Kiev Pressing for Elimination of Ukrainian Orthodox Church

© Sputnik . Stringer / Go to the mediabankThe Kiev Pechersk Lavra
The Kiev Pechersk Lavra - Sputnik Africa, 1920, 28.07.2023
Moscow has stated that Ukraine’s legislative system is designed to help the Kiev regime spearhead the current crackdown on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has published a report on the Kiev regime’s “illegal actions targeting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), its clergy and parishioners.”
The report contains seven sections that indicate “the full extent of political lawlessness” in Ukraine, in addition to the “legal outrage against the UOC, the gross systematic violation of the rights of Orthodox Christians by the Kiev regime,” and reactions by some international human rights organizations.
In the introduction, Russian diplomats recalled that for many years, Kiev had been pursuing “a policy of liquidating” the canonical UOC, “discriminating against its clergy, and persecuting clergymen and believers.” According to the report, Ukraine’s legislative system and actions by various law enforcement agencies are “designed to fulfill this goal.”
“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, even despite the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s decision to become independent from the Moscow Patriarchate,” the document reads.
The report pointed out that isolated evidence of the crackdown on the UOC's clergy and believers “was put on record in 2014 and even earlier,” while full-blown “system-wide pressure” on canonical Orthodoxy in Ukraine started in 2018 and intensified in 2022-2023.

The pressure “was spearheaded by the central authorities of Ukraine (the president, the government, and the National Security and Defense Council) and is currently being implemented through legislation, the activities of intelligence services, the regional authorities and institutions of self-rule,” according to the report.

The Russian diplomats referred to a legislative framework, which they said has been created in Ukraine in order to liquidate the UOC and which is in the process of being expanded. In this vein, the report pointed to December 1, 2022, when the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (NSDC) made the following decision, “the actual purpose of which is to totally restrict the rights of UOC communities.”
At the time, the report added, the NSDC greenlit an array of measures, including:
hammering out a draft law to ban the UOC by the Ukrainian governemnt
ramping up pressure on the UOC by the Ukrainian special services
depriving the UOC of the right to use the churches of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, which is Ukraine’s “most ancient and largest monastery”
imposing “sanctions” on UOC bishops
“In addition, the Kiev regime’s efforts include drafting discriminatory laws, forceful seizures of churches and monasteries, illegal re-registration of communities, encouragement of hate speech, unmotivated aggression and violence against the UOC's clergy and believers," the document stressed.

Ukrainian Laws Against Orthodox Church

The report singled out at least nine “discriminatory” draft laws targeting the UOC “one way or another," which were registered by the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) as of June 16, 2023.

According to the report, “their initiators have made no secret of their intention to infringe upon the rights of the UOC’s communities and believers, confiscate the property belonging to this religious denomination, deprive it of its historical name, which it has been using as a legal entity, ban it from calling itself an Orthodox church and, finally, impair them in their ability to operate on Ukrainian soil.”

The draft laws include those related to banning the Moscow Patriarchate on Ukrainian territory and amending certain laws of Ukraine regarding the operation of religious organizations in the country.
One such law, the report reads, “de facto prevents the UOC from using the word ‘Ukrainian’ in its name even though it is the oldest active Orthodox religious organization in Ukraine uniting millions of Ukrainian citizens.” In addition, this law contains discriminatory “restrictions regarding the ability by clerics, religious missionaries and mentors” from the UOC to access “the units and formations of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other army units of Ukraine,” as well as “other restrictions.”

How Did Ukraine's Security Services Act Against UOC?

The report recalled that between May 2022 and December 2022, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) conducted “massive unauthorized searches in UOC dioceses, monasteries and communities in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies under the pretext of undertaking nationwide ‘counterintelligence measures’.
Separately in November 2022, the SBU reported “the conduct of counterintelligence operations” on the territory of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra “as part of the SBU’s systemic work on countering the subversive activity of Russian security services in Ukraine,” the report stated.
The document underscored that “despite the mass searches of all UOC dioceses, the ‘evidence’ presented to the public was reduced to theological, liturgical and historical literature in the Russian language and fake ‘propaganda leaflets.’ In some instances, the report added, “these fake materials were planted in the presence of the victims.”
This was followed by criminal cases being opened against UOC diocese officials and clergymen “on fake political pretenses”, the report noted, citing SBU head Vasily Malyuk as saying that 61 such cases were initiated and seven verdicts were delivered in between 2022 and 2023.
The Russian Foreign Ministry pointed out that aside from the arrests of UOC bishops and clergymen, “there are cases of the disappearance and kidnapping of clergymen, evidence of their torture and beatings and even death under very strange or unascertained circumstances,” something that occurred between March 2022 and May 2023.

Local Authorities Persecuting Christians

The report pointed to Ukrainian local authorities issuing “recommendations or demands” for UOC communities “to convert into other denominations.”

“Self-government bodies such as regional and city councils have sent appeals to the Ukrainian leadership calling for a ban on the UOC. Local governments in some cities and towns in Western Ukraine are taking efforts to shut down churches, prevent believers from attending services, and enact local bans on the UOC's activity," the document reads.

It quoted UOC leaders as saying that a total of 81 resolutions were made by local Ukrainian governments to ban the canonical Orthodox Church as of March 1, 2023.
The report referred to certain areas in Ukraine, which saw “an illegitimate termination of agreements with the UOC communities on the use of historical churches or monasteries; land plots, together with churches and cathedrals built on them have been illegally expropriated from local communities, with subsequent efforts to take possession of them or disrupt church services.”

How Many Orthodox Churches Were Seized in Ukraine?

The report mentioned 129 UOC churches that it said were seized in a whole array of Ukrainian cities in 2022, including Ivano-Frankovsk, Lvov, Volyn, Rovno, Zhitomir, Khmelnitsky, Vinnitsa, Chernovtsy, Chernigov, and Kiev.
“The widespread seizures of UOC churches do not stem from the people expressing their will or the democratic procedures on the ground, as the Ukrainian authorities claim, but are initiated by local authorities and officials. Most of the seizures have taken place in specific localities and districts where the authorities are explicitly open about their hostility towards the canonical Orthodox Church,” according to the report.
The document added that in a slew of regions, local authorities and self-government bodies “openly initiate and organize seizures of churches and often take part in them.” The document added that the process is typically preceded by the illegal and forcible “re-registration” of UOC parishes to the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) by state registrars.

According to the report, UOC churches are often seized by gun-toting attackers, and in addition to the territorial defense paramilitary units, “hostile takeovers are often supported by local authorities and law enforcement agencies.”

“People from other religious organizations are actively involved in them as well. These actions often include mass violence and harassment of clergymen,” the report maintained, adding that a total of about 250 UOC churches have been seized in Ukraine and that as of March 1, 2023, more than 300 parishes were illegally “re-registered” there.

How Did Ukraine's Regional Authorities Clamp Down on Major UOC Monasteries?

Pressure of this sort has increased over the past 12 months, the report said, referring to May 2022, when state-supported OCU created and registered a “parallel parish” at the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra - the UOC’s largest monastery - under the same name.
The report recalled that earlier this year, Kiev did not renew the agreement on the use of the Lavra’s two largest churches that had been built and renovated with funds provided by the canonical Orthodox Church.
“Also unilaterally and without legal grounds, the long-term agreement with the UOC on using the other buildings within the confines of the Lavra was terminated. The Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine is now pushing to have all buildings transferred to the state and the monastic community evicted from the monastery,” where its “hierarchs and the monks are being asked to join the rival OCU, which wants the monastery buildings transferred to it,” the document reads.
According to it, the OCU has created a “parallel” parish at Ukraine’s second-largest monastery, the UOC-operated Pochayev Lavra based in the Ternopol Region), as well. The report singled out the OCU’s “open calls to banish UOC monks from the Pochayev Monastery and hand possession of the monastery to the OCU.”
The Russian diplomats also pointed to a push by Ukraine’s regional authorities to banish UOC monks from the Pochayev Lavra and put “its buildings on the state museum’s books,” a drive that was supported by Ukrainian Culture and Information Policy Minister Oleksander Tkachenko.
The report recalled the NSDC’s decision made on December 1, 2022 and an executive order by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of the same date, which “provided legal grounds” for Kiev’s efforts to withdraw the buildings of the UOC’s largest and oldest monastery − the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra − from the church’s use.
“The police and special services are putting pressure on the [UOC] clergy and believers, preventing videotaping and making illegal detentions with the use of brutal force. Criminal cases have been opened under far-fetched pretexts against four UOC activists who are now under house arrest,” including Metropolitan Pavel of Vyshgorod and Chernobyl, according to the document.

Is There Hate Speech and Aggression Against Orthodox Christians in Ukraine?

The report stressed that hate speech against the UOC is being “fostered by Ukraine’s “prominent politicians, top public figures and regional officials.”
The document pointed to a “wide-scale media campaign” that is being waged against the UOC in the state-run and privately-owned media, which has led to “acts of vandalism where UOC churches and shrines were put on fire, and unprovoked violence and aggression were used against UOC clerics and believers.”
The report recalled that between 2022 and 2023, hate speech targeting the UOC "was heard in public remarks" made by "senior Ukrainian officials and politicians," as well as "senior executives from the special services and law enforcement agencies, plus eminent "public and religious figures."
"Such remarks and the mass-scale information campaign against the UOC in major state-run and private media have led to unprovoked acts of violence and aggression against the clergy of the canonical Orthodox Church", which took place from December 7, 2022 to January 2, 2023.

How Did International Rights Organizations React?

The report, in particular, quoted the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) as saying that “a process of mandatory renaming of religious organizations that are affiliated with religious centers in the Russian Federation… is primarily targeting Ukrainian Orthodox Church communities and may be discriminatory.”
The report also referred to the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC), which in turn pointed out that the UOC was banned from carrying out its activities “in at least seven territorial communities in the Kiev, Sumy and Lvov regions… for the duration of martial law.” The HRC noted that the authorities failed to provide a clear-cut justification for the prohibition, while other civil society and religious organizations have not been suspended, which “may amount to a discriminatory measure on the ground of religion or affiliation with a particular religious group.”
According to the document, local Orthodox churches and their hierarchs, along with representatives of religious and civil society groups around the world “regularly issue statements supporting the UOC and expressing their solidarity.”
The Russian diplomats bemoaned the fact that the UN and other specialized organizations “have yet to focus on the challenges faced by canonical Orthodoxy in Ukraine.” The report stressed that “the relevant international bodies usually limit their responses to the submissions from the Russian Foreign Ministry to formal replies saying that they are monitoring the developments.”
The document recalled that “there still has been no adequate response [by international rights organizations] to the anti-Orthodox policy adopted by the ruling regime in Kiev, or to multiple instances of the UOC’s property and assets being seized, while its clergy and believers endured arbitrary treatment and violence.”

Kiev-UOC Tensions

The report was issued amid tensions between the Kiev regime and the UOC, which escalated after the beginning of the ongoing Russian special military operation in Ukraine. Kiev authorities started a crackdown on the Orthodox community, accusing believers of having ties with Russia.
The clampdown saw Kiev ordering UOC monks to leave the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, claiming that they allegedly violated the terms of the lease. The Lavra’s jurisdiction was divided between the National Kiev-Pechersk Historical and Cultural Preserve and the UOC itself.
Citing UOC ties to Russia, local authorities in various regions of Ukraine also passed resolutions banning the activities of the Church, and a bill has been submitted to the country's parliament to effectively outlaw the UOC throughout Ukraine.
On top of that, Ukrainian authorities slapped sanctions on some members of the UOC clergy. The Security Service of Ukraine began to initiate criminal cases against UOC clerics and to conduct "counter-intelligence activities," including searches of bishops and priests, churches and monasteries in an effort to find evidence of "anti-Ukrainian activities."