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27 Jul, 2023 10:52

Details of report on Christian church crackdown in Ukraine revealed

A Russian Foreign Ministry report highlights Kiev’s discriminatory religious policies and explains Washington’s silence on them
Details of report on Christian church crackdown in Ukraine revealed

The Russian Foreign Ministry has released a scathing report on what it says has been a years-long campaign by Kiev to dismantle the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (OUC).

Its clerics and the church faithful are being persecuted in various ways, from discriminatory legislation in the parliament to direct violence, the document reports.

The crimes are being ignored by international human-rights organizations and tacitly endorsed by Washington, the ministry has also claimed.

Ukrainian schism

The UOC was historically part of the Russian Orthodox Church. After Ukraine obtained statehood in the 1990s, it became a de-facto self-governing organization with symbolic and spiritual ties to its progenitor.

There were some schisms in Ukrainian orthodoxy from the start, but the trend escalated after the 2014 armed coup in Kiev.

Then-President Pyotr Poroshenko oversaw the creation in 2018 of a new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which included old schismatic clerics and new defectors from the UOC, a key part of his re-election campaign.

The OCU was recognized in 2019 by the Constantinople Patriarchate, which caused a major split among Orthodox Churches of the world.

The Russian Foreign Ministry report identifies 2018 as the year when a “full-scale, system-wide pressure” campaign against the UOC started. Since 2022, it has escalated further and has been backed by the Ukrainian government at all levels, it said.

Discriminatory legislation

As of mid-June, nine anti-UOC bills had been initiated in the Ukrainian parliament, the report said. Their sponsors “have made no secret of their intention” to infringe on the rights of believers, to confiscate church property, to hijack its historic name and, ultimately, to ban it.

Some bills propose direct restrictions or a full ban of the Church. One declares that only OCU communities may call themselves Orthodox. Other pieces of legislation facilitate the pressure campaign, the report points out.

Raids on churches

Since 2022, Ukrainian security services have conducted multiple raids on UOC churches and monasteries as well as on the homes of priests. Authorities have cited national security considerations for these acts.

The report accuses Ukrainian law enforcement of planting ‘evidence’ aimed at incriminating the clergy during some of their operations. The ministry is alleging 61 instances of criminal acts against clerics that were based on “fake political pretenses,” with seven verdicts passed by Ukrainian courts so far.

It is also suggesting that the Ukrainian state may have been involved in forced disappearances, torture and murders of UOC bishops and priests.

Forced conversions and expropriation

Local Ukrainian authorities are pressuring UOC communities to switch their allegiance and harassing those who refuse, the report said, listing scores of examples.

Dozens of churches have been seized by force and turned over to the OCU through falsified ballots, in which political activists dominated the vote and the will of actual believers was ignored, it claims.

The Ukrainian government was directly involved in the ouster of the UOC from the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, one of the most treasured Orthodox Christian monasteries in Ukraine.

Hate speech and violence

Ukrainian politicians, officials and mass media are inciting hatred towards the UOC, the Russian ministry said. This campaign resulted in arson attacks, other acts of vandalism and direct violence against clerics and believers.

The report cites multiple remarks by senior Ukrainian officials and leaders of the OCU, which Moscow considers to be hate-driven.

US incites crackdown

The report also laments the failure of international organizations to react to the ongoing crackdown, even as Moscow was drawing their attention to it. The ministry reports that the sole responses from the UN and others were non-committal replies.

Meanwhile the US, which touts itself as a global champion of religious freedoms, “has been silencing information about the crimes perpetrated by Kiev.” Moscow believes that Washington tacitly approves the aggressive policies.

The report said the situation amounted to a “systemic crisis in world Orthodoxy” that is encouraged by [the church’s historic seat] Constantinople, the US and its allies.

“The Kiev authorities and the West are trying to drive a wedge between the Russian and Ukrainian peoples, to destroy the spiritual affinity of Orthodox believers in the two countries,” the report states.

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