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27 Mar, 2023 08:07

UN sounds alarm over Ukraine church crackdown

Kiev’s actions targeting the largest religious denomination in the country “could be discriminatory”
UN sounds alarm over Ukraine church crackdown

The Ukrainian state may be discriminating against the nation’s largest religious denomination, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), the UN’s human rights watchdog said in a report published on Friday. The government of President Vladimir Zelensky is currently in the process of kicking UOC monks out of their homes.

The apparent mistreatment of the church, which has historic links to the Russian Orthodox Church, was highlighted in a report released by the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). It cited several draft laws submitted to the Ukrainian parliament as well as the actions of the SBU, Ukraine’s domestic security agency, against the clergy.

The UN body is “concerned that the State’s activities targeting the UOC could be discriminatory,” it said. The report cited “vague legal terminology and the absence of sufficient justification” in proposed legislation, explaining why it drew the OHCHR’s negative attention.

The report covered the period between August 2022 and January 2023, but more recent acts by the government have deepened the saga of the UOC. Earlier this month, the Ukrainian Culture Ministry ordered monks belonging to the jurisdiction to vacate their homes at the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, an iconic monastery in the Ukrainian capital.

Zelensky described the move as strengthening Ukraine’s “spiritual independence” and implied that the UOC was a tool that Russia used “to manipulate the spirituality of our people, to destroy our holy sites [and] to steal valuables from them.”

The president ignored pleas by UOC clergy to meet them and try to diffuse the situation.

Kiev previously expelled the UOC from two of the cathedrals above the monastery. Within days of that decision, the government-backed Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was allowed to hold services on the premises.

The OCU was created with the support of then-president Poroshenko in what many political observers perceived as an attempt to bolster his re-election chances. Culture Minister Aleksandr Tkachenko said the expelled monks, who have until this Wednesday to move out, could stay in their homes by leaving the UOC and joining the OCU.

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