Virtual museum of Russian aggression.

Virtual museum of Russian aggression.



Orthodoxy and politics

The Church is a highly respected institution in the Ukrainian society, its credibility is much higher than that of most of the state agencies. There is a total of over 50 denominations in the country. According to the quantitative distribution of religious organizations by denomination, Orthodoxy retains its dominant position across the nation (just over 50%).

As far as the religious map is concerned, like many other regions of Ukraine, Crimea has its own specifics. Christian denominations of Orthodoxy and Protestantism are most common here, followed by Islam, which is a traditional religion as well. At the beginning of 2014, Orthodoxy prevailed quantitatively, but only if one does not take into account the religious communities that functioned without the status of a legal entity.

For the multi-ethnic Crimea, the constitutional right to freedom of religion guaranteed by the state was of ultimate importance. After all, individual Ukrainian statesmen and foreign actors often acted to the detriment of the interfaith harmony. Orthodoxy in Crimea was also split, like in the rest of Ukraine.


In his "Crimean address", seeking to justify the occupation, President Putin mentioned Orthodoxy as one of the defining cornerstones that bought the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus together. However, as the Russian aggression unfolded in Ukraine, specifically in Crimea, there were several small groups that professed different versions of the Orthodox faith, and there were big communities of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC), the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP). The latter is part of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Conflicts between the communities would flare up from time to time.

"In Crimea, literally everything is permeated with our common history and pride. Here is the ancient Chersonesos, where the holy prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat – his conversion to Orthodoxy – predetermined a common basis in terms of culture, values and civilization that unites the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus"

Vladimir Putin

The UOC-MP lost a lot of ground because of the events of the Revolution of Dignity, followed by the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Unification Council of the Ukrainian Churches in Kyiv on 12/15/2018 founded the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which currently has the most numerous congregation, having unified the communities of the UOC-KP, UAOC and parts of the UOC-MP. On 01/06/2019 the OCU received the Tomos of Autocephaly from the Patriarch of Constantinople. Most of the clergy of the UOC-KP joined the OCU, including the Office of the Crimean Diocese (OCD). Still not recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church, this Christian church is now actively developing in Ukraine. However, in the temporarily occupied territories, the OCU is persecuted, together with the other centers of the Ukrainian culture.

Orthodoxy and resistance to occupation

Affiliation to the Ukrainian Church- is a way to declare one’s Ukrainian identity under the temporary occupation. The OCU parishes are the centers of the Ukrainian cultural life in Crimea. Divine services in churches are held in the Ukrainian language. The OCU remains committed to the policy of condemning the Russian aggression. Unlike a number of other communities, it avoids cooperation with the Russian military. Religious leaders provide support to political prisoners in the occupied Crimea. They pray for the Ukrainian army, the Ukrainian government and the state of Ukraine.


Parishioners of the OCU (formerly UOC-KP) in Crimea constitute a religious minority. The occupation administration threatens total elimination of this religious community. By the beginning of the armed aggression on the Crimean peninsula, there were 49 religious communities of the UOC-KP (parishes, missions, brotherhoods, monasteries), whereas now only 6 remain. Only 4 out of 23 clergymen on the peninsula continue their activities. According to the experts of the Crimean Human Rights Group, the OCU (formerly UOC-KP) priests are under constant pressure from the Federal Security Service (FSB) of Russia and the local occupation authorities. The media actively uses hate speech against them: they are publicly called fascists and schismatics; calls are made to have them exiled, etc. Some churches were seized unceremoniously (for example, churches at military bases in Sevastopol and Perevalne). Under the extensive pressure from the Russian authorities, the rest have discontinued their operation.


Therefore, the cathedral in Simferopol where Archbishop Kliment of Simferopol and Crimea is the dean has given shelter to most of the believers from the liquidated parishes and effectively evolved into the only significant center of the Ukrainian church in Crimea. Kliment (secular name - Pavlo Kushch) has been holding the position of administrator of the Diocese Office since 07.06.2000. On 08/07/2020, Kliment was ordained in the rank of metropolitan in Kyiv by the consolidated Orthodox Church of Ukraine. In 2015, on behalf of the religious community and on behalf of the Ukrainians in Crimea, he urged the international community "to do everything possible without delay to help the Ukrainians in Crimea protect their national and religious rights, to prevent their deportation from their native land and their assimilation..."

Orthodoxy and Russian "justice"

The Office of the Crimean Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (OCD) is a religious organization that has the status of a legal entity in accordance with the laws of Ukraine. Back in 1995, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine handed over to the OCD UOC-KP some of the non-residential facilities of the military base in Simferopol under a lease contract. By resolution of the Verkhovna Rada of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in 2001, the formerly leased part of the property complex was leased to the OCD at no charge until 2050. And in 2003, some of these facilities were allocated and handed over to the Ukrainian Orthodox Spiritual Center (UOSC) for the conduct of business activities and provision of financial support to the OCD, which became the co-founder of the UOSC.


Under the occupation, the decree of the so-called "State Council of the Republic of Crimea" No. 2059-6/14 dated 04/18/2014 first confirmed the right of the OCD to occupy these facilities up to 2050. However, by 01/01/2016, due to the requirements of the occupation administration, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine lost its status of a legal entity. The OCD was stripped of the right to conclude contracts and to open or run bank accounts. Under the circumstances, the parishioners decided to officially register their religious community not as a structure of the UOC-KP (OCU) in Crimea but rather as a structure of the local Crimean religious community. However, their submissions were rejected three times in a row, each time under a new excuse.


Therefore, the community lost the powers to rent any other premises to continue their activities in Crimea. The OCD owns a land plot received from the Ukrainian authorities back in 2014 for the construction of a cathedral in Simferopol but is unable to proceed with the construction. Moreover, under the occupation, the title to this land is being challenged. The legal battle between the Ukrainian Church and the judiciary of the occupying power has been going on for years.


The first attempt to seize the premises of the OCD took place on 05/29/2015 when the so-called "Ministry of Property and Land Relations of the Republic of Crimea" organized an auction without notifying the tenants. The so-called public non-profit association for promotion of SMEs in the Republic of Crimea RAZUM won the tender for the lease of the premises. However, the new lease was not executed after the information about the illegal auction was made public.


The occupants stepped up their pressure as the aforementioned ministry decided to increase the rent for the use of the real property of the OCD, the UOSC and the cathedral itself. Representatives of the Crimean Diocese of the UOC-KP filed an appeal with the so-called Arbitration Court of the Republic of Crimea. In turn, the so-called "Ministry of Property and Land Relations of the Republic of Crimea" filed a counterclaim. In January 2016, the so-called "court" dismissed all the claims of the representatives of the UOC-KP (1), but sustained the motion of the "ministry". Judge Irina Sokolova on 01/21/2016 ruled to not only vacate the premises occupying 112.6 sq. m on the ground floor, where the UOSC was located, but also imposed financial penalties on the church.


The UOSC challenged this judgment in the court of appeals. By the ruling dated 06/21/2016, the so-called "Twenty-first Arbitration Court of Appeal (Sevastopol) dismissed the appeal (2). The UOSC went on to the court of cassation challenging the apellate ruling. The OCD filed a lawsuit as well, because the litigation concerned the premises it was using. Both writs of appeal were accepted for joint consideration, but the first one was rejected by the Arbitration Court of the Central District on 09/29/2016 (3), whereas the cassation proceedings on the lawsuit filed by the OCD were terminated. The applicant challenged the last ruling in the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. However, by the decision dated 02/13/2017, the cassation proceedings were terminated (without the presence of the applicant and without any notification about the time and the venue of the case) (4).


There were attempts to block the ground floor of the Cathedral of Sacred Equal Apostles St. Prince Volodymyr and St. Princess Olga on 11/08/2016. The next attempt happened on 08/31/2017. The so-called "bailiffs" acted brutally (5): they broke the locks and tore down the doors to the chapel of Christ the Savior and to the charitable dining room, destroyed property, took away the churchware, and broke into the altar area, thereby desecrating the church (according to Orthodox canons, only priests have the right to enter here). The OCD representatives pointed out that such actions were totally uncalled for, as the premises in question had a separate entrance and were perfectly accessible from the courtyard.


Criminal enforcement was perpetrated by the so-called "acting head of the Federal Bailiff Service (FSSP) Administration for the Republic of Crimea" Igor Rudakov and by so-called "bailiffs" Alexander Kostenko and Andrey Byunik. The so-called deputy head of the FSSP department for the Central District of Simferopol Yuri Vakhtin used force against Kliment during these events. The archbishop sustained a dislocated arm. He made a statement to the police, called the ambulance and documented all the facts of violence.


The invaders moved the seized property (icons, books, churchware, furniture, equipment, etc.) to the so-called "Ministry of Property and Land Relations of the Republic of Crimea" for storage. Any attempts to appeal against lawless acts or at least to get back the churchware proved to be futile. In this context, the above mentioned Ministry in its letter dated 10/12/2017 urged the petitioner to register in accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation and "bring the lease agreement in line with the requirements of the laws of the Russian Federation" (6).


At the beginning of 2019, the occupation administration started a lawsuit against the OCD and demanded the eviction of the organization from the Cathedral of Sacred Equal Apostles St. Prince Volodymyr and St. Princess Olga in Simferopol.


In June 2019, before the first judgment was made, the occupants imitated an intention to renovate the main church building in Simferopol. In fact, its destruction began: the builders dismantled the roof of the cathedral, which led to the flooding of the church premises and damage to the property. A fence was installed around the building, windows and doors were taken out.


On 07/05/2019, it was decided to confiscate the cathedral from the OCD (7). By the judgment of the so-called "court", the building was handed over to the "Ministry". The OCD was also ordered to pay 12,000 rubles in court fees.


On 09/18/2019, the "bailiff service" of Simferopol started the enforcement of the decision. The deadline for "voluntary compliance" was set at 5 days.


The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation rejected the motion to reconsider the decision to evict the OCD from the Cathedral in Simferopol on 08/04/2020. However, the resistance continued.


As of the end of May 2021, the OCD and the Cathedral in Simferopol were still keeping their premises. Curiously enough, the OCD had not received a single document regarding the enforcement of the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.


Resolution of the Court of Appeal of the Arbitration Court № 21 (Sevastopol) dated 21.06.2016.

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Decision of the Arbitration Court of the Republic of Crimea dated 21.01.2016, № А83-2142 / 2015.

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"Concern is not the way to solve the problem. It is expressed today in all statements of Ukrainian and international organizations. We need a practical solution that will ensure our constitutional right in Crimea to pray in our churches of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in Ukrainian language for our people and our state!"

Metropolitan Archbishop Kliment stressed in his speech on 11/03/2020 at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly in New York at a thematic event on the situation with human rights in the temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, which brought together diplomats from Kyiv, New York, Geneva, Vienna and Strasbourg.


The requirement to re-register religious organizations on the territory of the Crimean Peninsula (Federal Law of the Russian Federation dated 04/06/2015 No. 80-FZ) created additional space for persecution of religious communities, exercising control, exerting pressure and promoting discrimination against the representatives of religious groups opposing the occupation.


In August 2019, over fifty Crimeans, parishioners of the Cathedral of Sacred Equal Apostles St. Prince Volodymyr and St. Princess Olga of the Crimean Diocese of the OCU, drafted an appeal to the UN Human Rights Committee about the oppression of the church community and violation of the right to worship. On 09/06/2019 and 09/20/2019, the UN Human Rights Committee urged the Russian Federation to cancel the eviction orders to the community from the temple in Simferopol.

In November 2020, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) appealed to Russian authorities about the eviction (app. No. 33931/19).

The OCU in Crimea as a religious institution is experiencing growing pressure and persecution. It may lose the largest religious buildings in the occupied Crimea. At the beginning of 2021, Matilda Bogner, Head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, testified to this during the presentation of the 31st report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the human rights situation in the country.


Pressure on religious organizations and religious minorities in the temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol also intensified after the adoption of legislative changes by the parliament of the Russian Federation (the so-called Yarovaya laws - No. 374-FZ and No. 375-FZ dated 07/06/2016). Under these laws, sermons and public worship are allowed exclusively in specifically designated places, so some of the religious organizations have simply ceased to exist.


The Prosecutor's Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea provides procedural management in a number of criminal proceedings on the counts the oppression of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on the temporarily occupied peninsula. These counts include, among others, the seizure by armed individuals of the building of the Church of the Intercession of the Theotokos of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, located in the village of Perevalne, the prohibition of the priest and parishioners to the service, the appropriation of movable and immovable property of the Office of the Crimean Diocese of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, as a result of which the ministers of the church are deprived of the opportunity to conduct religious rites. Such actions of the occupying power are a direct violation of the norms of international humanitarian law and another confirmation of pressure and discrimination on religious grounds.


Russian Federation systematically violates Article 58 of the Geneva Convention (IV) of 08/12/1949 that obliges the Occupying Power to allow ministers of religion to give spiritual assistance to the members of their religious communities, and Article 27, which guarantees the right of individuals in the occupied territory to their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. The Occupying Power also violates Article 53 of Protocol Additional I that guarantees the protection of places of worship, and Article 15 of the same protocol that envisages protection of the civilian religious personnel.


In addition, the Russian Federation violates Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that every human being has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

Published on 2021-09-01

Andriy Shchekun, Lyudmyla Shchekun

“Crimean chamber” newspaper


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