Political and Civil Rights in Ukraine: 18th January – 17th February 2019

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard




In connection with the establishment of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (local) and the use of religious messages in the electoral campaign of the incumbent President Poroshenko, administrative and law enforcement pressure will continue to be put on the clergy and parishioners of the largest Orthodox denomination – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC).

Thus, on February 13th at Boryspol airport (Kiev) upon entry into Ukraine the Bishop of the UOC Gedeon (Yury Kharon) was detained and deported. According to the Bishop, this incident is the exertion of religious, political pressure and lawlessness. On the Bishop’s  Facebook page it is noted that he was led to a plane by “armed gunners as if he was a criminal”. The State Border Service said that the Bishop “flew out on his own, without coercion”. According to the Ministry, the Bishop was allegedly engaged in anti-Ukrainian propaganda and is an active adept of the “Russian world”. Recall that in October 2018, Bishop Gedeon appealed to the Supreme Court of Ukraine to recognize the illegal decision of the Verkhovna Rada to support the appeal of President Petro Poroshenko to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew with a request to provide Tomos of Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).

On January 31st in Ukraine law No. 2673-VIII “On amendments to some laws of Ukraine concerning the subordination of religious organizations and the procedure of state registration of religious organizations with the status of a legal entity” entered into force. The new procedure for the transfer of religious communities acquired legal force after the publication of the law in the parliamentary newspaper “Golos Ukraini”on January 30th. In accordance with the new version of the law, the decision to change subordination and make appropriate changes or additions to the Charter will be made by no less than the two-thirds of the number of members of the religious community (the criteria for membership should be prescribed in the statutes) that is necessary for the recognition of the General Assembly of the religious community in accordance with its Charter (regulations). Also, all religious organizations will have to re-register their statutes within a year.

Despite the legislative innovations, human rights activists continue to record clashes between supporters of the UOC and the OCU. In the Western and Central regions of Ukraine new cases of churches being forced to change their religious affiliation at the initiative of supporters of the OCU and local officials were recorded.

Thus, on February 3rd clashes took place between supporters of the OCU and representatives of the UOC religious community at the Svyato-Preobrazhensky Church in the village of Gnezdychne in the Zbarazh district (Ternopol region). As a result of the clashes priest Stefan Balan was injured after being beaten up by aggressive supporters of the OCU and police officers. The UOC representatives stressed that the police was on the side of supporters of the OCU. A video of the clashes at the temple was published on the YouTube channel of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Thus, in the village of Kopytkovo in the Zdolbunovsky district of the Rovno region supporters of the OCU secretly replace the locks of the Holy Cross Church of the UOC, and the keys were given to the head of the district administration. Also, the “activists” gave the prior of the captured Church and his family until April 1st so that he and his family leave the Church house that they have lived in for 20 years. On Sunday, February 10th, the first service of the OCU was held in the captured temple.

On February 17th in the village of Tesov in the Ostrozhsky district of the Rovne region there was an inter-confessional confrontation, which was initiated by the Chairman of the Village Council. In order to capture the Church, which belongs to the religious community of the UOC, the official invited a priest of the Kiev Patriarchate and representatives of the right-wing radical organization “Right Sector”. According to the villagers, the supporters of the OCU demanded that law enforcement officers seal off the church, but they did not do this. Believers of the UOC began to pray while standing at the door of the temple, after which the supporters of the OCU went home. There was a verbal skirmish between the representatives of “Right Sector” and the believers.

On February 13th, supporters of the OCU captured the St. George’s Church of the UOC in the village of Kulchyn in the Volyn region. Despite the fact that law enforcement officers sealed off the doors of the temple, the “activists” of the OCU ripped off the seal and dismantled the front door. According to the UOC representative, the dismantling took place after the church community decided to remain faithful to the UOC.

On February 16th in the village of Peski in the Volyn region supporters of the OCU removed the locks of the door of the local St. George’s Church of the UOC. According to representatives of the UOC, the commander of a local unit of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, who previously cut the locks of the Svyato-Troitsky Sobor in Berestechko, took an active part in capturing the church.

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On February 17th “activists” from the OCU (Kiev Patriarchate, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church) captured another temple in the village of Yasinya of the Khust eparchy in Transcarpathia. This is the third temple in the sectors of the village of Yasinya that has been captured by the same raider group. According to the prior of the temple, residents of different villages were gathered for the capture – the same people that participated in the previous captures. According to eyewitnesses, after the capture of the temple “activists” from the OCU threatened the elderly Abbot and his wife.

New acts of vandalism against the churches of the UOC were recorded.

On the night of February 10th-11th unknown persons set fire to a temple of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the village of Zeleny Yar in the Domanevsky district of the Nikolaev region. According to the Union of Orthodox Journalists, an unknown person smashed a window of the church of the Holy Prophet Elijah and threw a “Molotov cocktail” into the temple. Before the arson, the unknown people turned off the electricity, so both the alarm and video camera did not work.

On February 15th unknown persons  threw incendiary at the door of the Svyato-Voznesensky temple of the UOC in Krivoy Rog (Dnepropetrovsk region). As a result, the door and the arch icon caught fire, they were seriously damaged. Also, the vandals left the inscription “14/88” on the walls. This is a code slogan used by white nationalists as a greeting or a signature. The number “88” is the coded greeting “Heil Hitler!”. The police of Krivoy Rog began a pre-trial investigation under Part 2 of Article 194 of the Criminal Code (intentional destruction or damage to property) on the fact of the attempted arson of the church.

On the night of February 17th unknowns persons penetrated the territory of the Svyato-Barbarinsky temple in Pervomaisk, Nikolaev region. The attackers stole about 60 UOC church awards, computer equipment, dishes, and food from the outhouse that is located on the church’s territory. The police have identified the persons involved in the crime, and a number of examinations have been scheduled.

In Zaporozhye the police detained three people who, on February 16th, unsuccessfully tried to set fire to the Church of St. John the Apostle. One of the men tried to set fire to the temple with the help of a flammable substance and an improvised torch. Criminal proceedings have been opened and an investigation is under way under article 258 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine – terrorist attack. The involvement of the detainees and other persons in two more attempts of arson of churches in Zaporozhye that have happened since the beginning of February has been established.


The National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting appointed another unscheduled inspection of the TV channel “NASH” [“Maksi-TV” (“Nasha Praga”)], owned by the opposition politician and candidate for the presidency of the country Evgeny Murayev.  The National Council was planning to make a decision whereby it would have to go to court with a claim to revoke the license of the TV channel [“Maksi-TV” (Our Prague)]. But due to a technical error in the documents that came to the address of the TV channel, it was decided that the regulator would once again check the TV channel. Recall that on December 7th 2018, the managers of the TV channel “NASH” announced their intention to file a lawsuit against the decision of the National Council to refuse to re-register their license.

In connection with the start of the electoral campaign in Ukraine, the cases of searches and arrests of users of social networks have become more frequent. In most cases, the Security Service of Ukraine does not disclose the identities of the detainees. Moreover, the agency does not conduct investigations regarding the facts stated, instead inclining the detainees to reach a deal with the investigation. According to the human rights activists of “Uspishna Varta“, more than 400 users of social networks are persecuted because of their posts on the Internet.

Thus, on February 15th the SBU stated that it had blocked an attempt of the Russian Federation to interfere in the electoral process in Ukraine. According to the SBU, curators from the Russian Federation attracted residents of the Dnepropetrovsk region for the distribution of provocative materials on social networks that influence the electoral mood of the population. The beginning of a pre-trial investigation in the framework of criminal proceedings under Article 110 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine was declared.

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In addition, the SBU said that over the past year the agency identified about 200 Internet sites that “promoted the Russian ideology”. In 2019, there are materials against another 100 such sites, concerning which a NSDC decision will be introduced in the near future by a presidential decree and these sites will also be blocked. In addition, the SBU allegedly recently “documented entire groups, networks of Internet agitators who cooperate with Russian curators, receive cash awards from them, and are given the task of discrediting elections and inciting hostility and radical sentiment”.


On February 8th the Central Election Commission (CEC) completed the registration of candidates for the presidency of Ukraine. The process of registering candidates for the CEC was in accordance with legal requirements and was generally comprehensive. Within the statutory period, the commission received 89 applications for registration as a candidate for the presidency, and from them 44 candidates were registered. Candidates who were denied registration made significant mistakes in their submitted documents, including not having made a cash deposit.

The CEC’s refusal to register the candidate of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU), Petro Simonenko, was challenged in a court of law. On February 2nd the CEC refused to register him as a candidate for the presidency due to the fact that he was nominated by a party whose charter, name, and symbols do not meet the requirements of the law “On the condemnation of the communist and national socialist (Nazi) totalitarian regimes in Ukraine and the prohibition of the propaganda of their symbols”. The Supreme Court decided to agree with the decision of the court of first instance, which refused to satisfy the claims of the CPU leader.

There have been cases of military and administrative pressure being put on candidates representing opposition political forces. Thus, on February 13th one of the registered candidates for the post of the President of Ukraine (Evgeny Murayev) was summoned for questioning by the Prosecutor General concerning a case of tax evasion under Part 3 of Article 212 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. The lawyers of the candidate claim that the case bears signs of political persecution. A creative studio headed by one of the presidential candidates (Vladimir Zelensky) was banned from holding a concert in the winery of a building that is subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. The Ministry’s refusal is connected to the decision of the showman to run for the presidency of Ukraine.

On February 12th the CEC approved the list of territorial electoral districts in Ukraine where Ukrainian presidential elections will not take place. This is the territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and 14 districts on the territory of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. The CEC noted that the relevant decision was made on the basis of the decree of President Poroshenko from February 7th 2019, via which he approved the boundaries and the list of districts, cities, towns and villages, and parts of their territories in the separate areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

Observers. On February 7th the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, by 232 votes, voted for draft law No. 9524, which banned citizens of the Russian Federation and persons proposed by the Russian side from being an observer at presidential, parliamentary, and local elections in Ukraine. The explanatory note to the law states that it was developed “with the aim of minimising the risks and threats of interference of the Russian Federation during the holding of elections in Ukraine”.

During the electoral campaign in Ukraine there have been frequent cases of external political campaign advertising being damaged. Despite the fact that in most cases well-known right-wing organisations publicly assume responsibility for the vandalism of outdoor political advertisements, the police have so far failed to bring to justice any of the perpetrators. It is noteworthy that it is mainly billboards and kiosks of opposition forces that are subject to damage, while pro-government ones, especially the advertising carriers of Petro Poroshenko, remain intact.

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On February 1st the Kherson Court of Appeal refused to satisfy the complaint of the defense of the editor-in-chief of RIA “Novosti Ukraine”, Kirill Vyshinsky, about the extension of his detention until February 16th. This decision was made at a meeting on January 31st. And on February 8th the Kherson City Court granted the motion of the prosecutor and extended Vyshinsky’s measure of restraint in the form of detention until April 8th. Read more about the case of Vyshinsky here.

On February 11th a preparatory hearing was held in the Krasnogvardeisky District Court of Dnepropetrovsk concerning criminal proceedings involving the sportswoman Dariya Mastikasheva, who is accused of treason. The case was sent for the reconsideration of the court of first instance by the decision of the Court of Appeal of the Dnepropetrovsk region. Recall that Mastikasheva is accused of state treason and since August 2017 has been in remand prison.

On February 11th the Supreme Court of Ukraine considered the issue of determining the jurisdiction of the case of the former People’s Deputy Nadezhda Savchenko and the former head of the Prisoners’ Liberation Center “Officer Corps” Vladimir Ruban. The judicial collegium made the decision to satisfy the motion of the prosecutor’s office and transfer the case of Savchenko-Ruban to the Chernigov district court. Earlier it was assumed that the case will be considered in the Slavyansk city district court of the Donetsk region.

On February 14th the Chernigov district court granted the motion of lawyers for the disqualification of the panel of judges. Due to the lack of an opportunity to assemble a new composition of the court, the Savchenko-Ruban case was sent to the Court of Appeal of the Chernigov region to determine its jurisdiction. On February 15th the appellate court extended Savchenko’s arrest for 2 months, until April 15th. According to lawyers, the court did not have the right to do this and went beyond the scope of authority when considering the issue of extending the arrest of the accused. Recall that Nadezhda Savchenko and Vladimir Ruban are accused of planning a violent coup and seizing state power, preparing a terrorist act, assisting terrorists, and also encroaching on the lives of officials and public figures.

On February 12th a hearing on the case of Stanislav Ezhov, the “interpreter of Groisman” who is accused of state treason, was held in the Goloseevsky Court of Kiev. The court upheld the motion of the prosecutor and extended the measure of restraint in the form of detention imposed on the accused for a further 2 months. The next court hearing on the case of Ezhov will be held on April 5th. The lawyers of Stanislav Ezhov suggested that the judicial collegium first of all continue to study the evidence of the prosecution, but the court rejected this proposal. Recall that Stanislav Ezhov, a translator of the Prime Minister of Ukraine Vladimir Groysman, is accused of treason (part 1 of article 111 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine) and has been in a detention center since December 2017. More details about the case of Ezhov can be read here.

On February 14th in the Rovno City Court another hearing took place concerning the case of Yaroslav Granitny and Yury Kleinos, who are accused under Article 111 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine – treason – and Article 110 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine – encroachment on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. During the hearing the court decided to extend the measure of restraint imposed on the accused in the form of detention for 2 months. Yury Kleinos has been unconditionally in a detention center for 21 months. Recall that on May 10th 2017, during a picket outside the walls of the Rovno Regional State Administration, members of the Security Service of Ukraine detained Granitny and Kleinos and put forward suspicions of organising protest actions. According to investigators, during the pickets, which were funded from the Russian Federation, they called for the creation of a “Rovno People’s Republic”. However, the accused Yury Kleinos claims that the event was devoted to the legalisation on the extraction of amber and against the existing criminal schemes for its extraction.

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