 3, 2019, Metropolitan Kliment was detained by the occupation police while trying to travel to Rostov-on-Don for a court hearing in the case of Ukrainian political prisoner Pavlo Hryb[11].

Priest Maksym Vologodin, who was forced to leave the Crimea, reported that the FSB had tried to recruit him to obtain information about the diocese[12].

The head of one of the communities, who also left Crimea, reported that he had been summoned for “talks” by Russian Interior Ministry officials, who directly reported that the activities of his parish were undesirable.

One of the parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Crimea reports that people who joined the civil service after the occupation asked their parents not to go to the Ukrainian church, as this could cause them problems at work.

On August 23, 2021, Archimandrite Damian of the PCU (in peace – Pavlo G. Skokov) was brought to administrative responsibility for the Divine Liturgy as an “illegal missionary activity.” It should be noted that the liturgy is not a missionary activity even under Russian law, as it is for people who are already Orthodox believers and is not aimed at attracting new members of the church from among non-church people.

During 2014, in the diocese of the PCU in the Crimea, the Intercession Church in the village of Perevalne and the Church of the Apostles Peter and Paul and St. Nicholas in Sevastopol. In addition, the occupying authorities initiated lawsuits, during which the courts controlled by the occupiers decided to remove the building of the cathedral in Simferopol and demolish the parish church in Evpatoria. To date, these decisions have entered into force under the occupation legislation. And although they are not de facto fulfilled, the risk of removing the cathedral and demolishing the church in Evpatoria remains significant – it can happen at any time.

The systemic policy of persecution is intensified by a powerful campaign in the pro-Russian media, which creates a negative image of the Crimean eparchy of the PCU. The publications made within the framework of this campaign try to discredit the PCU as a religious organization, justify the actions of the occupying authorities in relation to the oppression of the church and shift the responsibility for such oppression to the church itself.

Effects

As of the beginning of 2014, the Crimean Diocese of the PCU had 45 parishes, which were cared for by 14 clergy. At the beginning of 2022, the diocese has only 7 parishes and 4 clergy. Thus, the number of parishes under the pressure of the occupying power decreased by more than 6 times, and the number of clergy – more than 3 times. In fact, today the diocese is on the verge of survival.

From the point of view of international law

The relevant policy of the occupying power is absolutely inadmissible from the point of view of international humanitarian law, which operates in the occupied territory of Crimea and obliges, among other things, to respect the religious life of the population of the occupied territory.

The seizure and seizure of temples, as well as actions aimed at destroying a church building in Evpatoria, can be classified as war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Mykola KIKKAS,

lawyer, lawyer of the Regional Center for Human Rights

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[1] In the future, the article will use the current name – the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (PCU)

[2] Archbishop Kliment has asked Putin to release Ukrainian political prisoners. Ukrinform https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-crimea/2493591-arhiepiskop-kliment-poprosiv-putin-zvilniti-ukrainskih-politvazniv.html Prayer under annexation. Archbishop Kliment of Crimea on political prisoners and mutual support of Ukrainians on the peninsula. Ukrinform https://texty.org.ua/articles/92743/Molytva_pid_aneksijeju_Arkhijepyskop_Krymskyj_Klyment_pro-92743/

[3] Report on the results of a study of the policy of the Russian Federation on the forced change in the demographic composition of the population of the occupied Crimean peninsula. Regional Center for Human Rights. 2021. pp. 88-121https://krymbezpravil.org.ua/issues/otchet-o-rezul-tatakh-yssledovanyya-polytyky-rf-po-prynudytel-nomu-yzmenenyyu-demohrafycheskoho-sostava-naselenyya-okkupyrovannoho-kr-mskoho-poluostrova/

[4] Regulations on the laws and customs of land war. The Hague, 1907. Article 43. https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/995_222#Text

[5] Federal Constitutional Law of March 21, 2014 № 6-FKZ. Article 23 ”http://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_160618/44abd5c722d8204c418fbddef6825d679b4c5a18/

[6] Federal Law of September 26, 1997 № 125-FZ. Article 8 http://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_16218/8cf90c5b538e92e7d3d11732fd7416f37767e4ba/

[7] Report on the results of a study of the policy of the Russian Federation on the forced change in the demographic composition of the population of the occupied Crimean peninsula. Regional Center for Human Rights. 2021. p. 93 https://krymbezpravil.org.ua/issues/otchet-o-rezul-tatakh-yssledovanyya-polytyky-rf-po-prynudytel-nomu-yzmenenyyu-demohrafycheskoho-sostava-naselenyya-okkupyrovannoho-kr-msko

[8] Federal Law of September 26, 1997 № 125-FZ. Article 8 http://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_16218/8cf90c5b538e92e7d3d11732fd7416f37767e4ba/

[9] Russia’s Ministry of Justice has refused to register an organization of Ukrainian schismatics in Crimea. КрымИнформ https://www.c-inform.info/news/id/75828

[10] The dacha of Archbishop of the UOC-Kyiv Patriarchate Kliment was burned down near Simferopol. KAFANEWS https://kafanews.com/novosti/91788/pod-simferopolem-soshgli-dachu-arkhiepiskopa-upts-kievskogo-patriarkhata-klimenta_2014-07-22

[11] Archbishop of the PCU Kliment has been detained in Crimea. DW

https://www.dw.com/ru/%D0%B2-%D0%BA%D1%80%D1%8B%D0%BC%D1%83-%D0%B7%D0%B0%D0%B4 % D0% B5% D1% 80% D0% B6% D0% B0% D0% BD-% D0% B0% D1% 80% D1% 85% D0% B8% D0% B5% D0% BF% D0% B8% D1% 81% D0% BA% D0% BE% D0% BF-% D0% BF% D1% 86% D1% 83-% D0% BA% D0% BB% D0% B8% D0% BC% D0% B5% D0% BD% D1% 82 / a-47758012

[12] You can’t take the last one from us. They are trying to erase the Orthodox Church of Ukraine from the map of Crimea. OpenDemocracy https://www.opendemocracy.net/ru/ukrainskaya-pravoslavnaya-tserkov-v-krimu/

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Implemented within the project “Information Platform” Voice of Crimea. Culture “- about Crimea honestly, qualitatively, actually” with the support of the Media Development Fund of the US Embassy in Ukraine. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the US government.

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