Read A Section: Crimea


Executive Summary

In February 2014, armed forces of the Russian Federation seized and occupied Crimea.  In March 2014, Russia claimed that Crimea had become part of the Russian Federation.  The UN General Assembly’s Resolution 68/262 of March 27, 2014, entitled “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine,” and Resolution 75/192 of December 28, 2020, entitled “Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine),” 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.  Russian occupation “authorities” continue to impose the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory of Crimea.

On September 10, the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published its Follow-up of the Situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, stating that the “Russian occupation of Crimea has changed the perception of Ukraine’s historical and cultural heritage, both by the state and society.”  According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, many religious communities were essentially driven out of the peninsula through registration requirements under newly imposed Russian laws.  Only the UOC-MP continued to be exempt from these registration requirements.  According to the Religion Information Service of Ukraine (RISU), the number of denominations decreased from 43 in 2014 to 20 in 2021.  Various sources reported that Russian “authorities” in occupied Crimea continued to persecute and intimidate minority religious congregations, including Muslim Crimean Tatars, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and OCU members and clergy.  At year’s end, two Jehovah’s Witnesses were serving prison sentences for their faith.  According to the NGO Crimea SOS, as of July, 74 (compared with 69 through October 2020) Crimean residents remained in prison in connection with their alleged involvement with the Muslim religious political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia but legal in Ukraine.  Russian occupation “authorities” continued to subject Muslim Crimean Tatars to imprisonment and detention in retaliation for their opposition to Russia’s occupation by prosecuting them for purported involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir.  According to the international religious freedom NGO Forum 18, Russia continued to prosecute individuals for some types of worship, including imams leading prayers in their own mosques, as “illegal missionary activity.”  UGCC leaders said they continued to have difficulty staffing their parishes because of the policies of occupation “authorities “and that they must register their congregations in Crimea as parishes of the Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite, removing all reference to Ukraine in their name.  Crimean Tatars reported police continued to be slow to investigate attacks on Islamic religious properties or refused to investigate them at all.  The OCU reported continued seizures of its churches.  According to the OCU, Russian occupation “authorities” continued to pressure the OCU Crimean diocese to force it to leave Crimea.  On August 23, a judge fined Archimandrite Damian, the head of the St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki Men’s Monastery, for holding a church service on the private land on which the monastery stands, stating such worship constituted “unlawful missionary activities.”  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 having links to Islamist groups designated by Russia as terrorist groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir.  Russian media portrayed Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists.”  In January, the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision accepting for consideration Ukraine’s complaint alleging that Russia was responsible for multiple human rights violations in Crimea between February 27, 2014, and August 26, 2015.  The court accepted Ukraine’s allegation of the harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids on places of worship, and confiscation of religious property.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, a radio survey in Crimea found 67 percent of those surveyed did not approve of Russia’s ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses said that non-Jehovah’s Witnesses who observed Jehovah’s Witnesses being treated like criminals and accused of terrorism for their faith had increased sympathy for the organization.

The U.S. government condemned the continued intimidation of Christian and Muslim religious groups by Russian occupation “authorities” in Crimea and called international attention to religious rights abuses committed by Russian forces through public statements by the Secretary of State and other senior officials.  In a September 5 press statement, the State Department spokesperson stated, “The United States strongly condemns the September 4 detention of the Deputy Chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Nariman Dzhelyal and at least 45 other Crimean Tatars by Russian occupation “authorities” in Crimea.  We call on the Russian occupation “authorities” to release them immediately.  This is the latest in a long line of politically-motivated raids, detentions, and punitive measures against the Mejlis and its leadership, which has been targeted for repression for its opposition to Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea.”  U.S. government officials remained unable to visit the peninsula following its occupation by the Russian Federation.  Embassy officials, however, as well as other State Department officials and the Secretary of Energy, participated in the August 23 Crimea Platform Summit, an international gathering of senior officials to discuss the annexing of Crimea, in which human rights was one of five key topics.  The Secretary of Energy, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, and a senior official from the Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Labor gave remarks at the summit, whose joint declaration condemned the “continued violations and abuses and systematic undue restrictions of human rights and fundamental freedoms that residents of Crimea face,” including the right to religion or belief.  Embassy officials continued to meet with Crimean Muslim, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders to discuss their concerns about actions taken against their congregations by the occupation “authorities” and to demonstrate continued U.S. support for their right to practice freely their religious beliefs.


Read A Section: Ukraine


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.  In 2014, Russia-led forces also occupied parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts (regions), which latter created the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” and “Donetsk People’s Republic.”  The United States does not recognize these so-called “republics.”

Executive Summary

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.  A new law, adopted by parliament in September, defines the concept of antisemitism and reaffirms that crimes motivated by antisemitism are punishable in accordance with the law.  Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report attacks on their followers that went unpunished and detentions of members, reportedly for draft evasion.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, amendments to a law on military duty and service passed in April provided no possibility of an exemption from military reserve service until the end of the “special period” (i.e., while hostilities with Russia-led forces continue in parts of Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts), even for conscientious objectors.  Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to call on the government to implement four 2020 European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decisions to ensure effective investigation of hate crimes committed against the group and its places of worship between 2009-13 and to prosecute the perpetrators of those religiously motivated attacks.  During the year, the government paid compensation awarded by the ECHR to some, but not all, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses whom the ECHR found to be victims of hate crimes.  In March, following an appeal by the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine concerning the State Migration Service and the police practice of profiling worshipers at one of Kyiv’s largest mosques during Friday prayers in 2020, the Ministry of Internal Affairs said it would adhere to recommendations by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance to reduce or eliminate criminal profiling.  Members of multiple religious groups welcomed a law on military chaplaincy, adopted by the parliament in November, that defined selection criteria for clergy to become chaplains.  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, but not recognized by the Patriarch of Moscow – 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, the Russian government continued to use a disinformation campaign to fuel further discord between the two churches.  Local authorities in Lviv continued to allow a local developer to construct a private medical clinic on the grounds of an historical Jewish cemetery despite an August 2020 stop-work order from the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy.  According to observers, government investigations and prosecutions of vandalism of religious sites continued to be generally inconclusive, although the government condemned attacks 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 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), most religious groups recognized under Ukrainian law continued to be unable to reregister because of stringent legal requirements under Russian law preventing or discouraging reregistration.  Many religious groups continued to refuse to reregister because they did not recognize the Russia-installed “authorities” in Donetsk and Luhansk.  In its oral update on Ukraine in October, the OHCHR also highlighted that the self-proclaimed “republics” continued to restrict freedom of religion, in particular of evangelical Christian denominations.  All but one mosque remained closed in Russia-controlled Donetsk.  Russia-led forces continued to use religious buildings of minority religious groups, including those of Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses, as military facilities.

The Russian Orthodox Church (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 continued to accuse the 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 three documented violent acts of antisemitism, compared with four in 2020.  During Hanukkah (November 28-December 6), individuals vandalized several public menorahs in different cities, prompting condemnations from Jewish leaders, some of whom stating that the widespread vandalism must have been orchestrated.  There were again reports of vandalism of Christian monuments; Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries; and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Halls.  Church ownership disputes between UOC-MP and OCU members in Zadubrivka village, Chernivtsi Oblast, and in some other villages and cities continued.  UOC-MP-affiliated media reported perpetrators attacked a man due to his church affiliation; OCU-affiliated media, however, citing the police report, stated the drunken teenage perpetrators were not religiously motivated.  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, members of parliament, and municipal governments to discuss the importance of fair and transparent treatment of religious groups, preservation of religious heritage sites, support for religious minorities, and combating manifestations of antisemitism.  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 encourage religious groups to resolve property disputes peacefully and through dialogue with government officials, in particular a 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 May, the U.S. Secretary of State met with OCU leadership to discuss pressure on the OCU in Crimea and occupied territories of eastern Ukraine.

International Religious Freedom Reports
Edit Your Custom Report

01 / Select a Year

02 / Select Sections

03 / Select Countries You can add more than one country or area.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future