In the stand-off between the Yanukovych government and anti-regime protesters, religious leaders urged an end to violence and a search for a negotiated settlement. Religious and political groups also urged the Yanukovych government to end pressure on the UGCC over its ministering to the protesters and to cease its use of anti-Semitism in a public campaign to discredit the political opposition. Following the changeover in government, religious leaders called for national unity and reconciliation. Former officials were subject to criminal charges for trying to remove the previous UOC-MP head who had wished to stay out of politics. The UOC-MP complained that some local government officials provided assistance to the UOC-KP in taking over churches from the UOC-MP. The government set up a working group to mediate such disputes. The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported detentions, criminal convictions, and harassment by local governments and for efforts to claim conscientious objector status. All religious groups expressed concern over delays in the restitution of property seized during the Communist regime. The Jewish community, in particular, expressed concern over the failure of local government authorities to protect historical religious properties.
On January 3, the Ministry of Culture sent a letter to the UGCC threatening to “halt” the church’s activity. The ministry said UGCC priests were providing pastoral care to anti-government protesters and “unlawfully” conducting religious services at Kyiv’s Independence Square. On January 13, the UGCC stated that the church would remain faithful to its mission to be with its believers “regardless of any threats.”
On January 15, the ministry’s representative told members of the parliament’s Committee on Culture and Religious Affairs that the letter to the UGCC had been sent at the request of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The committee urged the ministry to immediately retract the letter and “stop politically motivated manipulation” of the law. The lawmakers also reportedly demanded that the SBU “stop political persecution of the UGCC and its faithful.” President Yanukovych sought to distance himself from the letter, proposing to “soften the law, and guarantee that believers can pray where they wish.”
Following two incidents where Jews were assaulted and pro-government media outlets alleged the opposition had been involved in the attacks, on January 20, the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine (VAAD) issued a statement that the government was using anti-Semitism in “campaigns designed to discredit the political opposition and civic protest movement.” VAAD stated that government agencies were responsible for the deteriorating situation in the country, and that “politically motivated speculation on the topic of anti-Semitism is unacceptable.”
During the protests against the Yanukovych government in January and February, church leaders and members of the All-Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO), an independent interfaith board representing more than 90 percent of the country’s religious organizations, cautioned against further violence and urged a negotiated settlement to the crisis. On January 24-25 they met with President Yanukovych and parliamentary opposition leaders in an effort to facilitate dialogue between the two sides.
On January 27, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, political council chairman of the opposition Batkivshchyna Party, said the Yanukovych government had orchestrated a campaign based on ethnic, racial, and religiously motivated hatred designed to discredit anti-government protesters. He condemned the “disgusting actions of those who incite that hatred.” He added that the protesters were ready to provide protection to Jews facing “intimidation from paid thugs and from those who hire the ruffians.”
On February 25, Oleksandr Turchynov, the newly appointed acting president, as well as speaker of the parliament, met with AUCCRO representatives. He emphasized the importance of the religious community in promoting moral values and consolidation of the nation. The religious leaders expressed support for the new political leadership, called for national unity, and condemned what they said had been the Yanukovych government’s attempts to divide the nation.
On May 21, the Prosecutor-General’s Office (PGO) announced its decision to open criminal proceedings against ex-President Yanukovych, the former prosecutor-general, the former interior minister and other high-level officials of the Yanukovych government to investigate evidence of illegal pressure on UOC-MP leader Metropolitan Volodymyr. The pressure had reportedly been aimed at removing the metropolitan from leadership of the UOC-MP because of his position supporting non-interference by the church in political life. According to the PGO, after failed attempts to convince the metropolitan to resign, the then interior minister, following the president’s order, used police personnel to physically detain Metropolitan Oleksandr, Metropolitan Volodymyr’s personal secretary, under the guise of providing him protection. Metropolitan Oleksandr stated that the previous government acted to force Metropolitan Volodymyr to step down.
During a June 25 meeting with UOC-MP and UOC-KP leaders, newly elected President Petro Poroshenko called on Ukraine’s religious groups to participate in the implementation of his peace plan in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. This plan encouraged representatives of all faith groups to support hostages held by pro-Russian militants and help establish dialogue aimed at obtaining their release.
Religious leaders and human rights activists continued to urge the government to simplify religious registration procedures and address the retention of a permission-based system for holding peaceful assemblies. They also encouraged the government to adopt the Concept of Church-State Relations, as drafted by religious groups and experts in 2004, to shape cooperation between the government and religious groups and provide the basis for legislation on religion issues.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on September 12, in Sekretarka, Mykolaiv Region, Vyacheslav Zavadskyi, the village head, ordered Jehovah’s Witnesses to obtain a permit if they want to “share…spiritual thoughts with the inhabitants” of the village. Those who failed to do so would be charged with an administrative offense.
Also on September 12, the Administrative Council of the village of Kosivshchyna found Jehovah’s Witness Liudmyla Panova guilty of propagating religious beliefs using a mobile literature cart. The council said Panova had violated the Code on Administrative Offenses. Panova appealed the decision.
On October 17, police stopped two Jehovah’s Witnesses, Inna Lutskova and Anna Bocharova, in Kharkiv while practicing their public ministry. Bocharova showed the authorities her passport, but the police still arrested them. While they were at the police station, police reportedly interrogated and verbally abused them. A police officer photographed the women with his private mobile phone and made a photocopy of Bocharova’s passport before releasing them.
After Russia’s occupation of Crimea and Russian-backed separatists seized control of portions of Donbas, including reported seizure of UOC-KP properties, UOC-MP representatives complained that, emboldened by police inaction and support from activists and some local government representatives, the UOC-KP had seized a number of UOC-MP church buildings in other parts of Ukraine. Some of the incidents occurred after local authorities had transferred parish jurisdictions from the UOC-MP to the UOC-KP, reportedly against the will of many parish members.
On June 6, at the request of local UOC-KP followers, the Ternopil Oblast State Administration reregistered UOC-MP’s St. Michael’s parish in Novostav Village, Ternopil Oblast, as a UOC-KP congregation, thereby transferring to the UOC-KP the right to use a local state-owned church building. The UOC-MP said parishioners who remained loyal to the UOC-MP would no longer be able to hold religious services at the church because the oblast administration’s decision had resulted in deregistration of their congregation.
During an October 9 meeting with the AUCCRO, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk vowed to prevent attempts to fuel religious hatred. He warned that those guilty of seizing church buildings and attacking clerics would be brought to justice. On October 13, he instructed the central and local governments to take “immediate measures” to prevent worsening of relations between religious groups, including seizure of church buildings.
The Ministry of Culture set up a working group to settle interreligious conflicts. On November 26, the ministry hosted the group’s first meeting during which the UOC-KP and the UOC-MP agreed to work together to settle their disputes. The two churches continued their discussion at the next meeting organized by the ministry on December 18.
All major religious organizations continued to urge the government to establish a transparent legal process to address restitution claims. Most organizations reported problems and delays in the restitution process to reclaim property seized by the Communist regime, with the consideration of a claim frequently taking longer than the month prescribed by law. Complications for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim properties included intercommunity competition for particular properties, current use by state institutions, designation of some properties as historic landmarks, local government jurisdictional issues, and previous transfer to private ownership. At times, local officials took sides in disputes pertaining to property restitution. The Roman Catholic Church continued to urge the government to return a former church building to its parish in Sevastopol. Jewish community leaders reported continued property restitution difficulties with the Ternopil and Kyiv municipal governments. Muslim community leaders expressed concern about unresolved restitution claims involving historic religious buildings in Mykolayiv.
The AUCCRO called on parliament to impose a moratorium on the privatization of previously confiscated religious buildings.
On November 25, the High Economic Court of Ukraine upheld an appeal by the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ) against the 2007 Lviv City Council decision to rent the site of the Golden Rose (Ture Zahav) Synagogue and surrounding historical structures to a developer for construction of a hotel.
The UCSJ protested the construction of a private industrial facility on the grounds of an old Jewish cemetery near Toykut Village, Volyn Oblast, and appealed to the local authorities to ensure respect for the sanctity of the cemetery. The UCSJ expressed concern that the local government did nothing to halt the construction when human bones were unearthed at the site.
In certain regions of the country, smaller religious groups continued to report unequal treatment by local authorities. In the central and southern regions, Roman Catholics, UOC-KP members, UGCC members, and Muslims reported similar experiences. According to UGCC representatives, local authorities in Odesa remained unwilling to allocate land for UGCC churches. UOC-MP representatives reported a continued refusal by local governments in the Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk regions to allocate land for UOC-MP churches. Prior to Russia’s seizure of Crimea, the UOC-KP complained about the unwillingness of municipal governments in Crimea to allocate land for church construction. Prior to the separatist seizure of Donetsk, the UOC-KP made a similar complaint about the Donetsk regional government. According to the Baptist Union, the local government in Ivano-Frankivsk delayed allocation of land for construction of a church, an issue that remained unresolved.
The AUCCRO urged the government to grant state accreditation to the religious schools that provide theological education. The AUCCRO asked the government to allow religious groups to own and operate private educational institutions where, in addition to the secular curriculum, students would be taught according to the religious values of the founding religious organization.
For Crimean Tatars, religious and ethnic identities remained closely intertwined, making it difficult to categorize mistreatment as religious or ethnic intolerance. Before the Russian occupation of Crimea, members of the Mejlis, the central executive body of the Crimean Tatars, and Crimea-based human rights groups continued to criticize the government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea for permitting schools to use textbooks that contained allegedly inflammatory and historically inaccurate material about Crimean Tatar Muslims.
In August the military called up three Jehovah’s Witnesses for military service following military mobilization. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that Vitaliy Victorovych Shalaiko from Novomoskovsk, Dnipropetrovsk Region, Oleksiy Ivanovych Dudnyk from Lozova, Khakiv Region, and Andriy Yuriovych Nagornyi from Berdychiv, Zhytomyr Region, were denied the right to conscientious objection and accused of evading the military call-up, a crime punishable by five years in prison. Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that each had reported to the military office on the day specified and had filed applications for alternative civilian service. On November 14, the Novomoskovsk District Court acquitted Shalaiko. As of the end of the year, pretrial investigations continued in the other two cases.
According to the government, it did not reject any visa applications by foreign religious workers.