The Seizure of Canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church Shrines Continues

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


During the past week in Ukraine a growth in the number of cases of communities of the [canonical – ed] Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) being demanded to switch to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and the facts of communities of the UOC being evicted to temples has been recorded.

Human rights activists link the developed trend to draft law No. 5309 (law 2662-VIII) on changing the name of religious organisations that was adopted in the Verkhovna Rada, and also with the governmental order issued to the Ministry of Culture to check the registered charters of the UOC before the end of January for the purpose of defining the existence within the UOC of a religious center abroad. If this becomes an established fact, then the religious organisation will be obliged to reflect this information in its name.

Thus, on January 11th supporters of the OUC in the village of Vorsovka in the Zhytomyr region, with the support of the village council and activists from “Svoboda“, held a gathering for in favour of transitioning to the newly formed structure. St. Nicholas Church was sealed off, and the rector was hospitalised due to a hypertensive crisis. Near the temple the skirmish continued. According to journalists, the UOC community did not let the crowd into the temple. The police were on duty at the scene and prevented clashes. The head of the village council insisted on sealing off the Church, allegedly so that “Moscow priests do not take away anything valuable”. According to journalists, one of the priests was invited to have a conversation with the SBU.

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On January 13th the Svyato-Mikhailovsky temple in the village of Krasnovolya in the Manevitsky district (Volyn region) blocked off by activists of the OCU, who didn’t allow the ruling Bishop and the Abbot to enter the Church. In addition, according to eyewitnesses, the activists, disrupting the service, brought the priest of the Kiev Patriarchate along and declared him the new Abbot.

The clergy of the Chernovtsi Diocese appealed to the local authorities with an open letter in which they call to put an end to the persecution of UOC clerics. The authorities exert pressure on the clergymen of the Gertsayevsky deanery (Chernovtsi diocese), inclining them to campaign for the OCU. The clergy asks the government of Ukraine to ensure their security and to defend their human rights.

And on January 14th parishioners of the UOC in the village of Puzhaykovo in the Balta district of the Odessa region were informed about the transition of their temple to the management of the newly created OCU. The former chairman of the Balta regional council Viktor Soroka, who is a member of the “Svoboda” nationalist party, reported about this decision. The priest of the temple refused to switch to the OCU, and in this regard a new priest from the OCU is supposed to arrive to Puzhaykovo next week.

It is noted that all these cases were accompanied by vandalism against the temples and cult buildings of the UOC. In particular, on January 10th in Uman vandals desecrated a temple in honour of the icon of the Mother of God “Gorgoepikoos”. The malefactors painted the inscription “ROC of the FSB?” on the building.

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As a reminder, draft law No. 5309 (law 2662-VIII) adopted by the parliament of Ukraine obliges “churches included in the structure of a religious organization, the center of which is located in the state that committed military aggression against Ukraine, to indicate such an affiliation in its name”. Only one religious organisation in Ukraine – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – falls under the law. According to the new law, renaming must take place within three months. If the religious organisation isn’t renamed, then the parts of its Charter defining its name will be annulled. On December 22nd the law was signed by the president Poroshenko.

Two more Church draft laws – No. 4128 (on changing the subordination of religious communities) and No. 4511 (on the special status of religious organisations) – were also included on the agenda of the Parliament for January 17th. According to the human rights activists of Uspishna Varta, these draft laws are discriminatory against the canonical UOC and violate the equality of denominations before the law. These laws contribute to the direct pressure being put on the UOC and may lead to a violation of religious and civil peace in Ukraine. The UOC intends to appeal law No. 5309 in the constitutional court of Ukraine.

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