There were reports of physical assaults on Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as one attack on a Jewish journalist. The UOC-MP pilgrimage march from the Donetsk Oblast to Kyiv celebrating St. Volodymyr’s Feast Day was mostly peaceful despite some acts of harassment. The UOC-KP pilgrimage march for St. Volodymyr’s Day passed without incident, as did the UGCC pilgrimage to the Zarvanytsa Icon and Jewish community pilgrimages to Uman and other Jewish burial sites. UOC-MP leaders stated the UOC-KP continued its efforts to seize churches belonging to the UOC-MP; the UOC-KP said it was parishioners and not the UOC-KP who had initiated the transfers of affiliation. The Right Sector political movement continued to intervene at disputed religious properties on behalf of the UOC-KP. The Jewish community remained concerned about the continued existence of Lviv’s Krakivskiy Market on the grounds of an ancient Jewish cemetery. There were numerous reports of vandalism at Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries, as well as reports of vandalism directed against Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Halls and a few reports of attacks on UOC-MP, UOC-KP and UGCC churches.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on March 15, a man shouting “Jehovah’s Witnesses are scum!” beat elderly missionaries Tamara Barsuk and Vira Gyl in Chuhuyiv, Kharkiv Oblast, until both lost consciousness. The attacker tore up their religious literature and scattered it on the street. Both women were hospitalized, and Gyl remained in the hospital for a month. Law enforcement authorities reportedly refused to treat the assault as a hate crime and instead investigated it as a “domestic quarrel.” On October 11, the Chuhuyiv Town Court sentenced the attacker to two years in prison.
On July 8, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a man shouting: “Go away dogs! We have our church,” punched two female Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kamianka, Sumy Oblast. One of the victims was diagnosed with a serious cranial injury. Law enforcement officials reportedly documented it as a “minor bodily injury,” and refused the victims’ request to classify the assault as a hate crime.
According to the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group (NMRMG), an NGO supported by the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities, one case of suspected anti-Semitic violence was recorded during the year, compared to one case of anti-Semitic violence in 2015, four such cases in 2014, and four in 2013.
On August 24, an unidentified young man attacked Israeli journalist Yitzhak Hildeshaimer in Kharkiv. The attacker struck the journalist from behind and reportedly performed a Nazi salute when Hildeshaimer turned around. The reporter cited his yarmulke as a likely reason for the attack.
On the night of December 21, unidentified individuals entered the synagogue near the grave of Rabbi Nachman, founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement, in Uman, Cherkasy Oblast, and subjected worshippers to anti-Semitic verbal abuse, then splashed red paint and sprayed noxious gas over the building. The vandals also left behind a pig’s head with a swastika carved on it. Law enforcement authorities opened an investigation, and government officials, including the prime minister and prosecutor general, publicly condemned the attack. At year’s end the investigation remained open. On December 31, unidentified individuals damaged a crucifix on a cross in Uman in what police said was an act of retaliation for the vandalism of the synagogue. Police detained and instituted a criminal investigation against two suspects for damaging the crucifix, while a third suspect remained at large.
The UOC-MP continued to express concern over a lack of progress in the police investigation of the killing of Roman Nikolayev, rector of UOC-MP St. Tetyana’s parish in Kyiv, who was shot in 2015. As of the end of the year, no official link had been established between the killing and the victim’s religion.
On July 27, the UOC-MP celebrated St. Volodymyr’s Feast Day with pilgrimage processions to the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monastery, announced as the Procession of Peace, Love, and Prayer for Ukraine. Police reported 14,000 people participated in the final leg of the march, which began at UOC-MP monasteries in Donetsk and Ternopil Oblasts in early July. On July 19, Mykola Kokhanivsky, leader of the OUN Volunteer Movement, stated his group would prevent the procession from reaching the capital, saying the individuals participating in the march were “the Kremlin’s outright collaborators.” On July 20, the UOC-KP reiterated its condemnation of calls for violence against the UOC-MP procession, clergy, and members. On July 24, the head of the UGCC warned opponents of the march against attempts to hinder the procession. On July 26, supporters of the AutoMaidan group in Odessa prevented about five hundred UOC-MP members from boarding buses scheduled to take them to Kyiv for the procession. AutoMaidan activists reportedly threatened to burn the buses, forcing most drivers to cancel the trip. According to the UOC-MP press service, law enforcement officials were present at the scene but did nothing to stop the threats. Also on July 26, UOC-MP opponents threw eggs at the procession as it passed by Boryspil. Law enforcement personnel kept the attackers at a safe distance from the marchers and the UOC-MP praised law enforcement authorities for maintaining public security during the march. The procession arrived safely in Kyiv on July 27.
On July 28 the UOC-KP held its annual procession in Kyiv to mark St. Volodymyr’s Feast Day. Police reported no incidents, and an estimated 15,000 individuals participated in the event.
According to the police, on July 16-17, thousands of individuals participated without incident in the UGCC annual national pilgrimage to the Zarvanytsya Icon of the Mother of God in Ternopil Oblast.
In September and October the annual Jewish New Year pilgrimages to the Uman burial site of Rabbi Nachman took place. Pilgrims attempted to block municipal workers from dismantling a bridge where they were staying temporarily during the pilgrimage, which led to clashes with police. According to the media, a record number of 40,000 pilgrims visited Uman during the year. Jewish pilgrims visited other burial sites of spiritual leaders in Belz, Medzhybizh, Berdychiv, and Hadyach, without report of significant incident.
According to the January 1 report by the Ministry of Culture, the UOC-MP had 12,334 congregations; the UOC-KP had 4,921 congregations; and the UAOC 1,188 congregations throughout the country. The report confirmed UOC-KP and UOC-MP estimates that less than a hundred UOC-MP congregations had transferred affiliation to the UOC-KP over the past few years.
According to statements made to the media by the UOC-MP, in several oblasts the UOC-KP continued to be “emboldened” by police inaction and support from radical groups, including the Right Sector political movement in its continuing efforts to seize UOC-MP church buildings. Some of the incidents reportedly occurred after local authorities had transferred parish jurisdictions from the UOC-MP to the UOC-KP against the will of some parishioners, according to the UOC-MP.
Right Sector representatives posted statements on its website saying they continued to visit sites disputed between the UOC-MP and UOC-KP to “facilitate” a change of jurisdiction at the request of the UOC-KP.
UOC-KP representatives continued to reject accusations about their involvement in the seizures of UOC-MP churches, saying parishioners using those church buildings had initiated legitimate transfers to UOC-KP jurisdiction. The UOC-KP continued to state it would act according to the law, and would accept into its jurisdiction any UOC-MP clergy and laity requesting UOC-KP affiliation.
According to the UOC-KP, on November 10 and 11, about a dozen young men yelled insults to members of a UOC-KP parish and construction workers building its church in Chornomorsk, Odesa Oblast. The attackers then used baseball bats to attack the walls of the congregation’s current makeshift church. Parishioners stated the attack was an attempt to stop the construction of a permanent church building.
The Jewish community remained concerned about the continued existence of the Krakivsky Market in Lviv, located on the grounds of an ancient Jewish cemetery. According to the UCSJ, in October without consulting with the Jewish community, municipal authorities began digging at the site. Authorities said the digging was to restore a damaged cemetery fence. The city suspended the project when workers unearthed human remains, but the UCSJ expressed concern not all the remains were reburied.
The UCSJ and civic activists expressed concern over the Lviv city government’s inability to stop construction of a high-rise building at the site of the World War II Jewish ghetto in Lviv. In November and December construction workers reportedly removed soil containing human remains from the site.
According to a January post on the website Ukrinform, the Russian Orthodox Church had established a staff within its Department of External Church Affairs in Moscow with the task of blackening the reputation of the UOC-KP and blocking the ecumenical patriarch from recognizing the canonicity of the UOC-KP.
According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, there were 21 incidents of vandalism, three of which were arson, against Kingdom Halls during the year, compared with 56 incidents of vandalism, including five arson attacks, in 2015.
According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, on May 17, unidentified individuals sprayed the walls of a Kingdom Hall in Lozova, Kharkiv Oblast, with graffiti, including a swastika. The police failed to identify the perpetrators.
On April 24 and April 30, unidentified individuals threw Molotov cocktails at the Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall on Pozharsky Street in Kyiv. Two fires were quickly extinguished. Both crimes remained unsolved at year’s end.
The NMRMG identified 18 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism during the year, as compared to 22 in 2015 and 23 in 2014.
Several cases of anti-Semitic vandalism occurred in Kolomyia, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast. On January 13, arsonists tried to set fire to the ohel, a structure covering the grave of Gillel Boruch Liechtenstein, the town’s 19th century Chief Rabbi. The arson attempt failed, as the attackers were unable to ignite the flammable liquid they had planned to use. On August 18, vandals sprayed a swastika and anti-Semitic graffiti on the entrance to a local synagogue. On August 19, they caused damage to the Jewish cemetery. Law enforcement agencies identified three suspects who had desecrated a number of local Jewish sites in recent years and pressed charges. According to the local Jewish community, the Kolomyia City and District Court began to hear the case against the suspected perpetrators in August. The hearing continued at year’s end.
The press and NGOs again this year reported vandalism to Holocaust memorials in Kyiv, Lviv, Nikopol, Mykolaiv, and Poltava Oblast. The investigations remained ongoing as of the end of the year.
On May 4, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, a group of unidentified individuals burned an Israeli flag near the menorah monument in Babyn Yar. The Kyiv mayor condemned the act and urged law enforcement officials to conduct an investigation, which remained ongoing at year’s end. Jewish community leaders called on the government to do more to improve security in the area and to investigate previous acts of vandalism against the memorial, including five such instances in 2015.
On July 24, unidentified individuals broke the door to the ohel of the grave of Rabbi Aryeh Leib in Shpola, Cherkasy Oblast, and threw a Molotov cocktail inside the structure. They attached another Molotov cocktail to the ohel door. The police investigation continued as of year’s end.
On November 19, unidentified individuals defaced the front wall of the Central Synagogue in Chernivtsi with “Death to the Jews.”
On November 28, unidentified attackers splashed paint on the Holocaust monument in Uzhgorod and left anti-Semitic leaflets at the site. According to media reports, an anonymous group of “national revolutionaries” claimed responsibility for the incident and published photos of the attack. The Transcarpathia Oblast Governor condemned the vandalism and called on law enforcement agencies to bring the offenders to justice. As of the end of the year, there was no further information about the case.
Donetsk oblast police reported unknown vandals threw Molotov cocktails into the UOC-KP Church of the Intersession of the Mother of God in Mariupol on November 6.
According to the UGCC, on August 29, unidentified individuals set fire to a newly built UGCC church in Ternopil. They also painted graffiti in the church basement. Police opened an investigation, which remained open at year’s end.
On May 23, unknown individuals set fire to the Transfiguration Church of the UOC-MP in Kyiv. On April 24, an arson attack damaged the St. Agapitus UOC-MP Church in the capital. On January 5, unidentified individuals set fire to the UOC-MP Church of Saint Petro Mohyla in Kyiv. Police investigations into the attacks continued at year’s end. The UOC-MP described these and other incidents as the result of a slander campaign reportedly conducted by some media outlets.