In February 2014, armed forces of the Russian Federation seized and occupied Crimea. In March 2014, Russia announced Crimea had become part of the Russian Federation. A UN General Assembly resolution declared continued international recognition of Crimea as part of Ukraine. The U.S. government recognizes Crimea is part of Ukraine; it does not and will not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea. Occupation authorities continue to impose the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory of Crimea.
On July 12, Human Right Watch reported religious activists in Crimea were among victims of torture by FSB agents. The Russian government reported there were 891 religious communities registered in Crimea, including Sevastopol, compared with 831 in 2018, a number that dropped by over 1,000 since the occupation began in 2014, the last year for which Ukrainian government figures were available. Religious activists, human rights groups, and media reports said Russian authorities in occupied Crimea continued to persecute and intimidate minority religious congregations, Jehovah’s Witnesses, OCU members, and Muslim Crimean Tatars. Occupation authorities continued to subject Muslim Crimean Tatars to imprisonment and detention, especially if authorities purportedly suspected the individuals of involvement in the Muslim political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia but is legal in Ukraine. According to Forum 18, administrative court hearings imposed by Russia on Crimeans for “missionary activity” were comparable with the previous year. There were 24 prosecutions for such activity, compared with 23 in 2018, 17 of which ended in convictions with a monetary fine. Greek Catholic leaders said they continued to have difficulty staffing their parishes because of the policies of occupation authorities. The UGCC said it continued to have to operate under the umbrella of the Roman Catholic Church. The OCU reported continued seizures of its churches. Crimean Tatars reported police continued to be slow to investigate attacks on Islamic religious properties or refused to investigate them at all. Religious and human rights groups continued to report Russian media efforts to create suspicion and fear among certain religious groups, especially targeting Crimean Tatar Muslims, whom media repeatedly accused of links to Islamist groups designated by Russia as terrorist groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir. Russian media also portrayed Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists.”
On November 6, the website Crimea-news reported that unidentified individuals destroyed crosses at a cemetery in Feodosia. According to Crimean Tatar activist Zair Smedlyaev, in November unidentified individuals destroyed a tombstone at a Muslim cemetery in Petrivka Village, in Krasnogvardiysk District.
The U.S. government continued to condemn the intimidation of Christian and Muslim religious groups by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea and to call international attention to the religious abuses committed by Russian forces through public statements by the Secretary and other senior officials, as well as messaging on social media. U.S. government officials remained unable to visit the peninsula following its occupation by the Russian Federation. Embassy officials, however, continued to meet in other parts of Ukraine with Crimean Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders to discuss their concerns over actions taken against their congregations by the occupation authorities, and to demonstrate continued U.S. support for their right to practice their religious beliefs.
Section I. Religious Demography
The Crimean Peninsula consists of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (ARC) and the city of Sevastopol. According to the State Statistics Service of Ukraine 2014 estimates (the most recent), the total population of the peninsula is 2,353,000. There are no recent independent surveys with data on the religious affiliation of the population, but media outlets estimate the number of Crimean Tatars, who are overwhelmingly Muslim, at 300,000, or 13 percent of the population.
According to the information provided by the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture in 2014 (the most recent year available), the UOC-MP remains the largest Christian denomination. Smaller Christian denominations include the OCU, the Roman Catholic Church, UAOC, UGCC, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, along with Protestant groups, including Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Lutherans. Adherents of the UOC-MP, Protestants, and Muslims are the largest religious groups in Sevastopol.
There are several Jewish congregations, mostly in Sevastopol and Simferopol. Jewish groups estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before the Russian occupation began; no updates have been available since the occupation began in 2014. According to the 2001 census, the most recent, there are 1196 Karaites in Ukraine; 671 of them lived in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
Pursuant to international recognition of the continued inclusion of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea within Ukraine’s international borders, Crimea continues to be officially subject to the constitution and laws of Ukraine. In the aftermath of Russia’s occupation, however, occupation authorities continue their de facto implementation of the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory.
In December the UN General Assembly issued a resolution condemning the Russian occupation authorities for “ongoing pressure exerted upon religious minority communities, including through frequent police raids, undue registration requirements that have affected legal status and property rights and threats against and persecution of those belonging to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the Protestant Church, mosques and Muslim religious schools, Greek Catholics, Roman Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and condemning also the baseless prosecution of dozens of peaceful Muslims for allegedly belonging to Islamic organizations” The United Nations also condemned the “baseless prosecution of dozens of peaceful Muslims for allegedly belonging to Islamic organizations.” Such prosecutions were primarily of Muslims occupation authorities said were members of the Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, banned in Russia, but legal in Ukraine.
According to the Ukrainian human rights organization Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG) with offices in Kyiv, 86 individuals were unlawfully incarcerated or imprisoned due to politically or religiously motivated persecution in Crimea as of September 7. Thirty-four of them had received prison sentences.
Human rights groups said occupation authorities continued to restrict the rights of Crimean Tatars, who are predominantly Muslim, following the 2016 designation of the Mejlis, recognized under Ukrainian law as the democratically elected representative council of the Crimean Tatars, as an “extremist organization.” Detentions and forced psychiatric examinations of Crimean Tatar Muslim prisoners continued throughout the year. charged the detainees with participation in Hizb ut-Tahrir. Krym Realii news website quoted human rights attorney Edem Semedlyaev, stating that that the three detainees had been placed in a psychiatric hospital for forced examinations due to their refusal to plead guilty to terrorism charges. Krym Realii is an independent news service focusing on human rights issues in Crimea.
According to the NGO Krymska Solidarnist, on April 15, armed FSB representatives detained Imam Rustem Abilev on charges of extremism during a raid of his mosque and home in Shturmove Village near Sevastopol. On June 7, occupation authorities changed his pretrial detention to house arrest. On October 10 the Balaklava District Court ordered him to pay a fine of 100,000 Russian rubles ($1,600).
On December 5, a Russian military court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced Enver Seytosmanov, another prisoner in the 2015 Sevastopol Hizb ut-Tahrir case, to 17 years in a maximum security penal colony for managing a “terrorist” organization. Seytsomanov said authorities applied physical and psychological pressure to force him into giving false testimony. His lawyer said the occupation authorities toughened the charge against Seytosmanov, stating he was an organizer rather than a participant in a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell.
According to Krym Realii, on October 2, the North Caucuses Military Court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced Tatar blogger Nariman Memedeminov to two-and-a-half-years in prison. Human rights activists linked the verdict to his reporting on the human rights situation in Crimea. Occupation authorities detained Memedeminov on terrorist charges in 2018, citing his involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Crimean Muslim Tatar prisoners arrested in the 2016 Bakhchisarai Hizb ut-Tahrir case – Ernes Ametov, Marlen Asanov, Seyran Saliyev, Memet Belialov, Timur Ibragimov, Server Zakiryayev, Server Mustafayev, and Edem Smailov – continued pretrial detention in Krasnodar and Rostov-on-Don until August. According to Krymska Solidarnist, on August 26 the North Caucasus District Military Court extended until February 13, 2020 the detention of Ametov, Asanov, Saliyev, Belyalov, Ibragimov, Zekiryayev, Mustafayev, and Smailov for their suspected involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir in Bakhchisarai.
According to Krymska Solidarnist, on July 11 the Russian Supreme Court altered the sentences of other defendants in the Bakhchisarai Hizb ut-Tahrir case, reducing Enver Mamutov’s maximum-security prison term from 17 years to 16 years and nine months; Remzi Memetov, Zevri Abseitov, and Rustem Abiltarov each receiving reduced sentences of eight years and nine months; and Ruslan Abiltarov, Remzi Memetov, and Zevri Abseitov each receiving reduced nine-year prison sentences. Krym Realii reported that the prisoners began serving their sentences in Russia’s Stavropol Krai in Russia. Their lawyer, Rustem Kyamilev, said the Kochubeyevskoye Prison administration’s decision to place Abseitov in an isolation cell upon his arrival was unlawful and arbitrary, although Kyamile attributed the move to the fact Abseitov had been “convicted of a serious crime.”
According to Krym Realii, on November 12, the Southern District Military court sentenced defendants Muslim Aliyev to 19 years, Іnver Bekirov to 18 years, Emir Usein Kuku and Vadim Siruk to 12 years, Refat Alimov to eight years, and Arsen Dzhepparov to seven years in a maximum security prison for their supposed involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir in Yalta. The suspects were arrested in a series of armed raids in February 2016 by Russian occupation authorities.
Krym Realii reported that on June 18, the North Caucasus District Military Court convicted five detainees arrested in October 2016 in Simferopol for involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. The court found them guilty of organizing or participating in the activities of a terrorist organization and sentenced them to high security prison terms of 17 years for Teymur Abdullaev, 14 years for Rustem Ismailov, and 13 years for Uzeir Abdullaev. Aider Saledinov and Emil Dzhemadenov each received 12-year sentences.
According to Krymska Solidarnist, on March 27 armed representatives of the FSB, National Guard, and police searched 30 Crimean Tatar homes in Simferopol, Volodymyrivka, Strohanivka, Kamyanka, Bile, Akropolis, and Alkavan, detaining 23 individuals for their alleged links to Hizb ut-Tahrir. During the searches, law enforcement representatives reportedly planted and “found” Hizb ut-Tahrir materials. The detainees’ lawyers were not allowed to be present during the searches. Krymska Solidarnist reported that on March 27 and 28, courts in Simferopol ordered the arrest of the following detainees: Imam Bilyal Adilov, Erfan Osmanov, Seyran Murtaza, Server Gaziyev, Mejit Abdurakhmanov, Tofik Abdulgaziyev, Rustem Seitkhalilov, Akim Bekirov, Farkhat Bazarov, Seitveli Seitabdiyev, Shaban Umerov, Riza Izetov, Jemil Gafarov, Alim Karimov, Yashar Muyedinov, Izet Abdulayev, Asan Yanikov, Enver Ametov, Raim Aivazov, and Ruslan Suleimanov.
On March 28, Russian authorities detained and beat Krymska Solidarnist activists Remzi Bekirov, Osman Arifmemetov, and Vladlen Abdulkadyrov in Rostov-on-Don following searches at their homes in Crimea for suspected involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. The Kyivsky District Court in Simferopol had ordered their arrest on charges related to “terrorism.” Law enforcement officers reportedly beat Abdulkadyrov while he was in detention.
According to a July 12 Human Rights Watch report, on April 16, FSB agents detained Raim Aivazov on the Russian-imposed “border” with Ukraine and “forced him to incriminate himself and others under torture.” According to Aivazov’s independent lawyer, Maria Eismont, who visited the detainee before his second pretrial custody hearing in May, Aivazov told her that three FSB agents had forced him into a car at the crossing check point and drove to a nearby forest. They then kicked him and forced him to his knees. One put a gun to Aivazov’s head as the others fired shots next to him, threatening to kill him and dump his body in a pond. The agents told him the only way he could save his life was by “cooperating” with them. They took him to the FSB office in Simferopol, where “officials” wrote up a detention report stating he was detained at 1:30 p.m. on April 17 in the office of an FSB investigator. The report made no mention of Aivazov having been seized at the crossing point. The investigator provided a state-appointed lawyer who advised Aivazov it was in his “best interest” to sign documents the investigator presented him. Aivazov signed a confession stating he was a member of a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell, along with the recently arrested men.”
Krym Realii reported that on November 11, the Kyivsky District Court in Simferopol extended until February 15, 2020 the arrest of Tatar Muslims Bilyal Adilov, Tofik Abdulgaziyev, Rustem Seitkhalilov, Farkhod Bazarov, Shaban Umerov, Riza Izetov, Jemil Gafarov, and Raim Aivazov on charges of “extremism.” On November 12, the Kyivsky District Court extended until February 15, 2020 the detention of Tatar Muslims Remzi Bekirov, Enver Ametov, Osman Arifmemetov, Seitveli Seitabdiyev, Riza Izetov, Alim Karimov, and Erfan Osmanov.
In December the Crimean Human Rights Group estimated the total number of Crimean residents imprisoned for their participation in “extremist” Muslim groups had reached 65.
An OHCHR report covering November 2018 to February 2019 found that, consistent with previous OHCHR findings, the pattern of criminalization of affiliation to or sympathy towards religious Muslim groups, banned in the Russian Federation, continued to disproportionately affect Crimean Tatars. According to an OHCHR quarterly report issued in September, since the beginning of the Russian occupation, at least 33 Crimean residents were arrested for alleged ties with radical Muslim groups. OHCHR reported four of them were convicted in the absence of “any credible evidence that the defendants called for the use of force, violated public order, or engaged in any unlawful activity in Crimea.”
According to CHRG, on December 24, Inna Semenets, magistrate of the Evpatoriya Judicial District, fined the Karaite Jewish religious community for failing to place an identifying sign on the building of a religious organization.
In December Crimean magistrates reviewed at least five cases pertaining to “illegal missionary activity.” During the year, 30 of these cases were reviewed, and the magistrates imposed an administrative penalty, fines of 5,000 to 30,000 Russian rubles ($80-$480), and a warning in at least 18 cases. According to Forum 18, the cases involved Protestants, Muslims, adherents of the Society of Krishna Consciousness, Falun Gong, as well as groups with unspecified affiliations.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, local authorities continued to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Crimea under the 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. Forum 18 reported that on September 6, the Dzhankoy District Court began the trial of Jehovah’s Witness Sergei Filatov on extremism-related charges. The FSB had arrested Filatov, a former head of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community, in Dzhankoy in 2018.
According to Forum 18, on March 15, the FSB opened a criminal case against Jehovah’s Witnesses Artem Gerasimov and Taras Kuzio in Yalta, accusing them of conducting religious services in defiance of the occupation authorities’ ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ “extremist” activity. Occupation authorities made both of them sign a pledge not to leave the area. Five days later, the FSB raided eight Jehovah’s Witness family homes in and around the city. According to Forum 18, on June 4, the FSB opened a criminal case against Jehovah’s Witness Viktor Stashevsky in Sevastopol. The FSB required him to sign a pledge not to leave the city. That same day, FSB officers raided at least nine local homes. Another raid occurred on July 7.
According to Forum 18, administrative court hearings under Russian law imposed on Crimea for “missionary activity” were “at the same rate” compared with the previous year. There were 24 prosecutions for such activity, compared with 23 in 2018, 17 of which ended in convictions with some type of monetary fine. Many of those prosecuted had been sharing their faith on the street or holding worship at unapproved venues. According to Forum 18, 17 Russian citizens were fined approximately 5 days’ average local wages. Six Ukrainian citizens were given higher fines of up to nearly two months’ average local wages. Forum 18 stated these six cases, in addition to the case of another Ukrainian who was prosecuted, appear to be the first use in Crimea of a Russian Administrative Code on “foreigners conducting missionary activity” that is “specifically aimed at non-Russians.”
Forum 18 reported that occupation authorities brought 11 cases against individuals and religious communities for failing to use the full legal name of a registered religious community. Four of those cases involved fines of 30,000 Russian rubles ($480) (one month’s average local wage), and two defendants received a warning. The other five cases involved no punishment.
According to Krymska Solidarnist and Forum 18, local authorities continued the ban on the Tablighi Jamaat Muslim missionary movement in Crimea under a 2009 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. The movement is legal in Ukraine. On January 22, the Supreme Court of Crimea found Crimean Tatars Renat Suleymanov guilty of organizing an “extremist” group, and Talyat Andurakhmanov, Seiran Mustafayev and Arsen Kubedinov, whom the FSB had detained in 2017, guilty of membership in “extremist” groups because of their affiliation with Tabligh Jamaat. The court sentenced Suleymanov to four years in prison. Andurakhmanov, Mustafayev, and Kubedinov each received two-and-a-half-year suspended sentences. Forum 18 reported that the FSB initiated the case “based on secret recordings of meetings in mosques, testimony from unidentified witnesses, and books seized from the men’s homes.” On May 18, occupation authorities transferred Suleymanov to a prison in Russia.
Krymska Solidarnist reported that on October 11, masked law enforcement officials in an armored vehicle arrived at a mosque in Kurtsy Village, stating they had to inspect “electricity meters and mosque documents.” Following Friday prayers, the officials questioned members of the congregation. The Simferopol-based organization Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea and Sevastopol, which started collaborating with occupation authorities in 2014, justified the visit, stating that “in violation of the law,” the congregation had not officially registered and was not led by an imam appointed by the directorate. According to the directorate, the mosque had not provided information on the contents of its sermons, as required by law.
The Ministry of Justice of Russia said 891 religious organizations were registered in Crimea, including 105 in Sevastopol, as of year’s end, compared with 831 and 69, respectively, in 2018. These included the two largest religious organizations – the Christian Orthodox UOC-MP and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea (SAMC) – as well as various Protestant, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Greek Catholic communities, among other religious groups.
According to data collected by the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture in 2014 (the most recent year available), there were 2,083 religious organizations (a term including parishes, congregations, theological schools, monasteries, and other constituent parts of a church or religious group) in the ARC and 137 in Sevastopol. The numbers included organizations both with and without legal entity status. Muslim religious organizations constituted the largest number of religious organizations in the ARC, most of which were affiliated with the SAMC, Ukraine’s largest Muslim group.
According to a 2018 OHCHR report, religious communities indicated more than 1,000 religious communities recognized under Ukrainian law had not reregistered. According to the OHCHR, stringent legal requirements under Russian legislation continued to prevent or discourage reregistration of many religious communities.
Human rights groups reported occupation authorities continued to require imams at Crimean Tatar mosques to inform them each time they transferred from one mosque to another.
The Roman Catholic Church reported it continued to operate in the territory as a pastoral district directly under the authority of the Vatican. Polish and Ukrainian Roman Catholic Church priests were permitted to stay in the territory for only 90 days at a time and required to leave Crimea for 90 days before returning.
UGCC representatives said it could still only operate as a part of the pastoral district of the Roman Catholic Church.
According to the OCU, Russian occupation authorities continued pressure on the OCU Crimean diocese in an effort to force it to leave Crimea. Only six of the 15 churches, identifying as OCU but required to register as independent following the separation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the Moscow Patriarchate, were functioning at the end of the year, compared with five in 2018 and eight in 2017. The CHRG reported that on June 28, Crimea’s “Arbitration Court” terminated a pre-annexation lease agreement between the local government and OCU for Saints Volodymyr and Olga Cathedral, the only OCU church building in Simferopol and the location of the OCU diocesan administration. The “court” ordered the congregation to return the premises to Crimea’s “Ministry of Property and Land Relations.” Before issuing the ruling, occupation authorities had removed a section of the church roof, citing the need to repair it; as a result, rainwater flooded part of the premises. According to the NGO Krym-SOS, on April 12, the Crimean branch of Russia’s Justice Ministry turned down OCU Archbishop Klyment’s request to register his Simferopol-based St. Volodymyr of Kyiv and Olga parish as an independent Orthodox congregation. In October according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, the UN Human Rights Committee invoked the UN Charter to halt the eviction of the congregation. Congregation members reported they had been effectively evicted, with no access to the church building due to a series of bureaucratic administrative rulings.
On March 3, police in Simferopol briefly detained Archbishop Klyment as he was boarding a bus to visit Ukrainian political prisoner Pavlo Hryb, who was held in Rostov-on-Don. The Russian government released Hryb during a prisoner swap in September. The archbishop said the incident was part of the occupation authorities’ continuing efforts to deny him access to Hryb.
On September 5, Ukraine’s Ministry for Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons denounced the occupation authorities’ plans to lay a pipeline through an ancient Muslim cemetery in Kirovske District. Workers unearthed human remains at the site during preparatory excavations for the project. After receiving complaints from the Muslim community, authorities suspended the excavations to allow reburial of the remains.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
On November 6, the website Crimea-news.com reported that unidentified individuals had destroyed crosses at a cemetery in Feodosia.
According to Crimean Tatar activist Zair Smedlyaev, in November unidentified individuals destroyed a tombstone at a Muslim cemetery in Petrivka Village, in Krasnohvardiysk District.
Krym Realii news website, in May unidentified individuals destroyed newly installed slabs etched with the names of 64 fallen Soviet Army soldiers, including 57 Crimean Tatars, at a World War II memorial in Orlovka Village, in Sevastopol.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The U.S. government continued its efforts to focus international attention on the religious freedom-related abuses committed by Russian forces and occupation authorities in Crimea, especially on actions taken by those forces and authorities against Christians and Muslims. U.S. government and embassy officials condemned the continuing intimidation of minority religious congregations, including Christians and Muslim Crimean Tatars. On March 4, the embassy wrote, “We remain deeply concerned about Archbishop Klyment’s detention in Crimea yesterday. Despite his subsequent release, this kind of harassment is unacceptable. We expect Russia to respect freedom of religion and stop detaining innocent Ukrainians in Crimea.” On July 25, the embassy wrote, “We are concerned by media reports of looting of the Volodymyr and Olha Cathedral in Simferopol, Ukraine. Residents of Crimea deserve to be able to worship freely, without intimidation, if they so choose. We call upon Russia to end its occupation of Crimea.”
Although embassy and other U.S. government officials remained unable to visit Crimea following the Russian occupation, embassy officials continued to meet in other parts of Ukraine with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders from Crimea. The leaders discussed their concerns over actions taken against congregations by the occupation authorities and reassured the religious leaders of continued U.S. support for the right of all to practice their religious beliefs. Embassy officials told religious leaders the United States would continue to support religious freedom in Crimea and press the occupation authorities to return confiscated property and release prisoners incarcerated for their religious or political beliefs.
The constitution recognizes equality for all regardless of religion, subject to considerations of public safety or health or the rights of others, and it stipulates the independence of the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) from the state. The constitution recognizes the “outstanding role” of the GOC in the history of the country. It prohibits persecution based on religion. Laws and policies continue to grant the GOC unique privileges. On June 27, a court convicted and sentenced two men to 15 years in prison for the 2018 killing of a human rights activist who had Jewish and Yezidi roots, but ruled it was not a hate crime. The government approved the registration application of one religious group while rejecting six others. Parliament held hearings with civil society and religious groups about legislation to comply with a court order to amend the law granting the GOC exclusive tax and property privileges, but failed to take action. Some religious groups advocated legislation that would address a broader range of religious issues, while others expressed concerns about the potential impact of such a law on smaller groups. Some Muslim community leaders said the government continued to influence and favor the state-funded religious group All Muslims of All Georgia (AMAG). Religious groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and others said Muslim communities faced government resistance to issuing construction permits for places of worship. The Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC) and some Muslim groups reported difficulties in obtaining government recognition of their ownership claims of religious properties. NGOs cited concerns that bias in public schools favored GOC religious teachings.
According to religious leaders, de facto authorities in the Russian-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which remained outside the administrative control of the central government, continued to restrict or prohibit the activities of some religious groups. De facto South Ossetian authorities permitted GOC religious services but said they were illegal, and NGOs reported Russian guards impeded access of residents to some churches and cemeteries. De facto Abkhaz authorities prohibited GOC clergy from entering the occupied territory. De facto authorities in both occupied territories continued to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to a U.S NGO, de facto authorities in South Ossetia pressured Orthodox churches to merge with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).
The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MOIA) investigated 44 cases involving crimes reported as religiously motivated, notably including 10 cases of unlawful interference with the performance of religious rites, 10 cases of persecution, and eight cases of damage or destruction of property. The Public Defender’s Office (PDO) received 19 complaints of religiously based crimes or discrimination as of year’s end, 10 of which involved violence. This equaled the 19 total complaints in 2018. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 20 incidents against the group or its members, including 11 involving violence. The PDO and religious minorities continued to state there was a widespread societal perception that religious minorities posed a threat to the GOC and the country’s values. Unknown individuals twice vandalized a chapel used by Armenian Apostolic and Catholic parishes in Akhalkalaki, breaking icons and damaging portraits. The NGO Media Development Foundation (MDF) documented 55 instances of religiously intolerant remarks in national media, compared with 148 in 2018. Some religious figures in Abkhazia reportedly continued to advocate the establishment of an autocephalous Orthodox Church in the territory or a merger with the ROC. Both the GOC and ROC formally recognized Orthodox churches in Abkhazia and South Ossetia as belonging to the GOC, but the ROC did not always respect this in practice.
U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with senior government officials, including the leadership of the State Agency for Religious Affairs (SARI), the public defender, the prime minister’s adviser on human rights, and officials at various ministries, to encourage dialogue and tolerance between the government and minority religious groups. The Charge d’Affaires met with GOC Patriarch Ilia II and other senior GOC leaders to stress the importance of the GOC in promoting religious diversity and tolerance. The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials met with minority religious groups throughout the country, and the embassy and its regional information offices sponsored events in Tbilisi and elsewhere in the country to encourage religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 4.9 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2014 census, GOC members constitute 83.4 percent of the population, followed by Muslims at 10.7 percent and members of the AAC at 2.9 percent. The remaining 3 percent includes Roman Catholics, Yezidis, Greek Orthodox, Jews, growing numbers of “nontraditional” religious groups such as Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, and the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, and individuals who profess no religious preference.
Ethnicity, religious affiliation, and region of residence are strongly connected. Most ethnic Georgians affiliate with the GOC. A small number of mostly ethnic Russians are members of several Orthodox groups not affiliated with the GOC, including the ROC, Molokani, Staroveriy (Old Believers), and Dukhoboriy (Spirit Wrestlers). Ethnic Azerbaijanis are predominantly Shia Muslims and form the majority of the population in the southeastern region of Kvemo-Kartli. Other Muslim groups include ethnic Georgian Muslims in Adjara and Chechen Kists in the northeast, both of which are predominantly Sunni. Ethnic Georgian Sunni Muslims are also present in the south-central region of Samtskhe-Javakheti. Ethnic Armenians belong primarily to the AAC and constitute the majority of the population in Samtskhe-Javakheti.
Reliable information from the Russian-occupied regions in Georgia continued to be difficult to obtain. According to a census conducted in 2016 by the de facto Abkhaz authorities, there were 243,000 residents of Russian-occupied Abkhazia. A survey conducted in 2003 by the de facto government listed 60 percent of respondents as Christian, 16 percent Muslim, 8 percent atheists or nonbelievers, 8 percent followers of the pre-Christian Abkhazian religion, and 1 percent Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, or adherents of other religions. The remaining 7 percent listed no preference.
According to a 2015 census conducted by the de facto South Ossetian authorities, there were 53,000 residents of Russian-occupied South Ossetia. The majority of the population practices Orthodox Christianity; other minority groups include followers of Islam and the Right Faith, a revival of the pre-Christian ethnic Ossetian religion.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of belief and religion, subject to considerations of public safety and the health and rights of others, and equality for all regardless of religion. It prohibits persecution based on religion and prohibits compelling anyone to express his or her opinion about religion. It also prohibits political parties that incite religious strife. The law provides for freedom of religious belief, denomination, and conscience, including the right to choose and change religious affiliation.
The constitution recognizes the GOC’s special role in the country’s history but stipulates the GOC shall be independent from the state and that relations between the GOC and the state shall be governed by a constitutional agreement (concordat). The concordat grants rights not given to other religious groups, including legal immunity for the GOC patriarch, exemption of GOC clergy from military service (though by law, clergy from all religious groups are exempted), and a consultative role in government, especially in education. The concordat states some of its provisions require additional legislation before they may be implemented, including the GOC’s right to a consultative role in state education policies.
A religious group may register with the National Agency of the Public Registry (NAPR) as a Legal Entity of Public Law (LEPL) or as a nonprofit organization, both of which offer benefits, including legal recognition, tax exemptions for donations and other “religious activities,” and the right to own property and open bank accounts. The civil code defines the activities and rights of denominations registered for LEPL status. Unregistered religious groups may conduct religious activities but do not receive the legal status or benefits conferred on registered groups.
To register as a LEPL, the law specifies that a religious group must have a historical link with the country or be recognized as a religion “by the legislation of the member states of the Council of Europe.” A religious group must also submit to the NAPR information regarding its objectives and procedures and a list of its founders and members of its governing body. Groups registering as nonprofit religious organizations do not have to demonstrate historic ties to the country or recognition by Council of Europe members but must submit to the NAPR similar information on their objectives, governing procedures, and names of founders and members of their governing body.
The law grants the GOC exceptions from several requirements applicable to other religious groups, including payment of taxes on the construction, restoration, and maintenance of religious buildings and the payment of taxes on property. It exempts the GOC Patriarchate, but not other religious groups, from taxes on “profit from the sale of crosses, candles, icons, books and calendars used…for religious purposes.” In addition, the law states that only the GOC, and no other religious organization, may acquire nonagricultural state property through a direct sale by the government. Should other religious groups wish to acquire this type of property, they must participate in public tenders. Only the GOC has the right to acquire agricultural state property free of charge; all others must pay a fee.
The criminal code prohibits interference with worship services, persecution of a person based on religious faith or belief, and interference with the establishment of a religious organization, although the code does not define “establishment.” Interference with the establishment of a religious organization is punishable by fine, correctional work (community service) for up to one year, or imprisonment for up to two years. Violations committed by public officials are considered abuses of power and are punishable by larger fines or longer terms of imprisonment if committed by force of arms or by insulting the dignity of a victim, although the law does not define “insult” and does not specify an amount or time limit for punishment under those circumstances. In cases of religious persecution, the perpetrator may face imprisonment for up to three years, depending on the use or threat of violence, his or her official position, and damages caused. In cases of unlawful interference with the right to perform religious rituals involving the use or threat of violence, offenders may face imprisonment for up to two years; in cases where the offender holds an official position, offenders may face up to five years in prison.
Although the law states public schools may not be used for religious indoctrination, proselytizing, or forcible assimilation, the concordat accords the GOC the right to teach religious studies in public educational institutions, pending additional legislation, and authorizes the state to pay for GOC religious schools. The law states students may pursue religious study and practice religious rituals in schools “of their own accord,” but only after school hours. Outside instructors, including clergy of any denomination, may only attend or direct students’ religious education or activities if students invite them to do so; school administration and teachers may not be involved in this process. The law includes no specific regulations for private religious schools. Private schools must follow the national curriculum, though they are free to add subjects if they wish.
By law, the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO), which is separate from the MOIA, prosecutes human rights violations involving religious intolerance, while the PDO serves as the country’s human rights ombudsman and monitors complaints of restrictions on religious freedom. The PDO’s Tolerance Center carries out educational activities and monitors and analyzes cases of religious and ethnic discrimination. It also coordinates the PDO’s Council of Religions and Ethnic Minorities, which has a mandate to protect religious freedom; facilitate a constructive multilateral dialogue between various religious groups; promote a tolerant, fair and peaceful environment for religious groups; and engage religious minorities in the process of civic integration.
The MOIA’s Department of Human Rights is responsible for assessing whether crimes are motivated by religious hatred and for monitoring the quality of investigations into hate crimes.
SARI distributes government compensation to the GOC, and Islamic, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and AAC religious organizations registered as LEPLs for “the material and moral damages inflicted upon them during the Soviet period.” SARI’s mandate is to promote and ensure peaceful coexistence based on principles of equality and tolerance. Its stated responsibilities include researching the existing religious situation and reporting to the government, preparing recommendations and draft legal acts for government consideration, and serving as a consultative body and intermediary for the government in disputes arising between religious associations. SARI may issue nonbinding recommendations to relevant state institutions on approval of applications for the construction of religious buildings, determination of their locations, and transfer of such properties to religious organizations.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On June 27, a court sentenced two men to 15 years each in prison for the 2018 stabbing to death of 25-year-old human rights activist Vitali Safarov, who had Jewish and Yezidi roots. The court ruled, however, the killing was not a hate crime of “racial, religious, national, or ethnic intolerance,” stating hate was not the only or decisive motive in the killing. International observers and local NGOs disagreed, saying the attackers engaged in further aggression and cried out racist epithets after Safarov told them he was Jewish. According to witness testimony and materials NGOs found on the internet, including Nazi symbols and calls to violence on personal Facebook pages, the men belonged to neo-Nazi groups and held ultranationalist ideas. The Center for Participation and Development, where Vitali Safarov worked, and the Human Rights Center, both NGOs, said they supported the prosecutor’s November 16 decision to file an appeal for the court to establish hate as a motive in the crime.
The NGO Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) again stated the MOIA was generally correctly applying the appropriate articles of the criminal code and the quality of investigations of crimes motivated by religious hatred continued to improve.
The NAPR registered one new religious organization as an LEPL during the year: the Georgian Christian Evangelical Protestant and Lutheran Church – Bible Care. It rejected the registration applications of six other groups on the grounds that they either did not demonstrate historic ties to Georgia or were not recognized as a religion by Council of Europe countries. The NAPR declined registration to the Georgian Christian Evangelical Protestant and Lutheran Church – Bible Care for People; Georgian Christian Evangelical Protestant and Lutheran Church – Bible Care Visit the Prisoner; Georgian Christian Evangelical Protestant and Lutheran Church for Bible Care; Georgian Christian Evangelical Protestant and Lutheran Church – Bible Support; Church for All Nations – Georgia; and Georgian Christian Religious Organization Gideon.
Most prisons continued to have GOC chapels but no areas for nondenominational worship. According to SARI and Catholic, AAC, Baptist, Muslim, and Jewish groups, prisons could provide religious counseling services if requested by members of the military or prisoners.
Parliament held several hearings during the year with civil society, government officials, and religious representatives on changes to the law granting the GOC tax and property privileges not available to other religious groups. The Constitutional Court ruled in 2018 that the GOC’s exclusive privileges were unconstitutional and mandated legislative change that would either abolish the privileges or grant them to all religious organizations no later than December 31, 2018. Parliament did not meet the deadline nor amend the law by year’s end. SARI and some religious representatives, including members of the Jewish community and the Armenian Apostolic Church, favored drafting a new and broader “law on religion” to define which groups would be eligible for these and other benefits and to address issues pertaining to the registration and legal status of religious groups and the teaching of religion in public schools. Many civil society representatives and other religious groups, including some members of the Muslim community, the Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Baptist Church, however, were opposed, arguing that such legislation would allow the government to discriminate against smaller religious communities and increase the government’s leverage over them. They advocated instead making benefits available to all religious groups or to none.
NGOs and some Muslim community leaders stated the government continued to influence the state-funded AMAG, including by influencing the selection of the AMAG religious leader and the selective transfer of land to AMAG. The groups said AMAG was a “Soviet-style” organization that served as a tool of the state to monitor and control religious groups. Following the December 25 election of a new AMAG leader, several staff members left the organization, stating the State Security Service had unduly interfered with the process. A number of Muslim groups also were critical of AMAG for insisting it represented all Muslim communities in the country within one organization.
At year’s end, the Tbilisi City Court did not rule on the AAC’s January 2018 appeal of the NAPR’s decision to register as GOC property a church of which the AAC claimed ownership since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The AAC continued to petition SARI for restitution of five churches in Tbilisi and one in Akhaltsikhe, all of which the GOC also claimed and authorities registered as state property. At year’s end, SARI had not responded to any of the AAC’s 57 petitions, 20 of which it filed in 2015 and 37 in 2018, for ownership or right-of-usage status. The AAC reported it operated all 57 churches in the country but did not own any of them. SARI said the issue was a lack of evidence provided by the AAC itself, but said it was in communication with the AAC and expressed willingness to cooperate in the future.
According to the PDO’s Tolerance Center, non-GOC religious organizations continued to face government resistance when attempting to obtain construction permits for houses of worship, as was the case with a mosque in Batumi. The center continued to attribute the resistance to what it termed a general societal bias in favor of the GOC. According to TDI, although the law provides for equal treatment for applicants seeking construction permits, municipalities often discriminated against representatives of religious minority groups. TDI also cited what it described as the “problematic role” of SARI in the process, which “without a legitimate purpose and legal basis” interfered with the authority of local self-governance.
Muslim community members continued to state there was a lack of transparency in government decisions on mosques and their construction. The Muslim community continued to dispute the government’s ownership of mosques in Kvemo Kartli, Adigeni, and Adjara. The government owned the land as a legacy from the Soviet period, and in some cases said the existing mosques were former GOC houses of worship or were erected in their place.
On September 30, the Batumi City Court ruled Batumi City Hall had discriminated against the New Mosque Construction Fund (an entity representing members of the Batumi Muslim community seeking to establish a new mosque) by denying the permits necessary to build a new mosque on land the fund owned. The court ordered the mayor’s office to reconsider its decision. The Muslim community said it needed a second mosque in the city because the only mosque currently operating there was too small to accommodate the local population. The mayor’s office argued in court that the plot of land was located in a high-density residential zone and was therefore not suitable for a religious building. According to media, there were already several churches in the same area. The NGOs Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) and TDI brought the case to court on behalf of the fund. They criticized the court decision for not requiring the mayor’s office to issue the permit. The mayor outlined several conditions for allowing the construction, including that the fund retract its appeal to the courts and give the land acquired for the mosque to AMAG, which would later apply for the necessary permits. On December 4, Batumi City Hall appealed the Batumi City Court’s September 30 decision, leading the New Mosque Construction Fund to submit its own appeal seeking the court obligate the city to issue the construction permit rather than simply “reconsider.” At year’s end, the appeals were ongoing. According to a report by the TDI, Muslims in Batumi told the international religious freedom NGO Forum 18 that AMAG backed the state in its refusal to grant the permits for the second mosque, while the Georgian Muslim Union, which did not receive state funds, supported the plans for a second mosque.
Parallel to the mosque permit issue, the construction fund appealed Batumi City Hall’s decision to impose a fine of 3,000 lari ($1,000) for the construction of a temporary wooden structure built on the fund’s land. The appeal was ongoing at year’s end.
Construction continued on property surrounding the main building of a new mosque AMAG built in late 2018 in the village of Mokhe in Samtskhe-Javakheti. The community was already conducting prayers at the mosque. A local Muslim donated the land for the new mosque to AMAG after a SARI commission transferred the original, disputed building the local Muslim community had planned to use as a mosque to the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation in 2018. At the time, SARI told reporters that the commission’s decision and AMAG’s subsequent steps to build the mosque on the new plot were acceptable to the local Muslim community. EMC, however, said that the commission’s decision was not representative of local Muslims because no trustees of the local community were represented on the commission. They reported at the time that some local Muslims refused to pray at the new mosque and instead prayed temporarily outside the property of the old mosque. EMC appealed to the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of some local Muslims, stating that the state had violated their rights to equality and freedom of religion, among others. The Human Rights Committee had not responded to the appeal as of year’s end.
The government continued to pay subsidies for the restoration of religious properties it considered national cultural heritage sites. The National Agency for Cultural Heritage, housed within the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sport, allocated 2.3 million lari ($801,000) during the year for the restoration of religious monuments, a decrease of approximately 200,000 lari ($69,700) from 2018.
There was no movement on a 2018 EMC appeal to the Supreme Court of a lower court ruling that the MOIA did not discriminate against Muslims by failing to prevent vandalism against an Islamic boarding school. The boarding school had not opened by year’s end. According to a 2018 TDI report, religious education in public schools persisted, although the law provided for religious neutrality and nondiscrimination. TDI continued to report cases of religious discrimination in schools, including incidents involving the promotion of GOC theology during general courses on religion, GOC prayers conducted in classrooms, and the display of icons and other religious symbols in schools, despite the law’s prohibition of proselytizing. The GOC did not offer any formal religious studies classes in public institutions. Although the GOC had the right to do so under the concordat, the government did not define the requisite legal structures for direct GOC involvement in public institutions. Nevertheless, NGOs and non-GOC organizations, such as EMC, reported GOC clergy often visited classes during the regular school day, sometimes at the initiative of teachers or school administrators, despite the law restricting such visits to after hours.
In October EMC called upon the Ministry of Education’s General Inspection Department, responsible for dealing with complaints of inappropriate teacher behavior, to “ensure the … protection of religious neutrality” in education after a video surfaced of GOC clergy meeting with professors and teachers emphasizing the importance of Christianity in Adjara, a majority ethnic-Georgian, Muslim region. After the meeting, one high school principal declared that educational professionals had a “duty to convert [students] to their ancient faith.” By year’s end, authorities did not respond to EMC’s complaint.
The government paid compensation to five religious groups for “material and moral damages” they sustained during the Soviet period. It distributed the same amounts as in 2018: 25 million lari ($8.7 million) to the GOC; 2.75 million lari ($958,000) to the Muslim community, represented by the AMAG; 550,000 lari ($192,000) to the Catholic Church; 800,000 lari ($279,000) to the AAC; and 400,000 lari ($139,000) to the Jewish community. SARI’s position was that the payments were of “partial and of symbolic character,” and that the government continued to take into account levels of damage and “present day negative conditions” of religious groups in determining compensation. NGOs continued to criticize the exclusion of other religious groups in the legislation designating the five groups eligible to receive compensation and to question the criteria the government used to select them.
Media reported that on May 8, by a vote of 96-0, parliament approved a change to the labor code making May 12 a holiday marking the country’s consecration to the Virgin Mary and allocating 890,000 lari ($310,000) to celebrate it. May 12 was already a public holiday marking St. Andrew’s Day. Sopho Kiladze, head of parliament’s human rights committee, told Maestro Television, “It is important for Georgia to be officially declared as the domain of the Virgin Mary.” Beka Mindiashvili, head of the PDO’s Tolerance Center and a former GOC theologian, denounced the measure.
The MOI Department of Human Rights, in cooperation with the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, conducted 10 training programs on discrimination and hate crimes during the year, and commissioned research on the victims’ attitudes toward investigations of the crimes against them, with a focus on religious minorities, among others.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
The MOIA investigated 44 cases involving crimes reported as religiously motivated, including 10 cases of unlawful interference with the performance of religious rites, 10 cases of persecution, and eight cases of damage or destruction of property. The PGO reported criminal prosecutions were launched against 14 individuals for crimes motivated by religious intolerance. Six of these individuals were convicted on the charge. By comparison, in 2018 the ministry investigated 23 incidents reported as religiously motivated crimes.
At year’s end, the PDO reported it received 19 complaints of discrimination or hate crimes based on religion during the year, equal to 19 received in 2018. Ten incidents – of which eight targeted the Jehovah’s Witnesses – involved violence, compared with six in the previous year. The remaining nine cases concerned complaints that authorities refused to register religious organizations, as well as of discrimination in the workplace, harassment, and the “lack of involvement of religious minorities in cultural life.” At year’s end, the PDO was examining whether religious discrimination was involved when a Muslim religious organization faced difficulties importing religious literature for dissemination. The Customs Department of the Revenue Service allowed the import, saying there had been a technical issue, only after the organization raised the issue. The PDO stated cases from previous years remained largely unresolved, partly because of a lack of urgency and resources from the government.
At year’s end, the Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 20 religiously motivated incidents to the government, compared to 19 in 2018. Of the 20, 11 involved physical violence, five vandalism or other damage against Kingdom Halls, and four interference with religious services or damage of other property or literature. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that prosecutors investigated eight of these cases and convicted an individual in one. According to the PDO, the PGO continued to decline to classify crimes targeting Jehovah’s Witnesses as religiously motivated, despite repeated PDO requests that it do so. In 2018 the Council of Europe reported that after LGBTI persons, Jehovah’s Witnesses were the most likely group in the country to face discrimination.
In one case in February, an individual verbally insulted, then attacked, a Jehovah’s Witness who had just left a religious service at a Kingdom Hall in Tbilisi. Patrol officers arrived on the scene and were able to restrain the attacker; the victim sought medical treatment for injuries to his eye and lip. Officials charged the attacker with “purposeful, less grave damage to health,” and, at year’s end, the case was ongoing. In another incident in April, a Jehovah’s Witness was verbally insulted and attacked by a Tbilisi resident after approaching the resident’s apartment to proselytize. The investigation into this case was ongoing and authorities did not press any charges at year’s end.
Authorities reported no arrests or other progress in open investigations of incidents from past years against Jehovah’s Witnesses or their property. Representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses legal department said communication with the MOIA had improved compared with previous years, and they commended the Department of Human Rights within the ministry for increased responsiveness to their concern that crimes against members of the community should be treated as religiously motivated, even though the PGO declined to prosecute them as such.
In January the Supreme Court upheld the 2018 conviction of a man the Tbilisi City Court found guilty of harassing two female Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 2016 the man kicked and insulted the two women and tore their clothes while they were sharing Bible verses in Alexandre’s Garden in Tbilisi. Although the court upheld the guilty verdict, it reduced the man’s fine from the original 2,000 ($700) to 500 lari ($170).
Representatives of the PDO’s Tolerance Center and minority religious groups continued to report what they termed a widespread societal belief that minority religious groups posed a threat to the GOC and to the country’s cultural values. A 2018 Council of Europe study reported 36 percent of citizens believed diversity affected the country adversely and was detrimental to its culture and traditions.
Minority religious communities, including Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, and Protestants, continued to report resistance from local communities to their establishing places of worship and religious schools. A Muslim boarding school in Kobuleti, near Batumi, remained closed after city officials ignored a 2018 ruling by the Batumi City Court ordering them to provide the school with sewage and water connections. On April 4 and again on November 4, unknown persons broke into a chapel used by Armenian Apostolic and Catholic parishes in Akhalkalaki and vandalized the premises, breaking icons, and damaging portraits. Authorities were investigating both incidents at year’s end.
MDF documented 55 instances of religiously intolerant statements on television, online, and in printed media by media representatives, political parties, clergy, public organizations, and others, compared to 148 such incidents in 2018. The instances included a January statement by GOC clergyman David Isakadze in which he criticized a 2016 joint declaration from Russian Patriarch Kirill and Catholic Pope Francis. Isakadze said, “Catholicism is the greatest deviation and heresy from Church dogmas.” Separately, the online publication “Georgia in the World” published in October a statement by Vazha Otarashvili, political secretary of the Alliance of Patriots party, in which he said, “They will build numerous mosques so quietly, so treacherously, that people will not understand that this is the Islamization of Adjara.”
The ROC and the GOC both formally recognized the Orthodox churches in Abkhazia, as well as in South Ossetia, as belonging to the GOC; however, de facto authorities continued to restrict access to GOC clergy. According to media reports from online news outlets like Netgazeti and Resonance Daily, as well as experts on the region, some religious figures in Abkhazia continued to support turning the region’s Orthodox churches into an autocephalous Abkhaz Orthodox Church, others wished to subordinate them to the ROC, and still others wished to subordinate them to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials met regularly with officials from the government, including SARI, the prime minister’s adviser on human rights and gender equality, and the president’s adviser on national minorities, to encourage dialogue between the government and minority religious groups. They also continued to meet with the PDO and officials in its Tolerance Center to discuss discrimination against religious groups and stress the importance of interfaith dialogue.
Several embassy information offices sponsored outreach activities for religious minority communities. The Batumi office hosted a workshop for young Muslim girls to foster discussion of religious freedom, antidiscrimination, and human rights. The program also provided instruction on debunking fake news and propaganda centered on religious narratives. Additionally, the Batumi office supported members of the Young Muslim’s Union in community outreach projects meant to promote inclusion. The Akhaltsikhe office engaged with the ethnic Armenian community, which mostly belongs to the AAC, including by hosting roundtables and debates that included members of the AAC, GOC, and Roman Catholic Church. The office also sponsored a project that in part brought together government, civil society, and the local population to discuss religious pluralism and foster open dialogue. The Rustavi office was active with the largely Shia Muslim Azerbaijani community and hosted a quiz program on U.S. history that brought multifaith communities, including members of the AAC and GOC, together to encourage integration and social inclusion.
In June the embassy sponsored a performance of traditional Georgian and American sacred music by a U.S. chorale at the Gelati Monastery in Kutaisi. In welcoming remarks, embassy representatives at the performance highlighted the importance of religious pluralism. The embassy awarded a small grant to the Georgian Strategic Analysis Center to support a project on increasing understanding of democracy, including respect for religious pluralism, within the GOC. In October the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and a Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs met with members of the GOC’s leadership council, the Holy Synod, who were visiting the United States to mark the tenth anniversary of the GOC’s North American Eparchy. The officials recognized the country’s history of religious tolerance and encouraged the GOC to continue to promote interfaith dialogue. In November the embassy announced funds for a comprehensive assessment and conservation plan to restore the Jvari Monastery, one of Georgia’s most iconic cultural sites.
Embassy staff continued to meet with NGOs concerned with religious freedom issues, including the Center for Development and Democracy, the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center, TDI, and the 21st Century Union, to discuss interfaith relations, the integration of religious minorities into society, and the promotion of religious freedom for all.
The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials visited the Pankisi Gorge, Samtskhe-Javakheti, Kvemo Kartli, and Adjara regions on several occasions to meet with local religious leaders, including from the Sunni and Shia Muslim and AAC communities. In these meetings, embassy officials advocated interfaith understanding, dialogue, and the peaceful coexistence of all religions.
The Charge d’Affaires met with GOC Patriarch Ilia II and other senior GOC members on multiple occasions. In her meetings, she stressed the importance of the Church’s role in promoting religious diversity and tolerance.
In February 2014, Russian military forces invaded Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262 adopted on March 27, 2014, and entitled Territorial Integrity of Ukraine, states the Autonomous Republic of Crimea remains internationally recognized as within Ukraine’s international borders. The U.S. government does not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and considers that Crimea remains a part of Ukraine.
The constitution protects freedom of religion and provides for the separation of church and state. By law, the objective of domestic religious policy is to foster the creation of a tolerant society and provide for freedom of conscience and worship. On January 6, the Ecumenical Patriarch granted autocephaly to the newly created Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), thereby formally recognizing a canonical Ukrainian Orthodox institution independent of the Russian Orthodox Church for the first time since 1686. On January 30, the government officially registered the OCU under the titles Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), stating that the names could be used synonymously. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) continued to be also officially registered as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church even though it remained a constituent part of the Moscow Patriarchate, also known as the Russian Orthodox Church, following the creation of the OCU. The government at times struggled to manage tensions between the newly created OCU and UOC-MP, which competed for members and congregations. According to observers, Russia attempted to use its disinformation campaign to fuel further conflict between the two churches. According to human rights groups, the number of documented acts of anti-Semitism was lower when compared with previous years, but investigations and prosecution of anti-Semitic vandalism were generally inconclusive. Some Jewish leaders continued to state their concerns about what they considered impunity for acts of anti-Semitism and the government’s long delays in completing investigations. Religious leaders also continued to urge the government to establish a transparent legal process to address property restitution claims. Minority religious groups continued to report discriminatory treatment by local authorities in land allocation for religious buildings. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) said the local government in Bila Tserkva, Kyiv Oblast, was unwilling to finalize the allocation of a plot of land for building a church.
Media sources, religious freedom activists, the OCU, Muslims, Protestant churches, and Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that Russian proxy authorities in the Russian-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (regions) continued to exert pressure on minority religious groups. In the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic (“LPR”), proxy authorities banned Jehovah’s Witnesses as an “extremist” organization, while the “Supreme Court” in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (“DPR”) upheld a similar ban. Russian proxy authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk continued to implement laws requiring all religious organizations except the UOC-MP to undergo “state religious expert evaluations” and reregister with them. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a majority of religious groups recognized under Ukrainian law continued to be unable to reregister because of stringent legal requirements under Russian legislation preventing or discouraging reregistration of many religious communities. Many religious groups continued to refuse to reregister because they did not recognize the Russian-installed authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk. All but one mosque remained closed in Donetsk. Russia-led forces continued to use religious buildings of minority religious groups as military facilities. The situation in Russian-occupied Crimea is reported in an appendix following the report on the rest of Ukraine.
After the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate granted autocephaly to the newly created OCU in January, thereby recognizing a Ukrainian Orthodox institution independent of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Kremlin, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the UOC-MP labelled the OCU a “schismatic” group. UOC-MP representatives stated but did not provide evidence that the OCU had carried out “raider attacks” by deceiving and stealing parishioners by using a similar name. There were continued reports of what some media and political observers characterized as radical groups physically assaulting and pressuring UOC-MP supporters and vandalizing UOC-MP property as well as UOC-MP priests locking out parishioners who wished to change to the OCU. In March representatives of the group Right Sector, commonly characterized as a violent radical group, reportedly pushed and possibly hit UOC-MP parishioners during a scuffle between OCU and UOC-MP members near a UOC-MP church in Hnizdychne, Ternopil Oblast. UOC-MP leaders accused the newly formed OCU of seizing churches belonging to the UOC-MP; the OCU responded that parishioners rather than the OCU had initiated the transfers of affiliation. Members of the Jewish community reiterated concern about new construction on a site at Lviv’s Krakivskiy Market located on the grounds of an ancient Jewish cemetery. There were again reports of vandalism of Christian monuments; Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries; and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Halls. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported five violent incidents against members and five cases of vandalism and arson attacks on Kingdom Halls. The All-Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) and the All-Ukrainian Council of Religious Associations (AUCRA) continued to promote interfaith dialogue and respect for religious diversity.
The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials met frequently with officials of the Office of the President, ministry officials, and members of parliament to discuss the protection of religious heritage sites, manifestations of anti-Semitism, and issues within the Orthodox churches. In light of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s granting the OCU autocephaly the Ambassador urged government and religious leaders to practice tolerance, restraint, and mutual understanding to ensure respect for all individuals’ religious freedom and preferences. The Ambassador and other embassy officials continued to urge religious groups to resolve property disputes peacefully and through dialogue with government officials, in particular the dispute regarding the location of parts of the Krakivskyy Market on the site of the Lviv Old Jewish Cemetery. Embassy officials continued to meet with internally displaced Muslims from Crimea to discuss their continuing inability to practice their religion freely in Crimea. In May the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met with government, religious, and community leaders to discuss the need for a strong government response to combating anti-Semitism, promote religious freedom, encourage interfaith dialogue, and assure leaders of U.S. support for all individuals to practice freely their faiths.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 44 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the annual October national survey conducted by the Razumkov Center, an independent public policy think tank, 64.9 percent of respondents identify as Christian Orthodox, compared with 67. 3 percent in 2018; 9.5 percent Greek Catholic (UGCC), compared with 9.4 percent; 1.8 percent Protestant, compared with 2.2; 1.6 percent Roman Catholic, compared with 0.8 percent; 0.1 Jewish, compared with 0.4 percent; and 0.1 percent Muslim, compared with under 0.1 percent in 2018. The survey found another 8 percent identify as “simply a Christian,” while 12.8 percent state they do not belong to any religious group, compared with 7.1 percent and 11 percent, respectively, in 2018. Small percentages of Buddhists, Hindus, followers of other religions, and individuals who chose not to disclose their beliefs constitute the remainder of the respondents. According to the same survey, 64. 9 percent identify as Christian Orthodox; 13.2 percent the new OCU; 10.6 percent the UOC-MP; 7.7 percent Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP); 30.3 percent “just an Orthodox believer”; and 3.1 percent undecided.
According to government statistics, followers of the UGCC reside primarily in the western oblasts of Lviv, Ternopil, and Ivano-Frankivsk. Most Roman Catholic Church (RCC) congregations are in Lviv, Khmelnytskyy, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsya, and Zakarpattya Oblasts in the western part of the country. According to the government’s estimate released in March, most of the then UOC-KP and UAOC (now largely merged into the new OCU) congregations are in the central and western parts of the country, except for Zakarpattya Oblast. Most UOC-MP congregations are also in the central and western parts of the country, excluding Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv and Ternopil Oblasts.
The Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine is the largest Protestant community. Other Christian groups include Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Calvinists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).
Government agencies and independent think tanks estimate the Muslim population at 500,000, while some Muslim leaders estimate two million. According to government figures, 300,000 of these are Crimean Tatars.
The Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD) states there are approximately 300,000 persons of Jewish ancestry in the country. According to VAAD, before the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, approximately 30,000 Jews lived in the Donbas region (Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts). Jewish groups estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before Russia’s attempted annexation.
There are also Buddhists, practitioners of Falun Gong, Baha’is, and adherents of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including worship. By law, the government may restrict this right only in the “interests of protecting public order, the health and morality of the population, or protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons.” The constitution provides for the separation of church and state and stipulates, “No religion shall be recognized by the state as mandatory.”
By law, the objective of religious policy is to “restore full-fledged dialogue between representatives of various social, ethnic, cultural, and religious groups to foster the creation of a tolerant society and provide for freedom of conscience and worship.” By law, the production and dissemination of Nazi symbols and propaganda of totalitarian regimes is banned and considered a crime.
Religious organizations include congregations, theological schools, monasteries, religious brotherhoods, missions, and administrations of religious associations consisting of religious organizations. To register and obtain legal entity status, an organization must register either with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, the government agency responsible for religious affairs, or with regional government authorities, depending upon the nature of the organization. Religious centers, administrations, monasteries, religious brotherhoods, missions, and religious schools register with the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sport. Religious congregations register with the regional authorities where they are present. While these religious congregations may form the constituent units of a nationwide religious organization, the nationwide organization does not register on a national basis and may not obtain recognition as a legal entity; rather, the constituent units register individually and obtain legal entity status.
To be eligible for registration, a religious congregation must comprise at least 10 adult members and submit to the registration authorities its statute (charter), certified copies of the resolution that created it and was adopted by founding members, and a document confirming its right to own or use premises.
Registered religious groups wishing to acquire nonprofit status, which many do for logistical reasons, including for banking purposes, must register with tax authorities.
Without legal-entity status, a religious group may not own property, conduct banking activities, or publish materials. In accordance with the stipulation against national registration, only a registered constituent unit of a nationwide religious organization may own property or conduct business activities, either for itself or on behalf of the nationwide organization. The law grants property tax exemptions to religious organizations and considers them nonprofit organizations.
The law requires commanders of military units to allow their subordinates to participate in religious services but bans the creation of religious organizations in military institutions and military units. The Ministry of Defense defines selection criteria for clerics to become chaplains, the status of chaplains in the chain of command, and their rights and duties in the armed forces, National Guard, and State Border Guard Service. According to a law passed in 2018, UOC-MP priests are prohibited from serving as chaplains on bases or in conflict zones, allegedly due to concerns about their affiliation with Russia through the Moscow Patriarchate.
The law gives prison chaplains access to both pretrial detainees and sentenced inmates. It also protects the confidentiality of confessions heard by prison chaplains, prohibits the use of information received during confession as evidence in legal proceedings, and does not allow the interrogation of clerics, interpreters, or other persons about matters associated with the confidentiality of confession.
According to the constitution, organizers must notify local authorities in advance of any type of planned public gathering, and authorities may challenge the legality of the planned event. According to a 2016 Constitutional Court decision, religious organizations need only inform local authorities of their intention to hold a public gathering and need not apply for permission or notify authorities within a specific period in advance of the event.
The law allows religious groups to establish theological schools to train clergy and other religious workers, as well as seek state accreditation through the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance for their curriculum. The law states theological schools shall function based on their own statutes.
Government agencies authorized to monitor religious organizations include the Prosecutor General, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and all other “central bodies of the executive government.”
Only registered religious groups may seek restitution of communal property confiscated by the Communist regime. Religious groups must apply to regional authorities for property restitution. The law states authorities should complete their consideration of a restitution claim within a month.
The law prohibits religious instruction as part of the mandatory public school curriculum and states public school training “shall be free from interference by political parties, civic, and religious organizations.” Public schools include ethics of faith or similar faith-related courses as optional parts of the curricula. Christian, Islamic, and Jewish-focused curriculum are offered as part of the ethics of faith curriculum in public schools.
The law provides for antidiscrimination screening of draft legislation and government regulations, including for discrimination based on religion. The law requires the legal department of each respective agency responsible for verifying the draft legislation to conduct the screening in accordance with instructions developed by the Cabinet of Ministers, to ensure the draft legislation does not contain discriminatory language and to require changes if it does. Religious groups may participate in screening draft legislation at the invitation of the respective agency.
The law allows alternative nonmilitary service for conscientious objectors. The law does not exempt the clergy from military mobilization.
The Office of the Parliamentary Human Rights Ombudsman is constitutionally required to release an annual report to parliament with a section on religious freedom.
The law restricts the activities of foreign-based religious groups and defines the permissible activities of noncitizen clergy, preachers, teachers, and other representatives of foreign-based religious organizations. By law, foreign religious workers may “preach, administer religious ordinances, or practice other canonical activities,” but they may do so only for the religious organization that invited them and with the approval of the government body that registered the statute of the organization. Missionary activity is included under permissible activities.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Since 2015, the government has exercised the right of derogation from its obligations under the ICCPR with regard to the portions of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts under the control of Russia-led forces, including the ICCPR provisions pertaining to religious freedom.
After Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew granted autocephaly to the OCU on January 6, thereby recognizing a canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent from the Russian Orthodox Church, then president Petro Poroshenko repeated his pledge that the government would guarantee religious freedom for all citizens.
On December 11, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling by the Kyiv District Administrative Court to suspend the government’s implementation of December 2018 amendments to the law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations requiring the UOC-MP, formally registered as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), to rename itself to reflect its affiliation with the Moscow Patriarchate (Russian Orthodox Church). The ruling prevented the government from enforcing the name-change requirement for 267 UOC-MP religious organizations because of the UOC-MP’s ongoing lawsuit against the bill. The organizations were a third party in the lawsuit filed by the UOC-MP Metropolitan Administration. The government stated that the rest of the UOC-MP had to comply with the renaming requirement.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, throughout the year administrative courts defended the right of conscientious objectors to alternative service, revoking decisions by the respective district state administrations. From May through August, district courts in Odesa, Luhansk, Sumy, Kherson, and Kirovohrad Oblasts, restored five Jehovah’s Witness members’ right to alternative service.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on September 3, the Donetsk District Administrative Court revoked the April 22 decision by the Donetsk Oblast State Administration to refuse Lazar Yasynskyy’s application for alternative civilian service on procedural grounds. On April 22, the Donetsk Oblast State Administration refused Vladyslav Udovik’s application for alternative civilian service on procedural grounds. At the end of the year, both cases were under consideration by the Donetsk Appellate Administrative Court.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on February 4, the Kirovohrad District Administrative Court upheld a refusal by the Kropyvnytskyy City Call-Up Commission to defer Minister Yaroslav Nohin’s alternative civilian service. The court did not find the refusal discriminatory, saying that Nohin’s ministry in a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation was not his professional activity, and unlike Orthodox or Catholic priests, he was not eligible for the deferment. On August 5, Nohin filed a cassation appeal with the Supreme Court of Ukraine.
On November 15, the Kalush City and District Court found Ruslan Hrechynskyy guilty of a hate crime for attacking Jehovah’s Witness Yuriy Shavranskyyy when he was peacefully offering religious literature in a public area, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The court approved an amicable agreement between the assailant and the victim, sentencing Hrechynskyy to 100 hours of community service.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on June 30, a man assaulted Ruslan and Kateryna Suprunov near a mobile display of their missionary materials in Vinnytsya. He punched Ruslan Suprunov in the face, causing his lip to bleed, and damaged the display. Police opened an investigation. On June 26, an unidentified attacker hit Jehovah’s Witness Valeriy Derkach with a stick near a mobile display of missionary materials in central Kyiv. The man then broke the display. The victim filed a complaint, but police did not open an investigation.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, representatives of military registration enlistment offices in some regions did not respect the right to conscientious objection. At times, regional authorities denied alternative civilian service to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some were detained for days. On June12, representatives of the military registration and enlistment office in Ternopil detained Yaroslav Bodnarchuk for 31 hours. Despite his written and oral statements requesting alternative civilian service, the officers handcuffed the detainee and beat him. On May 15, representatives of a military registration enlistment office in Kharkiv detained Oleksiy Murzin at a railway station and held him at their regional office for a day and a half. On April 24, representatives of military registration and enlistment office in Ternopil escorted Petro Myshchyshyn to their regional office and detained him for three days. The Military Prosecutors’ Office instituted six criminal cases, but no suspects were held accountable by year’s end.
According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ annual report, a court postponed judicial examination of a criminal case against a man who had allegedly violently assaulted two elderly female Jehovah’s Witnesses, Vira Gul and Tamara Barsuk, in March 2016. The prosecutor reportedly refused to include in his indictment evidence that the assault was religiously motivated, which would have allowed the attack to be classified as a hate crime. According to the report, the limitation period expired for Tamara Barsuk, and therefore, the assailant could not be held criminally liable. Gul’s case remained pending at year’s end.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on February 21, an appellate court in Odesa overturned another refusal by the State Migration Service (SMS) to grant refugee status to Asadzade Totonchi, who had sought refuge because of religious persecution in Iran.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on January 31, the SMS rejected a refugee status application by a Jehovah’s Witness who along with his family had fled religious persecution in Russia. Both a court of the first instance and an appellate court in Odesa overturned the refusal. The case was pending SMS review at the end of the year.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on January 29, the investigator closed criminal proceedings against a woman who in July 2016 had attacked two Jehovah’s Witnesses, fracturing the jaw of one and bruising the face of the other. The investigator concluded that the four eyewitness statements by Jehovah’s Witnesses could not be trusted because they were also Jehovah’s Witnesses. On October 2, the investigative judge reversed the investigator’s decision and obliged police to renew the investigation. The investigation continued through the end of the year.
On July 3, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Supreme Court reached a final decision in the case against a man who in June 2017 had beaten Jehovah’s Witness Yuriy Vorobey, reportedly because he was a member of that group, inflicting multiple injuries to his head and body. The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the lower courts, which had sentenced the attacker to 160 hours of community service under charges of “minor bodily injury.”
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on March 7, one of the individuals who beat Jehovah’s Witness Oleksandr Tretyak with a wooden bat in Vinnytsya in 2013 was found guilty of hooliganism and subsequently released, likely because of time served. Jehovah’s Witnesses said the individual should have been prosecuted for a violent hate crime rather than hooliganism. Another assailant, a police officer who reportedly instigated and participated in the violent assault, faced no charges. The victim received one fourth of the compensation he had requested. Due to the lack of an effective investigation, in 2015 Tretyak filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In 2017 the ECHR communicated the application to Ukrainian authorities. The investigation reportedly intensified but produced few concrete results by year’s end, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The government at times struggled with managing tensions between the newly created OCU and UOC-MP, which competed for members and congregations. According to observers, Russia attempted to use a disinformation campaign to fuel further conflict between the two churches. The OHCHR assessed the process of congregations transitioning from the UOC-MP to the OCU as occasionally leading to violence, but indicated an “overall trend of declining tensions between religious communities.” The OHCHR, however, expressed concern about the involvement of “nonreligious actors” in the transition process, including local authorities and what the OHCHR characterized as right-wing groups, as well as police inaction during certain incidents. The UOC-MP said the Poroshenko government gave far-right groups a “free hand” to pressure UOC-MP parishioners to leave the UOC-MP and join the OCU, although media reports assessed such claims were overblown because the Moscow Patriarchate and Russian government sought to spread false charges alleging “persecution” of the UOC-MP.
On January 28, then president Poroshenko signed amendments to the laws on the freedom of conscience and religious organizations and on state registration of legal entities, natural persons, and civic organizations to streamline the registration of religious organizations. The newly amended registration law directed regional governments’ religious affairs departments to enter religious organizations into the State Register of Legal Entities database in addition to registering their statutes. It required all religious organizations to update and reregister their statutes under the new regulations within a year. The amendments also specified reregistration requirements for organizations that wished to change their affiliation, particularly UOC-MP parishes seeking to join the OCU. The amended law required a quorum, as defined by each congregation and usually comprising two-thirds or three-fourths of a religious organization’s members, to decide on its future affiliation. The bill also required a vote by two-thirds of those present to authorize such a decision. The law banned any transfer of an organization’s property until the affiliation change was finalized. On March 19, the Constitutional Court rejected a petition by 47 parliament members challenging the law as unconstitutional.
In an October 21 media interview, a Ministry of Culture senior official said that regional religious affairs departments would not be able to meet the nine-month registration deadline for congregations under the amended registration law. She added that the parliament should have given the ministry a transitional period in which to train staff to implement the new procedure. The Ukraine-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Institute of Religious Freedom (IRF) said parliament adopted the amendments to the registration law without having properly consulted with the religious communities involved. The IRF said the requirement for an organization changing affiliation to certify a quorum by submitting a list of participants in the organization’s meeting violated its believers’ right to keep their religious views confidential. The IRF also said religious organizations without fixed membership rosters would be unable to verify the religious affiliation of all individuals attending such gatherings.
UOC-MP representatives said some local government officials had organized village meetings in which participants unaffiliated with the UOC-MP were allowed to vote, with the goal of making local parishes part of the OCU. UOC-MP representatives said such officials also helped OCU supporters take possession of disputed UOC-MP church buildings before the change of affiliation was officially finalized. OCU representatives said the UOC-MP often described legitimate changes of parish affiliation as unlawful and had filed lawsuits challenging most such reregistrations as part of the UOC-MP’s strategy to discourage OCU followers from joining the new Church. According to the government and the OCU, the UOC-MP often falsely described eligible voters at such congregation meetings as “unaffiliated” with the parish, alleging that they rarely or never participated in religious services. The government estimated that 500-600 of more than 12,000 registered UOC-MP congregations switched their affiliation to the OCU during the year.
According to the UOC-MP, some local authorities transferred parish affiliations from the UOC-MP to the OCU against the will of parishioners. Media reports indicated that some UOC-MP priests refused to follow the will of parishioners to change affiliation. Posts on the website of the Right Sector, commonly characterized as a violent radical group, stated that at the request of the OCU, it continued to visit Orthodox churches disputed between the UOC-MP and OCU to “facilitate” changes in affiliation.
UOC-MP sources said that during a June 2 dispute over church ownership in Hrabove Village, Volyn Oblast, OCU supporter Zynoviy Koval beat UOC-MP archpriest Dmytro Kovalchuk, broke his finger, and tore off his pectoral cross. According to the UOC-MP, police charged Koval with having caused minor injuries, while the UOC-MP accused authorities of downplaying the incident. UOC-MP representatives said Chairman of the Shatsk District State Administration Vasyl Holyadynets had tried to convince the priest to help transfer his congregation to the OCU, but he refused. According to the UOC-MP, 125 parishioners of 200 Hrabove residents had initially signed a statement reaffirming their UOC-MP membership. In response, the local government had reportedly forced a majority of the residents to support the transfer of the village parish to the OCU. The OCU rejected the accusation of forced transfer, stating that most parish members had sought voluntarily to join the OCU. Its representatives described Koval’s aggressive behavior as an emotional reaction to the priest’s “sneering” at a remark about Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Media reported shots were fired in a village in Volyn Oblast, reportedly by a UOC-MP priest, Volodymyr Geleta, in a conflict over a local church changing its affiliation to the OCU. The local parish had previously voted to transfer the local church to the OCU, but the priest and his followers refused to hand over the church. In response, a group of OCU supporters blocked access to the church and a scuffle ensued that police attempted to break up. Priest Volodymyr Geleta’s wife stated on a UOC-MP website that she sustained a concussion during the altercation. The priest subsequently fired shots from his house at the church. Police confiscated the rifle from the priest and opened an investigation, which continued at year’s end.
According to March 10 UOC-MP video footage, at a gathering in the town of Baranivka, Zhytomyr Oblast, Radical Party activist Oleh Kovalskyy called on his supporters to rid a local UOC-MP church of “Moscow’s stooges” and to avoid “talks with the enemy.” The Baranivka mayor and district administration head attended the gathering. The video showed Kovalskyy and several dozen followers attacking UOC-MP members who stood at the entrance to the UOC-MP Church of Nativity of the Mother of God, reportedly punching and kicking a UOC-MP nun as she tried to protect an elderly monk. UOC-MP priest Orest Semotyuk was also punched and hospitalized. Head of the Baranivka District State Administration Mykola Velchunsky stated that UOC-MP priest Roman Klym had provoked the clash by trying to prevent OCU supporters from entering the church. The latter denied using force against the UOC-MP congregation. Prior to the incident, most members of the congregation had voted to join the OCU, said representatives of the newly established OCU congregation.
According to the UOC-MP, on January 13, the mayor of the village of Hnizdychne, Ternopil Oblast, convened a meeting of residents, most of whom voted to bring a local UOC-MP parish under OCU jurisdiction. Despite a prior agreement on the shared rotational use of the church building, OCU followers assembled on February 3 for a UOC-MP liturgy. According to UOC-MP video footage, police scuffled with UOC-MP members as they tried to approach the church entrance. Several unidentified OCU supporters wearing military fatigues assaulted UOC-MP parish priest Stefan Balan and some parishioners. Balan was hospitalized with acute chest pain and a broken finger. No group admitted responsibility for the incident; however, media and civil society representatives reported violent radical group involvement in similar attacks in the past. According to the OCU diocesan administration of Ternopil, OCU members and police sought to prevent UOC-MP parishioners from seizing the church; the administration said that UOC-MP followers might have provoked the conflict to produce the video, which portrayed them as victims of violence. Local police said its personnel had sought to prevent further escalation of the incident.
According to separate UOC-MP video footage, on March 3, OCU priest Ivan Lesyk and Right Sector supporters used force against UOC-MP parishioners during another scuffle at the Hnizdychne church; the UOC-MP reported that police did not intervene. In a Facebook post, a local Right Sector branch claimed credit for “assisting” with the transfer of the building to the OCU. Local media reported that two women and several OCU and UOC-MP supporters sustained minor injuries during the scuffle.
On January 28, the Vinnytsya Oblast National Police Department issued a statement citing “dozens of complaints” that residents unaffiliated with local parishes had participated in a vote on changing the jurisdiction of the parish affiliation.
According to UOC-MP video footage, on January 28, Petro Brovko, the mayor of Mohyliv-Podilskyy, Vinnytsya Oblast, led a gathering of residents of Sonyachne, a neighboring village, where he called on them to prevent the local UOC-MP congregation from remaining part of the church of katsapy (derogatory reference to Russians). Before the event, its organizers had posted an announcement inviting all village residents to participate in determining the parish’s affiliation. Most attendees voted in favor of Brovko’s proposal to bring the congregation into the OCU. Local UOC-MP members said that many voters were not in fact affiliated with their parish, whose “real members” had decided to remain part of the UOC-MP at a previous meeting.
Following UOC-MP complaints, in October the Vinnytsya Oblast police department opened a criminal case against Viktor Saletskyy, Chief of the Nationalities and Religious Department of the Vinnytsya Oblast State Administration. Police stated that Saletskyy’s “arbitrary” decisions led to an unlawful change of affiliation from the UOC-MP to the OCU by congregations in Luka Meleshkivska and Velyka Kisnytsya Villages. Saletskyy denied the charges and said the registration had been conducted according to the law because he was required by law to register any duly documented change of affiliation requested. On October 18, the Vinnytsya Appellate Court overturned the October 10 ruling by the Vinnytsya City Court to suspend Saletskyy from duty. The city court issued the original ruling in response to a police request, citing the need to prevent him from obstructing the investigation. The OCU accused the oblast police leadership of siding with the OUC-MP. Local police representatives rejected the charge.
In his Independence Day speech on August 24, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the country’s first president of Jewish origin, appealed to all citizens to stay united regardless of their religion. On July 28, the Day of the Baptism of Kyivan Rus-Ukraine, the president called on religious leaders to promote dialogue.
On September 17, during a meeting with the All-Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO), Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov reiterated what he stated was the ministry’s commitment to protect the rights of all citizens regardless of religious affiliation. He promised to do everything possible to prevent religious conflicts and called on religious organizations not to involve outside groups in resolving their disputes. Avakov welcomed the AUCCRO initiative to expand chaplaincies among the ministry’s units, including the National Police. During the year, the UOC-MP objected to the legislation prohibiting UOC-MP priests from serving as chaplains on bases or conflict zones, stating that UOC-MP priests should be able to serve as chaplains like priests from any other denomination and adding that the law violated religious rights of UOC-MP-affiliated military personnel.
On September 19, the Kyiv District Administrative Court revoked a June 2018 resolution by the SMS stripping UOC-MP Bishop Gedeon of citizenship on a charge of violating the law by not renouncing his Russian and U.S. citizenship when he applied for a passport. On February 13, law enforcement authorities barred Gedeon from returning to Ukraine, citing national security reasons and the SMS decision. The bishop said he had relinquished his Russian citizenship. He described the ban as politically and religiously motivated retaliation for his allegation during meetings with the U.S. Congress on February 5 of government pressure placed on the UOC-MP. The ban was in place through year’s end.
On July 17, in response to a request from members of the Muslim community, the Cabinet of Ministers amended regulations on identity documents, thereby allowing religious head coverings in passport and other ID photographs.
On September 3 the ECHR ruled against Ukraine in a case in which deputies of the Kryvyi Rih City Council refused to lease to Jehovah’s Witness a plot of land for construction of a Kingdom Hall. The ECHR found, “The municipal authorities’ conduct was arbitrary and not ‘in accordance with the law.’” It ordered the government to pay 7,000 euros ($7,900) in damages and legal costs to the Witnesses.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on April 22, the Odesa District Administrative Court ordered the local government to issue an occupancy permit for a Kingdom Hall in Oleksandrivka.
On January 19, the Lviv District Administrative Court upheld a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ appeal against the inaction by the Myropil Town Council, Zhytomyr Oblast, in designating a Jehovah’s Witnesses-owned plot of land for building a Kingdom Hall. The Court ordered the council to approve the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ plan for the construction project.
On December 24, the Ministry of Justice and the Pastoral Council for Religious Support of the Penitentiary System, the latter a nongovernmental interfaith advisory board including representatives from the UGCC, UOC-MP, Protestants, and Muslims, and open to other religious groups, discussed draft regulations on prison chaplaincy and ways to develop pastoral support for personnel of penitentiary institutions. On March 12, the ministry and council’s representatives held a conference on reintegration of former prisoners.
On August 5, the Rivne Oblast prosecutor’s office charged a local UOC-MP priest, Viktor Zemlyanyy, concerning his alleged role in “inciting religious hatred.” The charge, based on a Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) investigation, reportedly stemmed from media accounts of Zemlyanyy’s commentaries on parish affiliation disputes between the UOC-MP and the “schismatic” OCU. The priest denied the charges, describing them as evidence of the previous government’s pressure on the UOC-MP. On March 28, the Rivne City Court had turned down prosecutor’s and SBU’s requests to detain Zemlyanyy to prevent supposed potential obstruction of the investigation.
On February 18, police briefly detained Metropolitan Mytrofan, head of the UOC-MP Horlivka and Slovyansk Diocese in Donetsk Oblast, and questioned him about his possible links to the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”). Police released him after questioning. The metropolitan described the incident as a government attempt to put pressure on him.
Law enforcement authorities reported no progress in the investigation of allegations that the Kyiv Islamic Cultural Center of the Umma Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine possessed materials promoting “violence, racial, interethnic, or religious hatred.” The SBU and the Kyiv City procuracy searched the center in May 2018. During a press conference on May 31, an Umma lawyer described the search as an attempt to undermine Umma’s reputation and called the charges baseless.
On July 25, the Supreme Court upheld an appeal by representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ filed against the Kyiv City Council for the council’s refusal to reinstate a lease on land to build a house of worship. The city government subsequently respected the Supreme Court’s decision, reinstating full rights to the land. According to Church representatives, the Church planned to build a church on the land.
Small religious groups stated local governments continued to discriminate with regard to allocating land for religious buildings in Chernivtsi, Mykolayiv, Odesa, and Ternopil Oblasts, and the city of Kyiv. Roman Catholics, UGCC members, Jews, and Muslims continued to report cases of discrimination. UGCC representatives said local authorities in Bila Tserkva, Sumy, and Odesa were still unwilling to allocate land for UGCC churches. UOC-MP representatives said local authorities in the Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk Oblasts continued to refuse to allocate land for UOC-MP churches.
Roman Catholic Church leaders stated they continued to ask authorities to return former Church properties in the western part of the country and elsewhere. Roman Catholics stated the government continued to refuse to support the restitution of Odesa’s Roman Catholic seminary building, which the Soviet regime had confiscated.
The independent National Minority Rights Monitoring Group (NMRMG) reported no cases of suspected anti-Semitic violence from January through December, with the last recorded anti-Semitic violence against individuals occurring in 2016. During the year, the NMRMG recorded 14 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism, compared with 12 incidents during the same period in 2018. NMRMG said the decline in violence and anti-Semitic vandalism was due to improved police work and prosecution of those committing anti-Semitic acts.
Graffiti swastikas continued to appear in Kyiv, Lviv, Poltava, and other cities. According to press reports, on September 15, individuals vandalized a memorial to more than 55,000 Jews murdered in Bohdanivka in Mykolaiv Oblast. Jewish organizations expressed concern about the continued presence of Krakivskyy Market and new construction atop a historic Jewish cemetery in Lviv. There were several anti-Semitic incidents targeting the Babyn Yar memorial reported during the year.
Some Jewish leaders continued to state their concerns about what they considered impunity for acts of anti-Semitism and the government’s long delays in completing investigations of these crimes.
On September 25, the Supreme Court revoked a 2018 ruling by the Volyn Oblast Appellate Court against a petition by the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ) to remove a private industrial facility from the grounds of a Jewish cemetery near Toykut Village, Volyn Oblast. The Supreme Court ordered the Kovel City and District Court in Volyn Oblast to reexamine the case.
According to the UCSJ, on August 7, the Lviv Appellate Administrative Court rejected an appeal by the Chortkiv City Council against the court’s decision requiring the council to approve the location and boundaries of the city’s ancient Jewish cemetery. The Soviet government had previously paved a backyard of a local residential building with tombstones from the cemetery. The Chortkiv City news website reported residents continued to urge the municipal government to facilitate the return of the tombstones to the cemetery.
In November a court called for the reinstatement of Vasyl Marushchynets, who had been the country’s consul in Hamburg, Germany. He had posted comments on social media blaming Jews for World War II and posted photographs with a cake baked to resemble Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf. Then foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin and other senior government officials condemned the comments; however, the Kyiv court ruled the firing was illegal and ordered Maruschchynets reinstated, along with back pay. On December 17, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs filed a cassation appeal against the ruling. The ministry also published a statement describing Marushchynets’ actions and public statements “incompatible with the high rank of a civil servant and Ukrainian diplomat.”
Kyiv’s Muslim community said the local government, which allocates land for cemeteries, had still not acted on the community’s request for additional free land in Kyiv for Islamic burials, which was their legal right. Muslim community leaders said they were running out of land for burials of their members.
All major religious organizations continued to appeal to the government to establish a transparent legal process to address property restitution claims. Most organizations said they experienced continued problems and delays in the restitution process to reclaim property seized by the Communist regime. They said the consideration of claims often took longer than the month prescribed by law. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups stated a number of factors continued to complicate the restitution process, including intercommunity competition for particular properties, current use of some properties by state institutions, the designation of some properties as historic landmarks, local governments disputing jurisdictional boundaries, and previous transfers of some properties to private ownership. Religious groups continued to report local officials taking sides in property restitution disputes, such as the case of the Lviv city government continuing to deny Roman Catholic Church requests for restitution of several properties turned over to the UGCC, as well as the Odesa local government’s inaction in response to RCC requests for property restitution of church buildings held by the Odesa City Council.
Muslim community leaders expressed concern over the continued lack of resolution of restitution claims involving historic mosques in Mykolayiv.
The government continued to take no action in response to previous requests from religious communities to impose a moratorium on the privatization of religious buildings confiscated by the Soviet government, according to civil society activists and religious organizations.
The Jewish community expressed concern over the continued failure of national and local government authorities to protect historic religious properties, particularly historic synagogues in Lviv, Brody, Sokal, Stryy, Zhokva, Berezhany, Husyatyn, Pidhaytsi, and Dubno. Jewish heritage activists and local residents protested the construction of an office building at the site of a synagogue destroyed at Syanska Street in Lviv during the Nazi occupation. In November, the Lviv city government told the developer to halt construction and announced its intention to purchase the plot of land.
Jewish community leaders also reported illegal construction over the old Jewish cemetery in Uman, where businessmen purchased old houses bordering the cemetery to demolish them and build hotels for Jewish pilgrims. Developers reportedly made deals with local government officials to obtain building permits. Local officials stated it was impossible to ban digging on privately-owned land and that Uman has been a densely populated residential area since Soviet times.
Jewish community leaders said they continued to experience difficulties with the Ternopil municipal and district governments with regard to property restitution. The Ternopil District Council continued to reject requests from the local Jewish community to return a prayer house confiscated during the Soviet regime.
Some Jewish community representatives continued to criticize decisions by some parliamentarians and government authorities to commemorate and honor 20th century Ukrainian figures and organizations who are also associated with anti-Semitism and the killings of thousands of Jews during World War ll.
On December 9, the Kyiv Sixth Appellate Court upheld an appeal by the Kyiv City Council, Svoboda Party, and the state-run Institute of National Memory of a June order of the Kyiv District Administrative Court to reverse the renaming of two city streets in honor of Stefan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych, a commander of the Nazi-controlled Nachtigall Battalion.
On September 2, Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka dismissed Deputy Prosecutor General Anatoliy Matios, who in 2018 suggested, “Jews seek to drown Ukraine in blood.” It was unclear whether Matios’ anti-Semitic statements were reason for his dismissal; the new government did not state why he was dismissed.
On May 14, Ukrainian Jewish Committee Director Eduard Dolinskyy filed a formal complaint to authorities regarding anti-Semitic remarks Skole mayor and Right Sector member Volodymyr Moskal reportedly made in 2017 that “the government of Moskovites and Yids” is running Ukraine and Jews seek to dominate the world, treat all other nations as “subhumans” and destroy them. The local procuracy and police opened an investigation. There was no progress reported in the investigation by year’s end.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
A Pew Research Center Global Attitudes and Trends Survey on minority groups in Europe, released in October, found 83 percent of Ukrainians held favorable views of Jews and 11 percent unfavorable, with favorability increasing by 15 percent from the previous survey conducted in 2009. According to an October Razumkov Center poll, 17.4 percent of respondents expressed their positive attitude toward Judaism, compared with 13 percent in 2018 and 14.8 percent in 2016. In the poll, 47.6 percent said they were indifferent toward Judaism, 22.3 percent undecided, and 2 percent said they had never heard of that religion. Almost 11 percent voiced negative attitudes, compared with 13.5 percent in 2018 and 12.6 percent in 2016.
In November the Anti-Defamation League released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s residents. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they believed such statements were “probably true” or “probably false.” The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was: 47 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Ukraine; 72 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 44 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.
On August 25, the Kyiv Pechersk District Court extended the detention of two suspects who police said had injured a Jewish boy in Uman in 2017 in a “terrorist act orchestrated by Russia’s intelligence service” to incite interethnic and religious confrontation. Police stated that in previous years the same individuals had painted anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls of synagogues in Lviv and Odesa and had desecrated a synagogue in Uman near the grave of Rabbi Nachman, founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.
In October a graffiti image of Hitler was found near the grave of Rabbi Nachman. On October 11, local police reported the detention of a suspect in the crime.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reported there were five violent incidents against their members during the year, compared with three in 2018 and 18 in 2017. Examples included an assault on a Jehovah’s Witness in July, who was struck twice in the face and stabbed while offering religious literature in a public area; an assault in June in which the male of a Jehovah’s Witness couple distributing religious literature was struck in the face; and four attacks on eight Jehovah’s Witnesses preaching publicly. Investigations were opened, but the assailants were not been prosecuted by year’s end.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reported three cases of physical assaults during the year, compared with 18 in 2017. They said one individual had physically and verbally assaulted them on at least 15 previous occasions. On May 27, the same individual beat and threw stones at Jehovah’s Witnesses in Korchivtsi Village, Chernivtsi Oblast, injuring one of them and damaging the victims’ car. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, police ignored their complaints and “mildly reprimanded” the attacker. On June 13, police began to investigate the May 27 assault as a hate crime after the Jehovah’s Witnesses took the case to court. The investigation continued at year’s end.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that on June 7, an individual attacked several Jehovah’s Witnesses with a wooden stick in Zhytomyr. He reportedly threw their missionary materials to the ground and punched one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses several times. During the 20-minute assault, the attacker demanded that the Jehovah’s Witnesses make the sign of the cross. Police categorized the assault as personal animosity between the attacker and his victims and forwarded the case to court.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on May 14, an unidentified man in Mykolayiv demanded that a Jehovah’s Witness stop his public ministry and broke a beer bottle on the victim’s head. The attacker fled before police arrived at the scene.
On October 28, the Korolyov District Court in Zhytomyr handed down prison sentences ranging from seven to 11 years to four individuals who attacked Chabad Rabbi Mendel Deitsch at the city’s train station in 2016. Deitsch subsequently died from his injuries.
On September 16, the private Israeli media outlet Mako posted a video appearing to show an allegedly Jewish man setting fire to a large outdoor crucifix located in Uman, Cherkasy Oblast, as Hasidic pilgrims came to a local river to perform a religious ritual. Media reported that the alleged arson provoked a subsequent altercation between some local residents and pilgrims; there we no reports of injuries. Uman Jewish community leaders condemned the attack. Law enforcement authorities opened an investigation that continued through year’s end.
According to the news website 18000, in March the Uman City and District Court handed down a two-year suspended sentence, with no prison time served, to two Jewish pilgrims who on January 19 damaged a crucifix in the city. According to the NMRMG, on January 20 approximately two dozen individuals participated in an anti-Semitic gathering organized by the National Corps party and self-identified right-wing organization, National Militia. Local National Militia leader Yevhen Ustynovych described the January 19 vandalism as evidence the city was facing a “very difficult situation with Yids,” adding that their presence in Uman was like a “gangrene” in need of amputation. Later that night a group of six persons threw a Molotov cocktail into a street in the vicinity of Rabbi Nachman’s burial site, a pilgrimage center, reportedly causing no damage.
OCU Honorary Patriarch Filaret, asked the head of the UGCC, Major Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk, to cancel his plan for a national pilgrimage to an April 7 liturgy at St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv. Filaret stated it would cause “opposition from Orthodox Ukrainians” and he wanted to avoid “tension” in the relationship with the UGCC. On March 7, following a meeting with OCU Primate, Metropolitan Epiphaniy, the UGCC leader, said that the UGCC was canceling the April 7 liturgy at the cathedral because it had to undergo restoration. According to the UGCC, the two leaders reaffirmed their Churches’ “firm desire to promote mutual understanding and cooperation.”
According to Right Sector, it and the National Militia “maintained law and order” at a gathering in the village of Guli, in Vinnytsy Oblast, purportedly at the request of local residents, at which local residents voted to transfer their UOC-MP parish to the OCU. The Right Sector and National Militia insisted that no UOC-MP-affiliated “outsiders” participated in the voting. In a January 6 interview with Channel Five, a private television station affiliated with former President Poroshenko, OCU Metropolitan Epiphaniy called on OCU members to refrain from violence and to treat UOC-MP believers with “love and respect.” He said the OCU would accept into its jurisdiction only UOC-MP congregations that changed affiliation voluntarily.
The Jewish community continued to express concern about the continuing operation of the Krakivskyiy Market on the grounds of an ancient Jewish cemetery in Lviv. The UCSJ urged the government to halt permanently the construction of a multistory building on the cemetery grounds that was initially ordered suspended in 2017. The UCSJ and civic activists continued to express concern over the possible continuation of construction of a high-rise building at the site of the World War II Jewish ghetto in Lviv. In 2016, a court suspended the project after human remains were reportedly found and removed from the soil at the construction site. As of year’s end, the remains had not been returned to the site.
On November 25 unidentified individuals painted swastikas on a monument to Jewish writer Sholom Aleichem in central Kyiv. Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko published a tweet condemning the vandalism and calling for a prompt investigation. The AUCCRO issued a statement describing the incident as an “attempt to undermine interethnic and interreligious peace.”
According to the NMRMG, on May 21, unidentified individuals painted anti-Semitic graffiti on a Holocaust memorial in Poltava, in the central part of the country. Members of the Jewish community condemned the actions and called for the government to find and hold the perpetrators accountable for defacing the memorial.
On July 21, police detained a person suspected of smashing a synagogue door pane in Kryvi Rih, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. Police reported that the attacker was mentally ill and subsequently released.
On October 4, the National Police and SBU reported the detention of a suspect accused of painting swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs on a Holocaust memorial in Holovanivsk, Kirovohrad Oblast, on September 15. The suspect was charged with incitement of ethnic and religious hatred and desecration of a burial site. The legal proceedings continued through year’s end.
In February the UOC-MP reported vandals cut the electricity, disabling an alarm and security camera, and threw a bottle bomb into St. Elijah the Martyr Church in the village of Zelenyi Yar, Mykolayiv Oblast, smashing its windows in the process. The church sustained damage, but no one was injured.
According to the UOC-MP, on October 30, unidentified persons vandalized the sanctuary of the St. Alexander Nevsky Church in Nevske Village, Luhansk Oblast. Law enforcement agencies opened an investigation, which continued through year’s end.
UOC-MP sources said that on September 16, the two individuals who in 2018 attempted to set fire to the UOC-MP Saints Volodymyr and Olga Church in Kyiv sent a letter of apology to its congregation. The congregation accepted the apology, reported UOC-MP members.
According to the Pershyj.com news website, in February unidentified vandals destroyed a cross at a cemetery of an OCU monastery in Zhydychyn, in Volyn Oblast. It was the third such incident at the site, starting in 2018.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported five cases of vandalism and arson attacks on Kingdom Halls during the year, compared with 25 cases in 2018 and 30 in 2017. The incidents included unidentified assailants’ breaking a window in a Kingdom Hall in February in Zaporizhya, painting graffiti in June on a Kingdom Hall in Kyiv, and painting obscene words and images in October on a Hall in Lozova. In four of the cases, police did not initiate criminal proceedings. In the Lozova incident, the investigative judge obliged police to begin an investigation.
The NMRMG reported 14 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism during the year, compared with 12 in 2018 and 24 in 2017. On November 28, Josef Zissels, a Jewish community leader and co-president of VAAD, indicated in a press conference the need to properly investigate and punish xenophobic crimes and open cases under hate crime laws.
On July 1, the Lviv Appellate Administrative Court upheld an appeal by the local Jewish community against a 2018 city council decision declaring the old Jewish cemetery in Kolomyia, Ivano Frankivsk Oblast, a memorial park. In 2017, self-described nationalist activists placed a cross on top of an alleged unmarked grave of Ukrainians killed by Stalin’s regime in the Jewish cemetery. According to the representatives of the Jewish community, the new legal status of the area would make it impossible to seek relocation of the cross. According to video footage of the hearing, when the presiding judge read the ruling, nationalist activists in the courtroom shouted that he was siding with “Yids.”
According to the Jewish community and police reports, unidentified individuals vandalized Holocaust memorials and Jewish religious monuments in various locations, including in the Kyiv, Lviv, and Mykolayiv Oblasts. Police investigations of these acts continued at year’s end. According to police, there was no progress on some of these or similar cases from 2018.
On February 19, the SBU announced the detention of Yevhen Morenets, known as “White Balaclava,” an organizer of a November 2018 anti-Semitic gathering in Kyiv. He was reportedly linked to Mykola Dulsky, leader of the radical pro-Russian group Nazhdak. According to the SBU, Dulsky remained in hiding in Russia.
AUCRA, comprising a number of mainly smaller religious groups and churches, met on April 11 to initiate a national celebration of the Day of the Freedom of Conscience and Worship to emphasize the importance of religious freedom and honor those who suffered for their religious beliefs at the hands of the Soviet regime.
The SBU reported that several individuals accused of painting anti-Semitic graffiti on a Jewish community center in Sumy in December 2017 remained under investigation. Russian intelligence agencies reportedly ordered the group to commit anti-Semitic vandalism.
In March the ECHR opened legal proceedings in response to a complaint filed by the UOC-MP in Ptycha, Rivne Oblast, regarding the community’s inability to use its church, which, according to the UOC-MP, was “seized” by OCU followers supported by local authorities. The OCU denied the claim and said that most congregation members supported the change of affiliation.
On May 5-7, the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine sponsored the first-ever Kyiv Jewish Forum to highlight the global fight against anti-Semitism on the 20th anniversary of the organization.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Ambassador, embassy officials, and other U.S. government officials continued to meet with officials of the Office of the President, Ministries of Culture, Interior, Justice, and Foreign Affairs, members of parliament, political parties, and local officials to engage on issues of religious freedom. They continued to discuss the importance of fair and transparent treatment of religious groups during the establishment of the new OCU, preservation of religious heritage sites, support for religious minorities, and combating increasing manifestations of anti-Semitism. In meetings with government officials at both the national and local levels, the Ambassador called for unequivocal condemnation and swift prosecution of anti-Semitic acts. The Ambassador also urged government officials to increase their efforts to ensure the preservation of historic religious sites.
The Ambassador called for the government to protect the right of all religious groups to govern their religion according to their beliefs and practice their faiths freely. The Ambassador met with religious activists and former prisoners of war to discuss religious freedom abuses in the “DPR,” “LPR,” and occupied Crimea.
In May the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism participated in the Kyiv Jewish Forum and met with government leaders, including then foreign minister Klimkin, his Special Advisor for Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism Anna Vyshniakova, and Minister of Internal Affairs Avakov, to discuss the importance of a strong government response to combat anti-Semitism, including improving monitoring and law enforcement efforts as well as the importance of joining the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
The Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism also met with religious and Jewish community leaders to discuss and encourage efforts to combat anti-Semitism and promote religious freedom. He visited Babyn Yar and learned about Holocaust memorial and community efforts to build a Holocaust memorial and improve Holocaust education.
Embassy officials continued their meetings with internally displaced Muslims from Crimea to discuss their abuse by occupation authorities, including regular searches and detentions, a continuing inability to practice their religion freely or express dissent, a lack of restitution of their religious properties, and other continuing problems they faced with the Crimean occupation authorities.
Embassy officials met with religious leaders to discuss religious freedom abuses in the “DPR” and “LPR,” including banning of certain religious groups, registration requirements, and a lack of restitution of their religious properties.
The Ambassador and other embassy officials participated in Hanukkah, Christmas, other religious holiday events, and Holocaust commemorations, during which they emphasized the importance of religious dialogue and equality and encouraged efforts to combat anti-Semitism and preserve cultural heritage.
The Ambassador and other embassy officials continued to urge the peaceful resolution of property and jurisdiction disputes in meetings with leaders of prominent Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious groups in Kyiv and Lviv. In particular, the embassy continued to encourage religious groups involved in the dispute related to the location of parts of Lviv’s Krakivskiy Market on the former site of the city’s Old Jewish Cemetery to resolve the dispute through constructive dialogue. Embassy officials also discussed other issues affecting religious communities, such as registration procedures for religious groups, desecration of monuments, and the government’s procedures for religious property restitution.
The embassy issued public statements condemning religiously motivated acts of violence and calling for tolerance and restraint to ensure a peaceful transition period around autocephaly. On January 10, the Secretary of State issued a statement welcoming the announcement of autocephaly for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and underscoring U.S. support for religious freedom. On March 4, amplifying a statement by the Secretary of State, the embassy tweeted, “We remain deeply concerned about Archbishop Klyment’s detention in Crimea yesterday. Despite his subsequent release, this kind of harassment is unacceptable. We expect Russia to respect freedom of religion and stop detaining innocent Ukrainians in Crimea.” On March 6, the embassy announced on social media “Under Secretary Hale also visited St. Sophia Cathedral. The U.S. government supports all Ukrainians’ ability to worship as they choose. Tolerance and restraint are key principles for people with different religious affiliations to be able to live together and prosper.” The embassy also used social media to reiterate U.S. government support for religious freedom, including the rights of religious minorities. During a March 14 meeting with Rabbi Mordechai Shlomo Bald, the Ambassador reiterated U.S. strong support for religious freedom, tolerance, and respect. On October 23, the Secretary of State met with OCU Metropolitan Epiphaniy and affirmed U.S. support for Ukrainians’ right to worship in accordance with their faith, free from external interference.