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 Crimea a part of Ukraine.
The constitution protects freedom of religion and provides for “the separation of church and religious organizations from the 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. In November and December, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued judgments concerning the ineffective investigation of hate crimes committed against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ukraine between 2009 and 2013. Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report attacks on their followers that went unpunished and detentions of members reportedly for draft evasion. In April, the Ombudsperson’s Office reportedly informed oblast state administrations that the right to alternative service was “of absolute nature” and could not be rejected solely because a conscientious objector had missed the application deadline. According to the International Center for Law and Religious Studies, the government at times continued to try to balance tensions between the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) – granted autocephaly by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 2019 – and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), which competed for members and congregations. According to the Orthodox Times and other media, Russia continued to use a disinformation campaign to fuel further conflict between the two churches. Whereas in the past the government of then-President Petro Poroshenko promoted the OCU by encouraging local governments to facilitate parish reregistration from the UOC-MP to the OCU, Serhiy Trofimov, first deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, reportedly discouraged local governments from such reregistration. According to the UOC-MP, on August 6, several dozen people damaged a fence surrounding the house of a local Zolochiv UOC-MP priest; many observers characterized them as representatives of National Corps, a far-right and sometimes violent political organization. The attackers sprayed the fence with graffiti criticizing the parish’s affiliation with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) that read, “ROC out!” and “Blood is on your hands.” In August, the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy ordered a local developer to halt construction of a private clinic in a protected heritage area on the grounds of an historical Jewish cemetery in Lviv, but local authorities did not halt construction, stating it was not taking place on the Jewish cemetery. According to observers, government investigations and prosecution of vandalism against religious sites were generally inconclusive, although the government condemned attacks, including physical attacks, on Jewish pilgrims in Uman and arson and other attacks on synagogues, and police arrested perpetrators.
Media sources, religious freedom activists, the OCU, Muslims, Protestant churches, and Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that Russia-backed authorities in the Russia-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (regions) continued to exert pressure on minority religious groups. In the “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”), “authorities” continued their ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses as an “extremist” organization, while the “Supreme Court” in the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) upheld a similar ban. Russia-backed “authorities” in the “DPR” and “LPR” 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 law preventing or discouraging reregistration of many religious communities. Many religious groups continued to refuse to reregister because they did not recognize the Russia-installed authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk. All but one mosque remained closed in Russia-controlled Donetsk. Russia-led forces continued to use religious buildings of minority religious groups as military facilities. The situation in Russia-occupied Crimea is reported in an appendix following the report on the rest of Ukraine.
The ROC and the UOC-MP continued to label the OCU a “schismatic” group and continued to urge other Orthodox churches not to recognize the OCU. UOC-MP and OCU representatives continued to contest some parish registrations as not reflecting the true will of their congregations. 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. The independent National Minorities Rights Monitoring Group (NMRMG) reported four documented violent acts of anti-Semitism during the year, compared with none since 2016. There were again reports of vandalism of Christian monuments; Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries; and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Halls. The All-Ukrainian 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.
U.S. embassy officials, including the Charge d’Affaires, engaged with officials of the Office of the President, ministry officials, and members of parliament to discuss the importance of fair and transparent treatment of religious groups following the establishment of the OCU, preservation of religious heritage sites, support for religious minorities, and combating increasing manifestations of anti-Semitism. Embassy officials continued to urge government and religious leaders to practice tolerance, restraint, and mutual understanding to ensure respect for all individuals’ religious freedom and preferences. Embassy officials also continued to urge religious groups to resolve property disputes peacefully and through dialogue with government officials, in particular the dispute regarding ongoing construction of parts of the Krakivskyy Market on the site of the Lviv Old Jewish Cemetery. Embassy officials continued to meet with internally displaced Muslims and other religious minorities from Crimea to discuss their continuing inability to practice their religion freely in Russia-occupied Crimea. In August, embassy officials met with Metropolitan Klyment and discussed the pressures on his Church in Crimea.
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 44 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the annual October national survey conducted by the Razumkov Center, an independent public policy think tank, 62.3 percent of respondents identify as Christian Orthodox, compared with 64.9 percent in 2019; 9.6 percent Greek Catholic (Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, UGCC), compared with 9.5 percent in 2019; 1.5 percent Protestant, compared with 1.8 in 2019; 1.2 percent Roman Catholic, compared with 1.6 percent in 2019; 0.1 Jewish, compared with 0.1 percent in 2019; and 0.5 percent Muslim, compared with under 0.1 percent in 2019. The survey found another 8.9 percent identify as “simply a Christian,” while 15.2 percent state they do not belong to any religious group, compared with 8 percent and 12.8 percent, respectively, in 2019. Small numbers of Buddhists, Hindus, followers of other religions, and individuals choosing not to disclose their beliefs constitute the remainder of the respondents. According to the same survey, groups included in the 62.3 percent who identify as Christian Orthodox are as follows: 18.6 percent as members of the new OCU, compared with 13.2 percent in 2019; 13.6 percent the UOC-MP, compared with 10.6 percent in 2019; 2.3 percent Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP), compared with 7.7 percent in 2019; 27 percent “just an Orthodox believer,” compared with 30.3 percent in 2019; and 0.7 percent undecided, compared with 3.1 percent in 2019. According to the same poll, most of the self-identified OCU followers are in the western, central, and southern parts of the country. Most UOC-MP followers are in the eastern, central, and western parts of the country. Followers of the UGCC reside primarily in the western oblasts. Most Roman Catholic Church (RCC) followers are in the western and central oblasts.
According to government statistics, followers of the UGCC reside primarily in the western oblasts of Lviv, Ternopil, and Ivano-Frankivsk. Most 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 2019, most OCU congregations (formed by the merger of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and part of the UOC-MP) 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, prior to 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 purported annexation. According to the London-based Institute for Jewish Studies, the country’s Jewish population declined by 94.6 percent from 1970 to 2020.
There are also small numbers of Buddhists, practitioners of Falun Gong, Baha’is, and adherents of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness.
The NMRMG reported an increase in anti-Semitic violence, with four such suspected cases reported during the year. Prior to these incidents, the last recorded anti-Semitic violence against individuals occurred in 2016. During the year, the NMRMG recorded eight cases of anti-Semitic vandalism, including the attempted arson of a synagogue in Kherson and the toppling of a menorah in Kyiv, compared with 14 incidents in 2019. According to the NMRMG, COVID-19 related measures encouraging citizens to stay home likely contributed to both the decrease in anti-Semitic vandalism and the increase in violent attacks. Two of the four violent attacks occurred in Uman, where tensions erupted between Uman residents and Hasidic Jews who were making a pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov during a nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.
The UJCU reported 49 cases of anti-Semitism during the year, compared with 56 cases in 2019. The difference in the count of anti-Semitic acts between the NMRMG and the UJCU was due to variations in methodologies: NMRMG said it counted vandalism only on Jewish property, such as synagogues, cemeteries, or memorials, while the UJCU included a wider range of incidents, such as a Jewish student’s dormitory being vandalized with swastikas as well as verbal disputes involving anti-Jewish epithets.
According to media reports, on February 25, an inebriated individual broke into a synagogue in Vinnytsia and assaulted a congregant after shouting about “beating up the [epithet].” According to a Facebook post by Eduard Dolinsky, the director of Ukraine’s Jewish Committee, police said the man, a resident of the nearby town of Yampil, “attacked Igor Braverman, a well-known journalist and a member of the community, tried to strangle him, twisting his hands. . .spat upon the portrait of the Hafetz Haim, and crushed it.” (The Hafetz Haim was an influential rabbi who died in 1933.) According to Dolinsky, police detained the alleged attacker but did not take him into custody. An ambulance took Braverman to a hospital; he did not suffer serious injuries, according to Dolinsky. The watchdog group Monitoring Antisemitism Worldwide said the Ministry of Internal Affairs was handling the case as a hate crime. According to the local rabbi, upon his release, the man apologized to Jewish community leaders.
In January, media reported conflicting accounts of a physical altercation between Hasidic Jews and residents of Uman, in Cherkasy Oblast. According to some media reports, four Hasidim were hospitalized after a mob beat them in a “pogrom-style attack.” However, the Rabbi Nachman International Charitable Foundation, which owns the Tomb of Rabbi Nachman in Uman, stated that the conflict was exclusively domestic in nature and did not relate to interethnic hatred issues, anti-Semitism, or biased attitudes of Uman residents towards Hasidic pilgrims. According to the national police, no one sought medical help or submitted official statements to them. On January 11, city officials hosted a meeting between “local activists” and representatives of Hasidic pilgrims. On January 12, the mayor of Uman, police, and SBU officials also had a meeting with Jewish representatives and agreed that police guards would help protect the pilgrimage site, that the local government and Jewish community would work together to install more security cameras around the entire pilgrimage area, and that all sides would maintain regular contact to prevent future such incidents. The city government said that the incident had “no ethnic or religious basis whatsoever.” Then-Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Dmytro Kuleba instructed his social media followers to “always treat the ‘shocking’ emotional headlines with triple caution.”
There were two violent anti-Semitic attacks in Uman, in Cherkasy Oblast, during the Hasidic pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman. The annual pilgrimage to Uman attracted approximately 3,000 Hasidic Jews, compared with more than 30,000 in 2019. According to Michael Tkatch, the head of the UJCU, on August 31, an individual approached an Orthodox Jewish man in a supermarket in Uman, hit him in the face and caused him to bleed, and then fled the scene with a friend. Police identified the offenders and opened a criminal case. According to media, on October 18, two teenage Hasidic Israeli citizens were attacked behind the grave of Rabbi Nachman. One, a 15-year-old, was stabbed, and the other victim managed to run away. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba condemned the attack on the teenagers. The attacker, a man in his early twenties, was identified and charged with hooliganism, punishable by three to seven years’ imprisonment. On November 12, the Cherkasy Oblast Prosecutor’s Office announced that the Uman City and District Court had convicted the attacker of hooliganism and ordered him to pay a fine of 17,000 hryvnas ($600), but he was not sentenced to prison
According to media, on July 28, a man armed with an axe tried to enter a synagogue in Mariupol. A security guard sustained a broken arm while successfully fending off the attacker. Law enforcement authorities identified the attacker and a Mariupol court sanctioned his arrest, but he fled to Russia. In August, Russian authorities detained him and put him in a pretrial detention center in Rostov-on-Don. On the Mariupol Jewish Community Facebook page, Mariupol Chief Rabbi Menachem Mendel Cohen expressed his gratitude to law enforcement agencies for their “hard work” in apprehending the perpetrator.
On May 10, the SBU and police reported the detention of two suspects who, on April 20, threw a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue in Kherson, causing minor damage to the building. According to the SBU, the perpetrators, who supported Nazi ideology, carried out the attack to mark Hitler’s birthday. During a visit to the synagogue on June 27, President Zelenskyy and the Chief Rabbi of Kherson, Yossef Itshak Wolff, personally thanked chiefs of regional police and SBU departments for detaining the two suspects. The President said the government would protect all citizens regardless of their nationality or religion. Police took the suspects into custody and charged them with arson. Their expected court date was February 2021.
According to the UJCU, on October 14, two unidentified individuals raised a large banner in front of President Zelenskyy’s office reading “Jewish President Zelenskyy” and condemning the country’s “occupation and robbery” by “the Dnipro Jewish clan of Vova Zelenskyy.” Michael Tkach, UJCU executive director, said the banner was an act of incitement and called on authorities to punish those responsible for it. Police opened an investigation, which continued through year’s end.
According to the Jewish Telegraph Agency, on December 10, a man filmed himself toppling a Hanukkah menorah in Kyiv while shouting “To Ukrainians the power, Jews to the graves.” Local media identified him as Andrey Rachkov, who posted a video of his actions on Facebook with the caption, “How to treat foreigners who are engaged in usurpation of power, occupation of territories, genocide.” A police investigation was ongoing at year’s end.
According to media, in January, a monument to the victims of the Holocaust was found defaced in Kryvyi Rih, located in the central part of the country. The suspect pled guilty to dishonoring the memorial and was sentenced to three years in prison and one year of probation.
Media reported in January the posting by a department head and economics professor at Lviv Polytechnic University of photographs of President Zelenskyy and former Prime Minister, Volodymyr Groysman, who are both Jewish, in Israel. The professor stated they were serving Israel rather than Ukraine, saying, “Their dominance in Ukraine is a problem created mainly by Ukrainians themselves.” Dolinsky, of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, posted on Facebook that the text was “like a page out of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’” referencing an anti-Semitic diatribe purportedly produced by the Russian secret police in the early 20th century.
In March, law enforcement agencies brought a case to court alleging an individual had painted swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs on a Holocaust memorial in Holovanivsk, Kirovohrad Oblast, in September 2019. The suspect was charged with incitement of ethnic and religious hatred and desecration of a burial site.
In February, the Pew Research Center published findings on attitudes towards democratic principles, such as regular elections, free speech, and free civil society, as well as religious freedom, in 34 countries, based on interviews it conducted in its Spring 2019 Global Attitudes Survey. According to the findings, 59 percent of Ukrainian respondents considered religious freedom to be “very important,” ranking it among the highest of their priorities for democratic principles among the nine tested.
The ROC, including the UOC-MP, continued to describe the OCU as a “schismatic” group, despite its recognition by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Church of Greece, the Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa, and the Church of Cyprus. The ROC continued to urge other Orthodox churches not to recognize the OCU. UOC-MP and OCU representatives continued to contest some parish registrations as not reflecting the true will of its congregation.
On September 4, OCU Primate Metropolitan Epiphaniy stated that after the change of government, the UOC-MP, “often with support of certain officials,” began to actively oppose the process of congregations transitioning from the UOC-MP to the OCU. He stated that the UOC-MP had filed lawsuits to challenge “almost every” such transition. He said in most cases courts “acted fairly,” but former members of UOC-MP congregations seeking to join the OCU had “fears,” which some observers believed referred to the expected lawsuits. The Metropolitan called on the government to help protect congregations wishing to join the OCU. The UOC-MP rejected the charge of government support.
On December 15, the website Suspilne.media quoted OCU Metropolitan Epiphaniy as saying five UOC-MP congregations joined the OCU during the year. The Religious Information Service of Ukraine estimated that as of February, 541 (4.5 percent) of 12,122 UOC-MP congregations had joined the OCU since its creation in 2018. Most of those parishes were in the western and central oblasts. UOC-MP representatives, however, often contested parish reregistrations, stating some local government officials allowed individuals unaffiliated with the UOC-MP to vote in meetings to change the affiliation of local parishes to the OCU. UOC-MP representatives again said such officials also helped OCU supporters take possession of disputed UOC-MP church buildings before the change of affiliation was officially registered. OCU representatives accused the UOC-MP of contesting legitimate changes of parish affiliation, including through numerous lawsuits. They said these suits were 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, saying they rarely or never participated in religious services. These lawsuits remained unresolved through year’s end.
According to the UOC-MP, some local authorities continued to transfer 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. Social media posts by 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. In an interview on church reregistration, OCU Metropolitan Epiphaniy stated, “We want them to continue to be peaceful, calm, and voluntary. . .We do not need confrontation.”
According to the Chernivtsi regional police, on May 4, officers intervened to stop a violent church-ownership dispute between UOC-MP and OCU members in Zadubrivka Village. On the day the priest leading a local UOC-MP congregation died of COVID-19, OCU supporters armed with sticks and pepper spray tried to break the door lock and seize the church guarded by several UOC-MP parishioners, according to UOC-MP sources. The sources also stated that attackers beat several UOC-MP members and sprayed noxious gas at them. Two UOC-MP parishioners sustained injuries and received medical assistance at a local hospital. Before approaching the church, the OCU supporters, led by an OCU priest, cut off electricity to the neighborhood and felled a tree across a village street to hamper the arrival of police vehicles and UOC-MP supporters at the scene. Police opened an investigation but made no arrests or charges by year’s end. OCU parishioners stated that UOC-MP members had been using force to prevent them from entering the church, despite a 2019 local government decision to transfer ownership of the church to a local OCU parish. The majority of village residents had voted for the transfer, according to the OCU. On May 5, chairman of the Chernivtsi Oblast State Administration Serhiy Osachuk issued a statement calling on the two sides to resolve their differences peacefully and to comply with a future court verdict on their dispute. There was no verdict by year’s end.
The All Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO), as well as the All-Ukrainian Council of Religious Associations (AUCRA), continued to meet regularly to discuss issues affecting the country, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the religious situation in the temporarily occupied territories, and peacemaking. AUCCRO is an interfaith organization representing more than 90 percent of all religious groups in Ukraine, including the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Roman Catholic Church, All-Ukraine Baptist Union, Ukrainian Church of Evangelical Pentecostal Christians, Ukrainian Union Conference, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Ukrainian Christian Evangelical Church, Ukrainian Lutheran Church, Ukrainian Evangelical Church, Armenian Apostolic Church, Ukrainian Diocese, Union of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine, Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine, German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, Ukrainian Bible Society, and Trans-Carpathian Reformed Church. The council rotates its chairmanship.
On September 8-9, the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine sponsored the second annual Kyiv Jewish Forum to highlight the global fight against anti-Semitism. The conference featured speeches from prominent Jewish leaders from around the world, including President Zelenskyy; Benny Gantz, Alternate Prime Minister of Israel; the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism; Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of the United Kingdom; and Natan Sharansky, human rights activist. Panel discussions included the state of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, the legacy of Babyn Yar, and Jewish leadership in the fight against COVID-19.