There were no reports of abuses of religious freedom.
Church leaders, religious organizations, and human rights defenders expressed concern over amendments to a law dealing with freedom of conscience and religious organizations signed into law by President Yanukovych on November 21. They had earlier called on the president to veto these amendments and also noted that the government drafted and approved the bill without taking their opinion into account. Among their concerns was the retention of a permission-based system for holding peaceful assemblies, dual registration of religious congregations, and a provision giving the Ministry of Culture authority to approve the activities of foreign religious workers. The bill also expanded government oversight over the observance of the religion-related law to a much larger number of government agencies, including the procuracy, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and all other “central bodies of the executive government.” Religious freedom activists expressed concern that such oversight would be reminiscent of Soviet-era government efforts to monitor religious life.
On December 7, the president instructed the Cabinet of Ministers to prepare urgently further draft amendments to the law, and to include religious groups in the drafting process so that the amendments will create “favorable conditions” for religious groups’ work.
As part of the June 8 NSDC resolution calling for additional measures to suppress terrorism, the NSDC ordered the Cabinet of Ministers to implement prevention measures and to enforce the ban on distributing materials that incite religious, ethnic or racial hatred, intolerance, and discrimination. There were no reports of religious literature seized under this law.
Registration for religious congregations, a responsibility transferred to the Department for Religions and Nationalities in the Ministry of Culture following the 2010 dissolution of the State Committee on Nationalities and Religion (SCNR), continued to be slow reportedly due to lack of resources. The government did not address requests by the religious community to simplify registration procedures.
Restitution of communal property confiscated by the Communist regime remained slow, stemming in part from inadequate budgetary outlays. Restitution claims for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim properties were complicated by intercommunity competition for particular properties, by their use by state institutions, their designation as historic landmarks, local government jurisdictional issues, or by previous transfer to private ownership. Prior to its abolition, the SCNR declared that the majority of buildings and objects had already been returned to religious organizations but cited a lack of government funding to help relocate the organizations occupying these buildings.
All major religious organizations continued to call on the national government to establish a transparent legal process to address restitution claims, and most organizations reported problems and delays in the restitution process to reclaim previously seized property. Local officials at times took sides in disputes pertaining to property restitution. Jewish community leaders reported continued property restitution difficulties with the Uzhhorod, Ternopil, and Kyiv municipal governments. Similarly, Muslim community leaders expressed concern about unresolved restitution claims involving historic mosques in Mykolayiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Masandra, and Alushta.
The All-Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO), bringing together Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim leaders, continued to call on parliament to impose a moratorium on the privatization of previously confiscated religious buildings in state and communal ownership. The AUCCRO also asked the government to allow religious groups to own and operate private educational institutions where students would have the opportunity for religious instruction.
In response to requests by leaders of the AUCCRO, on April 10, the president instructed the Cabinet of Ministers to revive the interagency Commission to Realize the Rights of Religious Organizations (CRRRO), which was established to promote the government’s dialogue with religious groups and address complex restitution issues. On October 22, the CRRRO held its first meeting since 2010. It instructed the State Migration Service (SMS) and Ministry of Culture to simplify visa issuance procedures for foreign religious workers. The CRRRO also directed the Ministry of Education, Science, Youth and Sport and the Ministry of Culture to draft proposals allowing religious organizations to own and operate private educational institutions.
On December 27, the Simferopol City Council allotted land plots to the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Crimea for the construction of two mosques in the city.
On December 26, the Chernihiv City Council transferred ownership of the diocesan administration office from the municipal government to the UOC-KP.
On November 1, the Kyiv City Council returned ownership of a complex of non-residential buildings to a UOC-MP convent.
The Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Ukraine continued to report difficulties registering new religious communities in Crimea due to what it considered the political biases of some local authorities.
Members of the Mejlis, the central executive body of the Crimean Tatars, and Crimea-based human rights groups continued to criticize the Crimean government for permitting schools to use textbooks that contained allegedly inflammatory and historically inaccurate material about Crimean Tatar Muslims.
In December Mejlis representatives called on the government to respond to increasingly active attempts by Crimea’s “fringe politicians” to promote hostility in the region. For example, on December 1, unidentified individuals in Simferopol threw several Molotov cocktails at the site designated for construction of a central mosque for the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Crimea, causing minor damage to a guard trailer. The Spiritual Directorate issued a statement describing the attack as “another manifestation of xenophobia against Muslims of the Crimea.” In cases of alleged discrimination or mistreatment against Crimean Tatars, it was difficult to categorize an incident as solely religious or based on ethnic intolerance because within the Crimean Tatar community, ethnicity, and religion are inextricably linked.
In certain regions of the country, smaller religious groups reported they experienced unequal treatment by local authorities. In some areas of the center and south, Roman Catholics, UOC-KP members, UGCC members, and Muslims reported similar experiences. Conversely, in some western regions, UOC-MP representatives stated that local authorities at times were reluctant to address their concerns. For example, according to UGCC representatives, local authorities in the Crimea, Odesa and Donetsk oblasts, and some towns in Kyiv oblast remained unwilling to allocate land for UGCC churches. According to UOC-MP representatives, local governments in the Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk regions also refused to allocate land for UOC-MP churches. UOC-KP complained about unwillingness of the Donetsk regional government and municipal governments in Crimea to allocate land for church construction. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives, police unlawfully detained and held their followers in custody for several hours in Dnipropetrovsk, Vinnytsya, and other regions.
Members of the Jewish community continued to express concerns about the Krakivskiy market in Lviv, located on the grounds of an ancient Jewish cemetery. They stated that the continued existence of the market disturbed the sanctity of the site, where figures important to the Jewish community were buried. In addition, they raised concerns that the Lviv city administration would privatize the land, making protection of the cemetery more difficult. City officials indicated they did not plan to privatize the property, but noted they could not relocate the market because some of the buildings were private property. On April 23, local authorities and representatives of the Jewish community held a joint candle-lighting ceremony at the cemetery site, but concerns about the market continued unresolved.
The Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ) in Lviv continued to call on the city administration to provide legal protection for the site of the Golden Rose (Ture Zahav) synagogue and surrounding historical structures. Construction at the site remained halted, but the UCSJ expressed concern that no legal guarantees were in place to prevent further building activity there.
According to the government, it did not reject any visa applications by foreign religious workers. However, religious groups reported that in practice, bureaucratic obstacles continued to prevent timely issuance of visas for religious workers. As a result, some groups looked for alternative ways for their workers to operate legally in the country.
In March and October, President Yanukovych met with members of AUCCRO. Many members questioned the president’s commitment to AUCCRO’s goals, but the meetings were initially seen as an effort toward the development of a working relationship between the government and religious organizations. However, a number of senior religious leaders criticized the government for not responding to issues the religious community raised during the meetings. For example, at a November 28 meeting of Christian leaders, some participants noted a “threat to the paradigm of church-state relations” and an “absence of church-state relations” since “government representatives do not hear the religious community.”
On October 16, the largest Jewish community center in the world opened in Dnipropetrovsk. National and international religious leaders attended the ceremony, along with local and regional officials, including the regional governor and city mayor. The new facility includes synagogues, a community center, and a Holocaust museum and research center.
On November 5, the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities in Ukraine (VAAD) issued a statement expressing concern that throughout the campaign for the national parliamentary elections in October, pro-government and opposition representatives “tried to use elements of anti-Semitism both in their public rhetoric to mobilize supporters, and also as part of propaganda aimed at discrediting their political opponents.” VAAD expressed particular concern over anti-Semitic and extremist remarks by members of Ukraine’s Svoboda party. At the same time, VAAD cited long term data showing “a trend of improvement” in the level of anti-Semitism, reporting that “over the last four to five years, there has been a continuous decline in the number of anti-Semitic publications in the press; the number of acts of vandalism of cemeteries, memorials and synagogues; and the number of assaults on the street of Jewish people,” and declining negative attitudes toward Jewish people in public opinion polls.