Political and Civil Rights in Ukraine: 10th-16th December 2018

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard




On December 15th, during the so-called “unification Sobor” in Kiev with the participation of President Petro Poroshenko, it was announced that a united local Orthodox Church had been created, which was called the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). Metropolitan Epifany of Pereiaslav and Belotserkovsky was appointed as the Primate of the new Church. The OCU will receive Autocephalous status after the presentation of Tomos from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and will be managed in accordance with this Tomos and the Charter.

The process of preparing this Sobor was accompanied by numerous instances of law enforcement bodies putting pressure on the clergy and parishioners of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which does not recognise the legitimacy of this Sobor, as well as the interference of the first persons of the state in religious issues.

Earlier, the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) reported that its episcopate, clergy, and believers were being pressured and subjected to criminal prosecution by state bodies in order to force them to take part in the so-called unification Sobor. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) considers that such actions are a violation of the constitutional right of Ukrainian citizens to freedom of religion.

Thus, on December 10-15 the following new instances of pressure being exerted were recorded:

  • The SBU said that representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) allegedly tried to stage provocations in Kiev and other regions of the country before the Unification Sobor “according to Russian instructions”. An employee of the SBU said that the abbot of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra Metropolitan Pavel was the coordinator of the actions of the protesters. The SBU didn’t prove any proof in confirmation of such statements.
  • The “Mirotvorets” website published the personal data of priests who initiated and supported a flash mob in support of the Church and the priests who were summoned for questioning in the SBU.
  • The SBU issued brochures describing the alleged involvement of the Russian special services in the activities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). In these brochures the SBU writes about how Russia allegedly uses the religious structures of the Moscow Patriarchate in a hybrid war. Also, the authors of the “brochure” insist on linking the problems concerning the provision of Tomos to Ukraine with the joint efforts of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) and the authorities of the Russian Federation. 
  • On December 12 the court granted the Prosecutor’s motion for the arrest of the property of the rector of the Svyato-Krestovozdvizhensky Cathedral church of the Zhytomyr diocese Archpriest Sergey Gritsayuk, which was seized from the priest during a search on December 3rd. As a reminder, on December 3rd the employees of the SBU and Police carried out eight searches in Kiev, Zhytomyr, Ovruch, and Korosten within the framework of an investigation in a criminal case concerning the incitement of ethnic strife.

In his speech after the Sobor on December 15th, President Petro Poroshenko once again voiced hate speech towards the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate):

“The United and independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a Church without Putin. It is a Church without Kirill. It is a church without a prayer for the Russian authorities and Russian army … where the Russian censer is being waved today, Russian missiles will strike tomorrow. Patriarch Kirill toured Ukraine with the propaganda of the ‘Russian peace’ and a single font, and then their tanks came! The issue of autocephaly goes far beyond the church’s fence. This is an issue of our national security” 

said the President of Ukraine

At a press conference on December 16th, Poroshenko called the Russian Church (meaning the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate) a “hypnotic narcotic”. He said that the “stars of the Kremlin turned black” after the Sobor.

Meanwhile, the legal proceedings initiated by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) continue. Thus, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) won a court dispute in the case of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine’s refusal to register the Charter of the dioceses and monasteries of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) in March 2016. The trial process lasted almost two years, the first meeting was held on February 22nd, 2017. On June 5th 2018 the Kiev district administrative court issued a decision in which it found that the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine violated the legislation on the non-registration of the Charter of religious organisations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. On December 4th 2018, the Kiev administrative court of appeal confirmed the correctness of the decision of the court of first instance.

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Another judicial hearing concerning the case of the capture of the Svyato-Sretensky temple took place in Kostantinovka (Donetsk region). The court examined the materials of the proceedings in which the complainant justified their claim for its return to the canonical UOC Church. As the lawyer Yury Zakharchenko, who represents the interests of the community in court, told the human rights activists of Uspishna Varta, the fight for the temple has lasted in the legal plane at different stages for more than 3 years. And during all this time the community has had no access to the temple. The next court session is scheduled for January 15th 2019, during which the parties will have a debate.


New instances of journalists being attacked were recorded. On December 9th in Kramatorsk (Donetsk region) the local journalist Andrey Romanenko, who filmed the laying of asphalt by municipal services in the rain, was beat up. After the incident the injured journalist wrote a statement about the obstruction of journalistic activity under article 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine

On December 11th the Shevchenkovsky district court of Kiev held a regular hearing on the murder of the well-known Ukrainian journalist Oles Buzina. The lawyers of the defendants Andrey Medvedko and Denis Polishchuk asked for the withdrawal of the jury, but it was not satisfied. Now the defense intends to challenge the Prosecutor involved in the case. The next court hearing is scheduled for the 8th and 15th of February 2019. According to the assessment of human rights defenders from “Uspishna Varta”, the defence is deliberately dragging out the trial.

In Kherson, the court rejected the appeal of the defence in the case of the editor-in-chief of RIA “Novosti Ukraine” Kirill Vyshinsky, leaving him in custody until December 28. Human rights defenders from “Uspishna Varta” were able to communicate with Vyshinsky concerning his health, the conditions in the detention center, prosecution, and the available options for reaching a deal. The full version of Kirill Vyshinsky’s interview is here.

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On December 12th another hearing concerning the case of the journalist Vasily Muravitsky, who is accused of committing treason, took place in the Korolevsky court of Zhytomyr. The court gave the lawyers time to review the case file. The next hearing is scheduled for January 10th. As a reminder, Muravitsky was detained by the SBU on August 2nd 2017 on charges of treason, assisting terrorism, and infringing on territorial integrity. After spending 11 months in jail, on June 27th 2018 the court softened his measure of restraint to 24-hour house arrest. h

On December 13th the Kiev Court of Appeal held a hearing concerning the case of the journalist Dmitry Vasilets and Evgeny Timonin, who are accused under article 258-3 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine for rendering informational assistance to terrorism during a 4-day trip to Donetsk in July 2014. Despite the arguments of the lawyers of the journalists regarding the illegality of the indictment against Vasilets and Timonin, the court reversed the determination of the Borodyansky court of the Kiev region and satisfied the motion of the Prosecutor’s office of Zhytomyr.

In Ukraine the criminal prosecution of users of social networks because of their posts continues. This, the court in absentia sentenced the inhabitant of Ternopol to 2 years of imprisonment for spreading on “VKontakte” alleged appeals to Russia to begin military aggression against Ukraine. In particular, the verdict mentions posts from the website “Sharij.net”, which the accused posted on his page with his own comments. The legal team of “Uspishna Varta” analysed the verdict and noted that part of the indictment is based on the data of the scandalous “Mirotvorets” website.

The Primorsky district court of Odessa in absentia sentenced one of the participants of the Odessa “anti-Maidan” Denis Yatsyuk to 5 years of prison. For posting a video on social networks the man was found guilty of infringing on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine.

The State Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting of Ukraine added 26 more publications to the list of banned books. This concerns the detective books of Dariya Dontsova, the works of Andrey Maksimov, Anna and Sergey Litvinov, Igor Osipov, and Aleksandr Shevtsov. The Committee explained this decision by saying that they “promote the law enforcement structures of the aggressor country or, under the guise of children’s encyclopaedias, spread myths about the superpower status of Russia”.


In Poltava employees of the SBU carried out searches at the residence of participants of the Coordination Council of Organisations of Russian Compatriots of Ukraine – the chairman of the board of the compatriot association “Russian Commonwealth” Sergey Provatorov, the historian Yury Pogoda, and the head of the “Russian Community of the Poltava Region” Viktor Shestakov. During the searches the men’s equipment, printed materials, and personal awards and certificates were confiscated. The SBU said that the detained “agitators” acted “at the order and financing of the Russian special services”. They are charged with committing a crime against the foundations of the national security of Ukraine under part 1 of article 110 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

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On December 12th the district administrative court of Kiev held a regular hearing concerning the request of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine to ban the political party Uspishna Kraina. The court decided to include the honorary leader of the party Aleksandr Klimenko as a third person. The judge also granted the defence’s motion to postpone the trial to February 2019 so that the lawyers can become acquainted with the case materials. The lawyer Sergey Voychenko, commenting on the results of the hearing, said that the trial of the “Uspishna Kraina” party is politically motivated.

On December 12th unknown people in masks and camouflage staged a pogrom in the office of the political party Rozumna Sila in Kiev. According to media reports, as a result of the attack the furniture was broken and those present in the office were beaten up. It is also reported that the attack lasted for 5-10 minutes, but it isn’t known why it happened. At the moment no group has claimed responsibility for the attack on the political force. Law enforcement bodies have not commented on the incident. The party links the attack with their opposition political activities.


The Russian language was deprived of its regional status in the Kharkov and Kherson regions. Thus, on December 6th the majority of deputies of the Kharkov Regional Council supported the corresponding decision during a regular session, and on December 14th the same thing happened in Kherson. Recall that a wave of bans on the Russian-language cultural product has swept across a number of regions of Ukraine. In particular, on December 7th the Regional Council of the Ivano-Frankovsk region, following in the footsteps of Ternopol, Lvov, and Zhytomyr, introduced a moratorium on the use of the “Russian-speaking cultural product”.


On December 13th during a hearing concerning the case of General Aleksandr Shchegolev the court was supposed to hear three witnesses connected to the case. None of them showed up. It was decided to postpone the hearing until 20th December. The decision of the judicial collegium to extend the measure of restraint imposed on the accused in the form of detention for another 2 months was expected. 

Recall that General Aleksandr Shchegolev has been in jail for more than 3 years. He is charged with illegally obstructing peaceful assemblies, rallies, and demonstrations and abusing his power during the events of February 2014. In total, 136 victims are involved in the case of the General, but less than half of them have been questioned in 3 years. h

On December 14th the Dzerzhinsky district court of Kharkov held a hearing concerning the case of the 54-year-old doctor, publicist, and writer Igor Dzhadan, who is accused under severe political articles, including the creation of a terrorist organisation. Instead of considering the case in essence, the court once again extended the measure of restraint imposed on Igor Dzhadan in the form of detention for 2 months. According to Igor Dzhadan, more than half of the interrogated witnesses are seeing the accused for the first time. In total Igor Dzhadan has been in the pre-trial detention center for more than 3 years.

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