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.
Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors
During the year the conflict in eastern Ukraine continued, with parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts under the control of Russia-installed proxy authorities in the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR)” and “Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR).” According to Protestant and Jehovah’s Witness groups, during the year their members continued to flee these areas to escape oppressive conditions and seek religious freedom in government-controlled territory.
Sources reported Russian proxy authorities in the “DPR” and “LPR” continued to detain and imprison members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as other religious leaders. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the “LPR” and “DPR” continued to uphold a ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses as an “extremist” organization.
According to the SBU, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) coordinated arson attacks on UOC-MP church buildings using agents based in eastern Ukraine. The SBU said individuals paid and directed by the so-called “DPR Ministry of State Security” tried to burn UOC-MP churches in government-controlled areas, including in Zaporizhzhya City (January 6 and 11), Kryvyy Rih (February 15), and again in Zaporizhzhya City (at a chapel near the UOC-MP Church of St. John the Divine) on February 16. The organizers, reportedly based in the “DPR”, paid the arsonists for each attack and instructed them to paint Nazi graffiti on the walls of UOC-MP buildings.
During the year, the “LPR” rejected all registration applications from Protestant communities. “LPR” proxy authorities also denied the reregistration applications of Baptist, Pentecostal, and Seventh-day Adventists groups, citing negative results of the “evaluation.” These religious groups had applied to reregister and undergo “reevaluation” in accordance with an “LPR” law on freedom of conscience and religious associations, which required all but UOC-MP groups to register by October 15, 2018. Religious leaders said the denials represented a complete ban on their religious activities, since without reregistration, religious groups were not even able to hold services in believers’ homes. According to the “LPR” proxy authorities, to be eligible for registration a “local religious organization” must have at least 30 adult members, while a “centralized religious organization” must be composed of at least five such local organizations. These requirements effectively disqualified some smaller religious associations. The law also requires Christian Orthodox congregations to register as part of a “diocese recognized by the Orthodox Churches around the world within the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate,” thereby forcing several remaining OCU parishes to conduct any activities underground.
According to Forum 18, an international religious freedom NGO, “LPR” authorities threatened Baptist Union pastors to stop meeting for worship or risk punishment. “State Security” officers of the “LPR” threated Baptist pastor Volodymyr Rytikov with charges of extremism for continuing to lead worship services without “official” permission. “Prosecutors” also continued their investigation of OCU priest Anatoliy Nazarenko on extremism charges through year’s end.
According to Forum 18, towards the end of the year, local “LPR” authorities cut off water, electricity, and gas supplies to unregistered places of worship.
The “DPR’s” freedom of worship and religious associations’ law bans all religious organizations that did not meet a March 1 registration deadline and requires previously registered religious groups to reregister. The law gives the “DPR” “Ministry of Culture” powers to monitor the registration of religious associations in the region and to abolish such groups on various grounds. Any newly created religious association not seeking legal entity status must submit written notification to DPR authorities, detailing its function, location, administration, and the names and home addresses of its members. The “DPR” authorities have 10 days either to put the group on the register of religious groups or cancel its legal status. The “DPR” authorities have a month to examine the application documents of a religious association seeking legal status. In either case, the “DPR” authorities may conduct a “state religious expert evaluation” of the documents, which could take up to six months, or deny a registration request on several grounds, including lacking required information or having been previously banned. All religious organizations and religious groups must notify annually authorities of their continued viability. The law allows the UOC-MP to undergo a simplified “legalization” procedure without reregistration and “state religious expert evaluation.”
In a June 4 interview with Radio Donbas Realii, Protestant minister Serhiy Kosyak said the “LPR Ministry of State Security” used the 2018 reregistration requirements to identify Protestant congregation members and church addresses in order to put pressure on members. According to Kosyak, masked individuals wearing combat fatigues often disrupted religious services, saying their raids were needed to inspect registration documents. He said the “LPR” authorities subjected Protestants to systematic interrogations. As a result, many Protestant groups were forced to go underground. If identified, members of such congregations could face fabricated charges of “extremism.” Kosyak said that in March “LPR” representatives reportedly searched individuals attending a prayer gathering in an unidentified location hosted by 82-year-old Protestant pastor Anatoliy Lysenko and accused him of organizing an unsanctioned meeting. According to Kosyak, the “LPR” representatives planted and “found” a book entitled Hitler’s Cross, as well as several Jehovah’s Witnesses’ brochures banned in a Russian-controlled part of Luhansk. They warned Lysenko that in the future, they would treat similar religious services as criminal rather than administrative offenses.
According to religious organizations and civil society activists, “DPR” proxy authorities harassed Protestant congregations attempting to host public religious events even if such groups possessed a “DPR” registration. “DPR” proxy authorities charged that the United States could be funding such events, and they publicly labeled congregations “American agents.” Protestant leaders and religious experts attributed such activities by the Russian-led “DPR” and “LPR” to attempts to undermine a strong prewar presence of Protestants in the region.
According to the Novosti Donbassa news website, on January 17, “DPR” authorities opened a bureau of vital records in a building confiscated from the Baptist Church New Life in 2018. The news report said the “DPR” had seized the building, which housed a Christian family center run by Pastor Oleksandr Mosiychuk, after they discovered his congregation received charitable support from the United States and he refused to turn over the funds to the “DPR.” In a November 9 Facebook post, Kosyak said that over the past week “DPR” authorities had closed the Protestant church Word of Life in Makiyivka and another Protestant church in Khartsyzk.
According to media reports, on February 25, the OCU issued an appeal, warning the international community that the “DPR” proxy authorities might “expropriate” all its (OCU’s) property and deport OCU priests from the “DPR” based on the unlawful demand that the congregations “register according to the laws of the republic.” Most OCU (formerly UOC-Kyiv Patriarchate) priests had to flee the “DPR” and “LPR” areas. According to the OCU, those remaining were possibly performing pastoral duties underground.
OCU representatives reported that on April 4, “LPR” authorities searched the OCU’s Holy Trinity Cathedral and diocesan administration office in Luhansk and the homes of two OCU priests. The searches were reportedly a part of an “antiterrorist” operation. The priests were interrogated and prohibited from leaving the city pending an investigation. “LPR” representatives seized computers, items displaying religious and Ukrainian symbols, books, and official correspondence.
According to Muslim community and Ukrainian media reports, in late June the “DPR Ministry of State Security” raided Al-Amal Mosque in Donetsk, seizing prayer books and other religious materials. The proxy authorities interrogated the mosque’s imam and congregation members. Subsequently, the “DPR” proxy authorities closed the mosque based on what the Muslim community and some Ukrainian media reports called fabricated extremism charges. The mosque remained closed through year’s end.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the group had limited access to information on the situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the “DPR” and “LPR” during the year. Jehovah’s Witnesses said that since 2014, “LPR” and “DPR” proxy authorities had seized 14 Kingdom Halls in Russian-controlled parts of Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts. The Jehovah’s Witnesses did not know if any of these 14 Kingdom Halls or any additional halls were confiscated during the year.