Dmitry Skvortsov: The OSCE Learned About State Terrorism Against the Largest Religious Group in Ukraine

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


As the head of the NGO “Ukrainian Community”, your obedient servant, together with the Chairman of the Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods of Ukraine Valentin Lukiyanik, the adviser on legal questions of the Kiev metropolitanate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) Oleg Denisov, the writer Jan Taksyur, and the human rights activist Viktoriya Yukhimets met at the Kiev office of the OSCE the regional observer on the observance of human rights in Ukraine Fernando Inaraj.

The monitoring mission took an interest in the cases of persecution against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), which take a more and more violent character. And, in my opinion, we managed to convince the representative of the OSCE that this is not just an incident, but a practice. Developed over a long time and widely applied, but which in recent days literally moved to a qualitatively new level.

Right now a very fierce, reaching bloodshed standoff is ongoing in Kolomyia (a district center of the Ivano-Frankovsk region) where uniats captured another Orthodox church. The novelty of the situation is not only that parokh (how Ukrainian uniats call their superiors) blessed violence, but also were noticed committing assault and using foul language.

As Oleg Denisov explained, if in 2014-2016 the infringements of the law connected with the capture and arson of temples had an “all-criminal character” (for example, beating believers or trespassing on private property, including houses of priests), then now, thanks to the impunity of these crimes and three years of purposeful anti-orthodox propaganda in the media and on the squares, it is possible to record signs of terrorism: “Servers of ‘UGCC’ [uniates of the “Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church” – ed] openly call for the capture of the property of the Canonical Church and the banishing of orthodox priests from the territory of Galicia. They publish their appeals on the Internet”. The list of temples of Archeparchy Ternopil-Zborov that are “still not returned” in the union that was published on the Internet by the chaplain of “Right Sector” can quite serve as an example of this.

“The ‘UGCC’ doesn’t hide the fact that the temple in Kolomyia was illegally captured,” said Mr. Denisov, continuing to list signs of terrorism. “The statement of the ‘Kolomyia-Chernovtsi diocese of the UGCC’ exists, that they simply ‘can’t let go’ of the temple in Kolomyia, the lawful user of which is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (which is confirmed by a court decision). The capturers of temples openly flaunt their weapons – up to Kalashnikovs, beat people in the presence of the police. Besides this, the character of the capture of the temple in Kolomyia shows that the group that committed it is very well structured and organized”.

The fact that literally three days after the capture of the temple in Kolomyia the deputy of the already Lutsk City Council urged to capture the temple of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, even being aware that such actions are illegal, is in confirmation of the thesis about a transition to an absolutely new level of legal nihilism: “I propose to all factions, all deputies – let’s take this temple. Perhaps it’s not completely lawful, but let’s all come to the meeting and gather activists”.

The militarized organizations, whose forces are used to carry out the capture of temples – in violation of the law, publish photos of the defenders of temples (including of the lawyers of Denisov and Yukhimets’ Kolomyia orthodox community), and the number plates of their vehicles, calling to pursue them as supporters of the Moscow patriarchy. But in front of people they publicly declare: “We will shoot you solely for the fact that you are from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate)”.

According to Viktoriya Yukhimets, the authorities cooperate with these organizations (for example, they are involved in the preparation of joint actions). That’s why law enforcement bodies register offenses only if they become resonant (which, taking into account the extremely anti-orthodox mood of the West Ukrainian media, is also very problematic)… But the registration of a crime also, in this case, isn’t a guarantee of the beginning of an investigation into it. Moreover, the crime, even after its registration (for example, the occupation of the temple of the Canonical church by capturers) often isn’t stopped – as is necessary under law, but is being “conserved”: in the best case scenario the court seals off the captured temples “whilst clarification” of who it belongs to is ongoing. It is a form of “compromise”, during which Orthodox Christians already have no opportunity to serve in church.

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Just in the last three years in the West of Ukraine 40 temples were captured and 25 orthodox churches were subjected to arson. Across Ukraine today there are about 50 captured churches. Not to mention the ones that were sealed off by the court or destroyed at the construction stage. Arsonists don’t limit themselves to western regions. But there aren’t any statistics on the injuries suffered by defenders of temples (including fractures of the skull and the extremities). Thus, there isn’t any fact about the disclosure of crimes.

Yukhimets described why. In this same Kolomiya the members of the public organization registered by the Ukrainian authorities kidnapped and took to the forest the 14-year-old son of the parishioners of the captured orthodox church. There he was stripped naked and the letters “UO” [Ukrainian Orthodox – ed] were engraved into his back with a knife. Obviously, they didn’t manage to engrave the letter “C” [Church – ed] for reasons that haven’t yet been disclosed by the investigation, which was opened for “hooliganism”! Parents are also so intimidated by sadists that they refuse to testify.

“We addressed all authorities, up to the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the region and the prosecutor of Kolomyia,” said the human rights activist. “All of them have one answer: they can’t influence these organizations, because they consist of ‘veterans of the ATO’. But if law enforcement bodies aren’t able to fight against them, then how can Kolomyia’s inhabitants be expected to resist them?”

“All these offenders are known,” stressed Oleg Denisov. “These are servers of the ‘UGCC’, ‘ATO participants’, criminals. But there is no reaction from government bodies towards public appeals with a terrorist character. The metropolitanate addressed the heads of law enforcement bodies, also all communities always write statements to the police, but for all these years nobody was brought even to administrative responsibility, despite all the court hearings won by us. Therefore as the Church passed through all inter-state levels of legal protection, we have no other option than to address to international justice and legal assistance”.

Valentin Lukiyanik spoke about the cooperation of the authorities with “patriotic” organizations on a national scale. Thus, for example, when orthodox public organizations need to hold an All-Ukrainian congress or regional assembly or event in Kiev or in the regional centers, the requests submitted to local governments will become known immediately to leaders of nationalists. And immediately threats start to be made either to the management of the institution that agreed to rent out a hall, or a backdated, “more earlier” request is made for the holding of a nationalist event in the same place and at the same time.

It is necessary to say that organization-capturers, the names of which our lawyers have so far avoided to name, quite often are structures of the same law enforcement bodies. Thus, in Nikolaev representatives of special forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs “Azov” make threats towards the orthodox community on the eve of an arson of building materials, smash-up foundations, and beat up defenders of the temple under construction.

In the Ternopol region, the territorial battalion of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, along with militants of “Right Sector”, took part in the capture of a temple. “Bludgeons and tear gas were used against women and unarmed men,” reported the managers of affairs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) Metropolitan Antony. “Fractured extremities and traumas to the head were recorded”.

To this day Anatoly Borisenko, cruelly beaten on the territory of Preobrazhenky Cathedral of Sumy in October, 2015, remains in a coma.

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“This example of cynical impunity is a testament to the inability of the authorities to defend their fellow citizens,” noted the Sumy diocese. The criminal-military serviceman of the National Guard of Ukraine (which is also in the structure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs) who was detained is currently at large, despite the fact that his guilt is proved in court.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine has the most direct relationship also with the anti-constitutional activity of the website Mirotvorets – a public database with the personal data of citizens (including home addresses), which the founders and leaders of the site (the adviser to the minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Secretary of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on legislative support of law enforcement, member of permanent delegation of the Verkhovna Rada in the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE (!) Anton Gerashchenko and the deputy minister concerning the temporarily occupied territories and internally displaced persons of Ukraine Georgy Tuka) consider as enemies of Ukraine. As a reminder, literally the day after the publication of the addresses of the writer Oles Buzina and the politician Oleg Kalashnikov, they were killed – the former at his own house entrance, and the latter – near the entrance to his own house. One of the recent publications of this website is the personal data of the vicar of the Pochayev Lavra. Authors of the database entry refer to the open letter of the vicar of the and Holy Dormition Pochayev Lavra – Metropolitan Pochayevsky Vladimir, published on December 14th, 2015, in which the Metropolitan states that “it is necessary to convince not by force of arms, but by force of word”. Terrorists from “Mirotvorets” also impute “denial of Russian aggression, introduction in public consciousness of thoughts that military operations are favorable for the Ukrainian authorities, that in Ukraine there is a ‘civil war'” to Vladimir.

And immediately the next day the unrecognized so-called “Kiev patriarchy”, which also succeeded in capturing temples of the Canonical Church, encouraged “Mirotvorets” with an “icon” with the hint/name “The All-Seeing Eye”.

(By the way, the representative of the OSCE is also aware that the author of these lines was also placed on the open database of “Mirotvorets” – I write this so that the member of permanent delegation of the Verkhovna Rada in the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE [Anton Gerashchenko – ed] has fewer bad little thoughts.)

“Law enforcement officers” also participated in blocking Orthodox Christians – in violation of human rights on free movement and on freedom of speech and peaceful demonstrations – on Victory Day of 2016. Back then the Religious procession, which was supposed to join the march of the “immortal regiment”, was formed near the Uspensky Sobor of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra. But already at the exit of the monastery believers suddenly found in front of themselves a gate with fully locked bolts and three rows of auxiliary policemen in full equipment.

After the unsuccessful attempts to explain to the administration of SBU that the actions of the guards of “law” are a brazen violation of human rights, the head of the Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods of Ukraine Valentin Lukiyanik gave the command to filter out from the Lavra one by one, in order to gather together for a prayer in the Park of Glory. However, all gates of the so-called upper Lavra were closed. And outside the “cordon” was strengthened by dozens of huge police buses. Eventually, the lower barrier was rather successfully broken. Relatively, because by the time the police was strengthen already about forty believers found themselves outside the locked little gate. And this is not to mention also the parishioners and priests who came back from a service in the Refectory church. One young woman found herself separated from her daughter by a lattice, and this scene, especially against the background of auxiliary policemen, was very much reminiscent of pictures of the Great Patriotic War – a victory that was also celebrated on this day in Ukraine…

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And the apartment of the head of the Religious procession was burned in honor of Victory Day, in anticipation of May 9th. His wife and two schoolgirl daughters were left homeless. “They probably threw something through the window when nobody was home,” explained the comrade-in-arms of the Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods of Ukraine, the leader of the “Slavic party” Aleksandr Luzan. “He lives on the second floor. And it’s not difficult to throw something through this window. As a survey by the fire service showed, no electrical devices were switched on, and there were no self-igniting substances. So what caught fire in there? A landline phone? Lukiyanik was going to hold a religious procession on Victory Day with a prayer near the eternal flame at the graves of the heroes of the Great Patriotic War… Nobody besides Lukiyanik can bring out some thousands of people in Kiev”.

In anticipation of the Religious procession Lukiyanik refused to meet the SBU, where he was “insistently invited” for a conversation. And after Victory Day he was discharged from office. The Director of the clinic of “Feofaniya” (which is a part of the structure of the State management of affairs where Lukiyanik worked for 30 years as one of the leading resuscitators) didn’t hide what Lukiyanik is being removed for: “Your political views don’t allow you to remain in our structure”.

These same basic human rights were violated also during the ban on Religious processions in Borispol (in 2016) and in Sumy (in 2017). “The Executive committee had no right to forbid us from holding a Religious procession, especially as we didn’t even ask for their permission,” explained the archbishop of Sumy and Akhtyrka Evlogii. “According to the law, we simply informed the mayor about the church service”.

The State policy of interference in the internal life of the church deserves a separate conversation – from its internal structure, to its service practices developed over a millennia .

A very important topic, which is beyond the scope of this general article, was raised by Jan Taksyur – about the role of Ukrainian “media”, which induce the “patriotic public” to make new captures, and about the impunity of the purposeful incitement of hatred, lawlessness, and arbitrariness.

However, what was provided in this material is already enough so that the NGO “Public legal assistance”, which has special consulting status at the Economic and Social Council of the UN, can start to analyse the activity of the Ukrainian authorities according to international criteria on the prevention of genocide. According to the head of the organization Oleg Denisov, the character and quantity of crimes in relation to believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) and the rhetoric of hatred in the media indicates the existence of conditions for genocide on religious grounds. As a minimum – of the religious minority in specific regions of Ukraine.

P.S. In my article “‘Freedom of speech’ in Ukraine shocked European Parliament” I appealed to readers to help to publish the historical and fantastic novel written in jail by the political prisoner Dmitry Vasilets. A publisher still hasn’t been found, but from all of Ukraine people started to write to me with offers to help the condemned. The sums that were sent are small. It is unlikely that this money will be enough to publish this novel, but everything that can be collected in the next few months will be transferred to Dmitry Vasilets.


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