2022 Report on International Religious Freedom: Russia-Occupied Territories of Ukraine
Russia occupies Crimea and parts of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, Mykolayiv, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts.
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),” affirmed continued international recognition of Crimea as part of Ukraine. The U.S. government recognizes that 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 Crimea. On February 24, Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and on October 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved “treaties” on the purported annexation of the entire Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts following referendums in those territories that were almost universally described as illegitimate. On March 3 and October 12, United Nations General Assembly resolutions condemned both Russia’s invasion and purported annexation of these Ukrainian territories, respectively. Russia’s occupation authorities have had de facto control of parts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts since 2014, exercising control through proxies. Following the invasion in February, Russia appointed local “authorities” in Kherson and Zaporizhzhya, as it did in Donetsk and Luhansk in 2014. The U.S. government recognizes Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts as part of Ukraine; it does not and will not recognize Russia’s purported annexation of these territories.
Since its invasion of Crimea and portions of Donbas in 2014, according to widespread reports, the Russian Federation and its proxies have committed widespread, ongoing, and egregious violations of the right to freedom of religion and conscience as well as physical and psychological abuse of religious minorities. Following Russia’s February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, there have been similar widespread reports that Russia’s forces have intensified these practices and carried them into other occupied areas. Media sources, international organizations, religious freedom activists, the OCU, Muslims, Protestant churches, and Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that Russia-backed “authorities” in the Russia-occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts continued to exert pressure on minority religious groups. Russia’s occupation authorities in control of Luhansk continued their ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses as an “extremist” organization, while the “Supreme Court” of Russia’s Donetsk occupation authorities upheld a similar ban. Russian-led occupation authorities in occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts continued to implement “laws” requiring all religious organizations except the UOC 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 applied in occupied areas that prevent or discourage reregistration.
In June, the governing body of the ROC subordinated all three Crimea-based UOC dioceses directly to the Moscow Patriarch and in September, the ROC took the same step regarding the UOC Rovenky Diocese, located in the occupied portion of Luhansk Oblast.
Although embassy officials had no access to Russia-occupied territories in eastern and southern Ukraine, the embassy continued its outreach to religious representatives from these areas and continued to publicly condemn Russia’s targeted abuses against non-ROC religious communities. The Ambassador and other embassy officials met with Crimean Tatars, both internally displaced persons and those who had come to the government-controlled part of Ukraine, including lawyers and family members of political prisoners.
Section I: Religious Demography
According to 2021 Razumkov Center data on eastern Ukraine, encompassing the areas currently occupied by Russia, 61 percent of inhabitants identified as Orthodox, 27 percent claimed no religion, and 6 percent were “simply Christian.” These areas also maintain significant Baptist, Pentecostal, Seventh-day Adventist, UGCC, Muslim, and Jehovah’s Witnesses communities. Among Orthodox adherents, 32 percent identified with the OCU, 26 percent with the UOC, and 40 percent were “simply Orthodox.” According to VAAD, prior to the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, approximately 30,000 Jews lived in the Donbas region (Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts).
The Crimean Peninsula consists of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. According to 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 that the number of Crimean Tatars, who are overwhelmingly Muslim, is 300,000, or 13 percent of the population.
According to information provided by the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture in 2014, the UOC remains the largest Christian denomination in Crimea. Smaller Christian denominations include the OCU, RCC, UGCC, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, along with Protestant groups, including Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Lutherans. Adherents of the UOC, 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 2014 Russian occupation. No updates have been available since the occupation began. The 2001 census, the most recent, records 671 Karaites living in the region.
Section II: Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the four other oblasts Russia purported to annex remain within Ukraine’s international borders and subject to the constitution and laws of Ukraine. In the aftermath of Russia’s occupation, however, Russian occupation authorities in Donetsk, Luhansk (the Donbas), Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya continue their implementation of the laws of the Russian Federation. The Muslim religious-political group Hizb ut-Tahrir is considered a terrorist organization under Russian Federation law but not under Ukrainian law. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russian occupation authorities continue to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Crimea under a 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. Most religious communities have had difficulties registering to be in compliance with occupation authorities’ law. Until their purported annexation by Russia in September, parts of Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts were under the control of Russia-installed “authorities” purporting to represent the “Luhansk People’s Republic” and the “Donetsk People’s Republic.” Both so-called “republics” placed restrictions on religious groups not approved by Russia, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Hizb ut-Tahir, both of which are banned in Russia. The Russian Supreme Court has banned the activities of several religious organizations on the grounds of “extremism” and “terrorism,” including a regional branch of Falun Gong, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Nurdzhular (a Russification of the Turkish for “followers of Said Nursi”), Tablighi Jamaat, and the Fayzrakhmani Islamic community. These organizations are on the Federal List of Extremist Organizations or the Federal List of Terrorist Organizations. These restrictions apply to Crimea and the four purportedly annexed oblasts of Ukraine.
The Russian Federation adopted legal acts purported to formally extend the application of Russian law to the territory of the four regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts on September 30. Despite the lack of validity under international law, they have had direct practical consequences for residents in the occupied regions. In particular, they provided that, as a matter of Russian law, all Ukrainian citizens and stateless persons permanently residing in these regions would be recognized as citizens of the Russian Federation, with the exception of those who failed to take an oath or formally rejected Russian citizenship within one month of the entry into force of Russia’s so-called “treaties” on annexation with the ostensibly independent, but Russian-controlled “governments,” in those areas. Residents who do not take Russian citizenship may be excluded from pensions, social security, and health insurance.
On October 19, the President of the Russian Federation signed decree No. 756, which imposed martial law in Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts. While the exact scope of martial law has yet to be determined, the decree provides for a wide range of measures that may be implemented “if required,” including curfews, property seizures, internment, and restrictions on freedom of movement, freedom of association and activities of political parties and other public associations.
According to occupation authorities, fines for individuals conducting illegal missionary activity range from 5,000 to 50,000 rubles ($70 to $700); the fine for legal entities is 100,000 to one million rubles ($1,400 to $14,000).
Since its invasion of Crimea and portions of Donbas in 2014, according to widespread reports, the Russian Federation and its proxies have committed widespread, ongoing, and egregious violations of the right to freedom of religion and conscience as well as physical and psychological abuse of religious minorities. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, there have been similar widespread reports that Russia’s forces have intensified these practices and carried them into other occupied areas. According to Forum 18, “Following Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russian and Russian-backed officials and soldiers have in newly occupied areas seized, tortured, and murdered religious leaders, searched and sealed places of worship to prevent their use for worship, confiscated equipment and literature, demanded documents, and in at least one case, forcibly expelled church members from their building.” According to the Institute for Religious Freedom, a local NGO, Russia’s occupation authorities sought “to control all religious activity, force local religious communities to justify Russian aggression, establish subordination with the Russian religious centers, and compel pro-Ukrainian religious actors to cooperate, using threats and torture.” In a September 27 Report on the Human Rights Situation in Ukraine, the OHCHR stated, “In territory occupied by the Russian Federation or controlled by Russian armed forces or affiliated armed groups, the overall environment for religious minorities remains highly restrictive. OHCHR is concerned that shrinking civic space hinders individuals from reporting human rights violations that they may have experienced or witnessed.”
In a report presented on June 29 by Kyiv-based NGO Institute for Religious Freedom (IRF), IRF Board Chairman Oleksandr Zayets stated, “If during the last few years, the Russian invaders only threatened to kill priests, now religious leaders are being killed and tortured – again, but on a scale far worse than in 2014. If previously, Russian occupation authorities expelled Ukrainian believers from their churches and prayer houses, now Russia is destroying the spiritual heritage of Ukraine with bombs and missile strikes without justification by military necessity.” IRF noted that the Russian occupation authorities sought “to control all religious activity, force local religious communities to justify Russian aggression, establish subordination with the Russian religious centers, and compel pro-Ukrainian religious actors to cooperate using threats and torture.” According to the report, “Russian media and religious leaders, like Patriarch Kirill, of Moscow and All Russia, are justifying the war against Ukraine with propaganda about the supposed protection of Orthodox believers of the Moscow Patriarchate and Russian speakers. Instead, Russian military aircraft and artillery destroy both houses of worship and believers, regardless of language, denomination, and ethnicity.”
In a report entitled “Russian Attacks on Religious Freedom in Ukraine,” IRF stated that occupation authorities were responsible for at least 20 cases of illegal imprisonment of Ukrainian religious figures of various faiths. The report stated that in some cases, these detentions included severe abuses, including physical mistreatment, mock executions, and inhumane conditions.
According to Forum 18, “Serious violations of freedom of religion and belief and other human rights take place within all the occupied Ukrainian territory. Within the Russian-occupied Ukrainian region of Crimea these include forced imposition of Russian laws and restrictions on exercising human rights, including freedom of religion or belief; jailing Muslim and Jehovah’s Witness Crimean prisoners of conscience; forcible closure of places of worship; and fining people for leading meetings for worship without Russian state permission. Within the Russian-occupied Ukrainian region of Luhansk these have up to the renewed 2022 invasion of Ukraine included: rendering illegal all Protestant and non-Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox communities; a climate of fear about discussing human rights violations; repeated denials of permission to a Roman Catholic priest to live in the region; and increasing numbers of banned allegedly ‘extremist’ books, including an edition of the Gospel of John published in 1820.”
According to a Yale University report published on November 18, Russians captured three religious leaders, including one Crimean Tatar religious leader and two UOC priests. The Russians released the two UOC priests after one week. The Crimean Tatar was accused of terrorism for allegedly belonging to the Noman Celebicihan Battalion, a former Crimean Tatar volunteer unit declared a terrorist organization by the Russian Supreme Court, and he remained in detention.
According to the Center for Journalistic Investigations, on November 22, Russia’s forces took Anatoliy Prokopchuk, a deacon with the local evangelical Christian church, and his son Oleksandr to an unknown location in the vicinity of Rayske village, Kherson Oblast. Relatives and friends questioned why Russia’s forces would want to talk to the Prokopchuks and posted a notice on social networks asking for any information on the health and whereabouts of the two family members. On November 27, family members informed the Center for Journalistic Investigations that both father and son were found shot and killed in a forest near Nova Kakhovka, on the left bank of the Dnipro River.
In an interview with the Ukrainian National News Agency (Ukrinform), OCU priest and military chaplain Serhiy Chudynovych stated that on March 30, Russian gunmen detained him at his church in Kherson. After searching the church and his house, they interrogated him at a local police office. They kept Chudynovych for some time in a cold and dark basement without access to the toilet and drinking water, threatening to “rip him to pieces” to extract a confession from him. The interrogators offered him vodka when he was thirsty. Later they tied his hands behind his back, blindfolded him, pulled a hat over his head, and repeatedly hit his injured kneecap with a hard object. When his heartbeat became irregular, they beat him close to the heart with a stick. When Chudynovych repeated his refusal to collaborate, the interrogators pulled down his trousers, forced him to his knees and pressed his head against a chair with a knee, threatened to rape him with a stick, and choked him until he said he would collaborate with Russia’s forces. He was then forced to stand partially undressed for some time before the interrogators untied his hands and let him put on his trousers. Throughout the interrogation they subjected him to verbal abuse, including derogatory comments about the Christian faith. They released Chudynovych after he signed a statement pledging to collaborate. Due to knee damage caused by the interrogators, he was unable to walk for two days after his release.
In the morning of March 26, according to a video interview by IRF, Russia’s forces detained Rustem Asanov, imam of the Crimean Tatar congregation in Shchaslyvtseve, Kherson Oblast, as he was driving through a military checkpoint. The Russians said he set the “wrong example” for local Muslims due to his participation in a pro-Ukraine rally. They put a bag over his head, handcuffed him, and took him to a school basement converted into a torture cell. During an interrogation, the imam lost consciousness, almost suffocating when the interrogators tightened the bag. The interrogators kicked him in the ribs and spine and hit him with a hard object in the small of the back. They knocked him down repeatedly, tightening the handcuffs around his wrists and causing severe pain and a persisting inability to move his thumbs. According to Asanov, occupation authorities released him in the evening of the same day after they determined he was not a member of a military unit. Before his release, they demanded he not leave the oblast and that he agree to collaborate with the Russian military and the Russia-run Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea and Sevastopol. Asanov and his family managed to flee the occupied area and eventually make their way to Kyiv. According to Asanov, occupation authorities searched mosques in the Henichesk district of Kherson Oblast, seizing books and giving imams lists of recommended and banned religious publications. He said local Muslims suspended holding religious services due to Russian intimidation.
In March, Russia’s forces detained UOC protodeacon Andriy Koval in Kherson, reportedly because of his pro-Ukrainian views. According to the cleric’s interview with the Dialogtut.org website, they put a bag over his head while transporting him to an interrogation room. Koval stated that during his interrogation, FSB agents used torture, including beating and electric shocks, until he wrote a statement “renouncing” his clerical duties. The interrogators then resumed beating the cleric, tied his arms and legs, and threw him to the floor in an attempt to force him to endorse on camera Russia’s allegations that Ukrainian forces killed children in the Russia-occupied part of the Donbas region. Koval stated that before releasing him, FSB representatives beat and threatened to rape him and forced him to drink an unknown liquid in front of a Russian “journalist” filming him as a “toast” for the children of Donbas.
According to the Religious Information Service of Ukraine, on April 9, Russia’s forces detained Artur Kozhevnikov, chairman of the German Evangelical Lutheran community in Berdyansk, Zaporizhzhya Oblast, and took him to a local military commandant’s office. The report said there was no information on Kozhevnikov since his detention.
According to the Kyiv-based Ukrainian human rights organization Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG), the Russian government unlawfully incarcerated or imprisoned at least 149 individuals pursuant to politically or religiously motivated persecution in Crimea during the year, compared with 117 persons in 2021.
Human rights groups said occupation authorities continued to impede the rights of Crimean Tatars following the 2016 designation of the Mejlis, recognized under Ukrainian law as the democratically elected representative council of Crimean Tatars, as an extremist organization. Rights groups reported that detentions and forced psychiatric examinations of Crimean Tatar Muslim prisoners continued throughout the year. According to the CHRG, in October and November, the FSB subjected Vilen Temeryanov to a forced examination at the Simferopol psychiatric hospital as part of a Hizb ut-Tahrir case; in August, the FSB conducted 4:00 am searches of the homes of four Crimean Tatars, including Temeryanov.
According to CHRG, as of December, 88 Crimean residents remained in prison for alleged involvement in Muslim religious organizations declared terrorist or extremist in Russia but legal in Ukraine. In most cases, these were individuals accused of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is illegal under Russian law, but detainees also included individuals accused of belonging to Tablighi Jamaat and Takfir wal-Hijra. According to the CHRG, during the year, occupation authorities detained 10 additional Crimean Tatars on charges of Hizb ut-Tahrir membership. Observers stated they believed these individuals were largely prosecuted in retaliation for their opposition to Russia’s occupation of Crimea. Their cases were considered, according to the CHRG, “in violation of the right to a fair trial; the main evidence for the court is the testimony of anonymous witnesses (many of whom are RF FSB men), pre-trial testimony of witnesses who later declare in court that such testimony was given under duress, and linguistic examinations of conversations of the accused Muslims.” The evidence provided by the defense was usually rejected by “judges.”
According to the CHRG, on May 12, a panel of “judges” of the Southern District Military Court in Crimea, consisting of Rizvan Zubayirov, Roman Saprunov, and Maxim Nikitin, sentenced Izzet Abdullayev, Vladlen Abdulkadyrov, Tofik Abdulgaziyev, and Medzhit Abdurakhmanov to 12 years in a maximum-security penal colony, with the first five years to be served in prison. The charges included “participation in activities in an organization recognized as terrorist” (Hizb ut-Tahrir). Another defendant in the case, Bilial Adilov, was sentenced to 14 years in a maximum-security penal colony, with the first five years to be served in prison.
According to the CHRG, on February 9, occupation authorities arrested Crimean Tatars Marlen Mustafayev, Ernest Seytosmanov, Ansar Osmanov, and Ametkhan Abdulvapov on suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir membership. The arrests took place after searches in homes in Simferopol, Bakhchisaray, Bilohirs’k, and Balaklava districts. The CHRG stated that FSB representatives planted and then “found” prohibited publications during searches at Osmanov and Mustafayev’s homes.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, occupation authorities seized 26 kingdom halls in newly occupied areas of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya, and Kherson Oblasts in 2022. In Zaporizhzhya Oblast, occupation authorities seized a kingdom hall in Berdyansk and placed members of its congregation on a wanted list, reported RIA Melitopol news website on December 17. On September 6, Russia’s forces seized a kingdom hall on Oles Honchar Street in Melitopol. Eight kingdom halls were destroyed, 17 sustained serious damage, and 76 had sustained minor damage during the fighting since February.
According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russian occupation authorities continued to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities in Crimea, ostensibly under a 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation outlawing the group. The OHCHR reported that all 22 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses registered in Crimea had no right to operate since 2017. As a result, practicing members of Jehovah’s Witnesses risked retaliation by law enforcement and were subject to detention, house arrest, or travel restrictions. According to the CHRG, as of December, at least 12 Jehovah’s Witnesses were imprisoned or detained, including five sentenced to imprisonment during the year.
According to Forum 18, as of November, there were seven members of Jehovah’s Witnesses serving jail terms in Russia or awaiting Russian sentencing in Crimea on charges of extremism to punish their exercise of freedom of religion or belief: Serhiy Filatov, Artem Herasymov, Viktor Stashevskyy, Ihor Schmidt, Volodymyr Sakada, Volodymyr Maladyka, and Yevgeny Zhukov.
On October 6, the Russian human rights NGO OVD-info reported that the Nahimov District Court in Sevastopol sentenced Jehovah Witnesses Volodymyr Sakada, Yevgeny Zhukov, and Volodymyr Maladyka to six years in a penal colony for participation in the activities of an extremist organization.
According to media site investigator.org, on June 18, occupation authorities detained Valentyn Zhuravlev, pastor of the Protestant Spring of Life Church, during an interfaith prayer service in Melitopol, Zaporizhzhya Oblast. Authorities later released Zhuravlev but prohibited him from serving as a pastor in the city. According to the same report, clergy from several other Protestant churches in the city were also detained by Russia’s forces or they quickly departed to avoid detention.
According to Forum 18, on February 16, a court in Kerch convicted Jehovah’s Witnesses members Artem Shably on “extremism”-related charges and sentenced him to a two-year suspended sentence, with three years’ probation.
According to Forum 18, on November 16, Russia’s forces arrested Ivan Levytskyy and Bohdan Heleta, UGCC priests from the parish of the Nativity of the Mother of God in Berdyansk, Zaporizhzhya Oblast. On November 17, the Russians searched the parish church. The Donetsk Exarchate called on Russia’s forces to free the two priests, stating that Heleta needed regular medication for a serious health condition. According to UGCC Major Archbishop Sviatoslav, after the priests’ arrest, occupation authorities planted military items in their church and accused the priests of illegal possession of weapons. “According to classic Stalinist methods of repression, confessions to crimes they did not commit are being extracted from them.” The priests “were being mercilessly tortured” and remained “in danger of death every day,” stated the UGCC head. Their location remained unknown at the end of year.
According to Petro Krenytskyy, the priest of a UGCC parish in Melitopol, Zaporizhzhya Oblast, on November 25, several FSB gunmen came to his church, hit his head against the wall, forced him to kneel, and beat him. After searching the church and the priest’s home, the FSB representatives pulled a bag over his head and “deported” him from the occupied area, citing UGCC opposition to Russia’s aggression. Prior to releasing him, an FSB representative confiscated his money and mobile phone and ordered Krenytskyy to walk toward a Ukrainian checkpoint, threatening to shoot him. The occupation authorities also deported UGCC parish priest Oleksandr Bohomaz from Melitopol.
According to Ukrinform, on March 14, members of Russia’s military searched the home of OCU priest Oleh Nikolayev, in Berdyansk, Zaporizhzhya Oblast. Following the search, they briefly detained Nikolayev and took him to an unknown location. Russia’s forces ordered Nikolayev’s disabled wife, who required constant medical treatment, to remain at home.
According to the independent regional online media outlet zprz/city, in October, Russian occupation authorities evicted 74-year-old OCU priest Svyatoslav Pitersky from his home in Melitopol, characterizing him as “extremist” because of his refusal to recognize the results of Russia’s sham referendum purporting to annex the region. They forced the priest to leave the occupied part of the oblast.
According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on October 6, Sevastopol’s Nakhimoskyy District “Court” sentenced three Jehovah’s Witnesses, Volodymyr Sakada, Volodymyr Maladyka, and Yevhen Zhukov, who were arrested in 2020 on “extremism” charges, to six years’ imprisonment in a medium security prison, to be followed by a seven-year ban on educational activities (public addresses or the publication of materials in media outlets or on the internet), and a further year of restricted liberty at the end of the sentences. The charges were primarily based on Zoom recordings of Jehovah’s Witnesses meetings that were made by an FSB infiltrator, on the instruction of senior FSB investigator Dmitry Shevchenko. According to Kharkiv group, during the meetings, the defendants simply read and discussed religious literature.
According to Forum 18, occupation authorities continued to prosecute and fine individuals in Crimea for conducting missionary activity. Of the 12 individuals known to have been prosecuted in Russia-occupied Crimea between January and August for conducting missionary activity, nine, including five Crimean Tatar Muslims, were fined for leading prayers in their own communities.
According to Forum 18, on June 16, the Dzhankoy District “Court,” Northeast Crimea, rejected Emir Medzhitov’s appeal of a fine of three weeks’ average local wages for leading Friday prayers in a mosque. His public defender stated that the prosecution had not proven that Medzhitov had conducted the “missionary activity” for which he was punished.
In Simferopol District, Crimea, the “district prosecutor’s office” said Muslim prayer leader Reshat Seidaliyev had conducted prayer services for an “undetermined circle of people who were not members (or followers) of the given religious group.” The prosecutor’s office also stated that Seidaliyev did not have appropriate written permission to lead worship from the Crimean Muftiate, a body through which Russia’s occupation “authorities,” according to Forum 18, “appear to want to control all Muslim activity on the peninsula.” On May 19, Judge Tatyana Kiryukhina found Seidaliyev guilty and fined him 10,000 rubles ($140).
Forum 18 reported that on February 18, a “court” in central Crimea ordered Liana Palyokha to pay a fine of 7,000 rubles ($98) after the Russian FSB found her leading worship in a Pentecostal group.
On June 5, police, prosecutors, and FSB raided a Baptist church in Saky, Crimea, during a worship service, according to Forum 18. On August 16, Russia’s occupation authorities fined three members of the congregation.
Russia continued to ban the Tablighi Jamaat Muslim missionary movement in Crimea under a 2009 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, although the movement remained legal in Ukraine.
On September 16, Russia withdrew from the ECHR, but according to the European Convention on Human Rights, Russia continued to have a binding legal obligation to implement the ECHR’s judgments and decisions. In January 2021, the ECHR issued a decision accepting for consideration Ukraine’s complaint alleging that Russia was responsible for multiple human rights violations in Crimea between February 2014 and August 2015. Among the claims accepted was Ukraine’s allegation that Russia’s local occupation authorities harassed and intimidated religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrarily raided places of worship, and confiscated religious property in violation of the convention.
On August 25, in a speech at the first parliamentary summit of the Crimea Platform, an international grouping aimed at restoring Ukrainian control over Crimea, President Zelenskyy said the Russian “enslavement” of Crimea marked the “birth of an antihuman system that tortures, deprives of freedom and injures men, women and children without distinction of age, sex, religion or ethnicity.” He also stated, “Since 2014, Crimea is the only part of Europe where de facto purges continue on religious and ethnic grounds. If you are a Muslim, the Russian occupiers consider you guilty. If you are a qirimh [Crimean Tatar], the Russian occupiers consider you guilty.”
Media outlets reported that Crimean Tartars were being deliberately and disproportionally conscripted for military service against Ukraine. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, throughout the year, Russia’s occupation authorities in Donetsk often required male believers to undergo military training and threatened those who refused with large fines.
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 applied in occupied areas that prevented or discouraged reregistration.
According to Russia’s Ministry of Justice, as of year’s end, 927 religious organizations were registered in Crimea, compared with 928 in 2021. The number of religious organizations had dropped by more than 1,000 since the occupation began in 2014, the last year for which Ukrainian government figures were available. Registered religious organizations included the two largest – the Christian Orthodox UOC and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea – as well as various Protestant, Jewish, RCC, and Greek Catholic communities, among other religious groups.
On February 9, the OCU official website reported that at the beginning of the occupation in 2014, 45 OCU parishes with 14 priests were operating in Crimea, but only seven parishes and four priests remained as of February. According to the website, occupation authorities continued to subject them to “systemic persecution” because of the OCU’s pro-Ukrainian position, putting its Crimean diocese “on the brink of survival.”
Human rights groups reported Russia’s occupation authorities continued to require imams at Crimean Tatar mosques to inform them each time they transferred from one mosque to another.
The RCC continued to operate in the territory as a pastoral district directly under the authority of the Holy See. Occupation authorities permitted some Polish and Ukrainian RCC priests to stay in the territory for only 90 days at a time and required them to leave Crimea for 90 days before returning.
UGCC leaders said they continued to have difficulty staffing their parishes because of the policies of occupation authorities, who they said continued to require them to register their congregations in Crimea as parishes of the Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite, thereby removing all reference to Ukraine in their name, and to operate as a part of the pastoral district of the RCC.
According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russia’s occupation authorities in Donetsk Oblast continued to label the group an extremist organization, and as such, its activities were banned. According to Protestant and Jehovah’s Witnesses groups, many of their members fled occupied areas to escape oppressive conditions and to seek greater religious freedom in Ukrainian government-controlled territory. The Jehovah’s Witness annual report stated, “In the occupied territory of Donetsk there is a real threat of kidnapping, torture, and imprisonment at all times for every Jehovah’s Witness.” According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the “law” applied by Russia’s occupation authorities on worship and religious associations in Donetsk continued to “ban all religious organizations that did not meet a March 2019 registration deadline and to require previously registered religious groups to reregister.” In 2021, Russia’s occupation authorities in Donetsk Oblast amended the “law” defining what constitutes a religious association, upholding the stipulation that religious associations exist only if they are registered. The amendments tightened the definition of a religious association, restricting its activities to only “participants and/or members.” The amendment defines a religious association’s activities as holding religious beliefs, conducting worship services and other religious rites and ceremonies, and “the teaching of religion and the religious education of its participants and/or members.” The amendment removed the definition of religious activity as “missionary practice and religious educational activity, including the spread of religious knowledge, the provision of professional religious education and the religious education of its participants.”
According to Forum 18, Russia’s occupation authorities in Donetsk Oblast denied registration to almost all religious communities, apart from the UOC. As of September 2019, there were only 36 registered non-UOC religious communities. In 2021, the Donetsk “Justice Ministry” told Forum 18 it was no longer responsible for the registration of religious communities. As of year’s end, new registration statistics had not been published.
Religious leaders continued to say Russia-led Luhansk authorities reregistration denials represented a complete ban on their religious activities, since without reregistration, religious groups were not able to hold services, even in believers’ homes. 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 required 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.
In a February report on areas of Luhansk Oblast controlled by the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic,” published prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion, Forum 18 stated that “all human rights including the freedom of religion and belief are severely restricted” in Luhansk. The NGO cataloged abuses committed by Russia-led forces, including imposing a restrictive 2018 “religion law” requiring reregistration of religious communities already registered under Ukrainian law, as well as banning any religious community that did not obtain the permission of Russia’s proxy authorities to exist in Luhansk. According to the report, this resulted in the denial of permission for any Protestant and non-UOC communities to exist; punishment for meeting for worship without permission from Russia’s proxy authorities; the banning by the “State Security Ministry” of all Ukrainian Baptist Union communities, despite this being illegal under Luhansk “law,” as no court order was apparently made; repeated raids on places of worship; denial of access by unregistered religious communities to their properties; the shutdown of charitable activities by unregistered religious communities; surveillance of local religious communities and the encouragement by Russia’s proxy “authorities” in Luhansk Oblast of a “climate of fear about discussing human rights violations” and the “cutting off of gas, water, and electricity supplies to all places of worship owned by unregistered communities; and the prevention of contacts with fellow believers elsewhere in Ukraine.”
The report added that this led to “the repeated inability of Catholics to receive communion at Mass, a central part of the Catholic faith; and an increasing list of banned allegedly ‘extremist’ books, including an edition of the Gospel of John originally published in 1820.” The gospel was published by the Council of Baptist Churches and was widely used by other Christian churches, including the UOC, according to the articles.
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 Islamic groups designated by Russia as terrorist groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir. Russian media portrayed Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists.”
According to religious organizations and civil society activists, Russia’s occupation authorities in Donetsk continued to harass Protestant congregations attempting to host public religious events, even if such had gained registration. They charged, for example, that the U.S. government might be funding such events, and they publicly labeled congregations “American agents.” Protestant leaders and religious experts said they attributed such activities by Russia’s occupation authorities in Donetsk as attempts to undermine the strong prewar presence of Protestants in the region.
According to Forum 18, in 2021, the Russia-led Donetsk “Justice Ministry” of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” released an updated “list of extremist materials” containing 97 items, some of them religious. Most publications banned by the “Supreme Court” – including Jehovah’s Witness and Islamic publications – also appeared on the list. The “Culture Minister,” Mikhail Zheltyakov, instructed all institutions under the ministry’s control to publicly display the lists of banned organizations and banned publications in their institutions. According to a 2021 Forum 18 report, the “State List of Extremist Materials,” by Russia’s proxy “authorities” in Luhansk, contained 26 items: 18 published by Protestants and six by Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to numerous, credible reports, Russia’s forces in many areas burned Ukrainian-language Bibles and other religious literature.
According to IRF, as of September 22, at least 270 religious buildings and sacred places had been damaged by Russian shelling, including 71 in Donetsk Oblast, 53 in Kyiv Oblast, 39 in Kharkiv Oblast, and 40 in Luhansk Oblast.
According to a study by the Workshop for the Academic Study of Religion (WASR), a Ukraine-based NGO, Russia’s forces were responsible for the widespread destruction of religious buildings, as well as the killing, wounding, and abduction of religious leaders. The study, Religion on Fire: Documenting Russia’s War Crimes against Religious Communities in Ukraine, stated that as of November 1, nearly 350 sacred sites in the country had been destroyed since the full-scale invasion, noting that the actual number could be much higher. Most of the damaged or destroyed religious sites belonged to the UOC (179), followed by Protestant communities (108), the OCU (24), Jewish (14), Muslim (6), Roman Catholic (5), and UGCC (3) congregations. Several other destroyed buildings belonged to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, Karaites, and Krishna Consciousness Society. Most of those sites were houses of worship, as well as chapels, cemeteries, and other places of sacred significance for the respective communities. Most of the sites were in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts with others in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Sumy, Mykolayiv, Kherson, and Chernihiv Oblasts. The report stated there were at least 16 cases of targeted destruction of churches, among them a historic 19th-century wooden church in Lukyanivka, Kyiv Oblast, that was deliberately targeted by tanks.
On April 27, the Human Rights Ombudsperson stated that Russia’s occupation authorities had brought construction vehicles to a historic Muslim cemetery in Bakhchisaray, Crimea, to convert the cemetery into a recreation area.
On February 17, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a resolution to transfer the Saints Volodymyr and Olha Cathedral, the only OCU church building in Simferopol, Crimea, and the location of the OCU diocesan administration, from the ownership of the government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea to central government ownership. Pursuant to the resolution, on October 28, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted an implementing document to carry out the transfer. OCU sources stated they believed the decision would enable Ukraine to take Russia to international courts over its refusal to allow OCU members to use the premises. In 2021, the Russia-led “Arbitration Court of Crimea” ordered the transfer of the cathedral premises to the use of the Russian Ministry of Property of Crimea.
Crimean Tatars reported police continued to be slow to investigate vandalism of Islamic religious properties or refused to investigate them at all.
On November 1, Oleshky Mayor Yevhen Ryshchuk reported that occupation authorities had destroyed four crosses near the OCU Church of the Protection of the Mother of God in Oleshky, Kherson Oblast.
According to Forum 18, on June 23, Russia’s military brought a delegation of Moscow Patriarchate priests to the occupied Black Sea port city of Mariupol, where they toured churches, including the OCU Church of Petro Mohyla. After the visit of what Forum 18 termed “Moscow FSB agents in cassocks,” the church’s large library, collected by volunteers and benefactors, was seized and “burned in the yard,” stated Petro Andryushchenko, advisor to the (Ukrainian) mayor of Mariupol, who had fled the city.
On November 9, the Baptist Union reported that Russia’s forces had used a Baptist church in Vovchoyarivka village, Luhansk Oblast, as a military barracks, looted it, and then burned down the building.
On October 25, the Baptist Union reported that Russia’s forces had seized and looted three Baptist churches in Kherson Oblast. The invaders used two of them as military barracks and kept another church locked.
On May 18, the Mariupol City Council elected before the Russian takeover of the city reported that Russian military strikes had destroyed the city’s synagogue and Jewish community center.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
On June 7, the Holy Synod, a governing body of the ROC, subordinated all three Crimea-based UOC dioceses directly to the Moscow Patriarch. On September 13, the synod directly subordinated to him the Rovenky Diocese located in the occupied part of Luhansk Oblast.
According to media sources, on December 7, unidentified individuals damaged more than 10 tombstones at a historic military cemetery in Sevastopol. Police detained three teenage suspects.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
Although embassy officials had no access to Russia-occupied territories in eastern and southern Ukraine, the embassy continued its outreach to religious representatives from these areas and on several occasions publicly condemned Russia’s continued abuses against religious minorities.
The U.S. government condemned the continued intimidation of Christian and Muslim religious groups by Russia’s occupation authorities in occupied areas and called international attention to religious rights abuses committed by Russia’s forces through public statements by the Secretary of State and other senior officials.
Embassy officials also continued to meet with Muslim, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders from occupied oblasts of Ukraine to discuss human rights abuses by Russia’s occupation authorities and to demonstrate continued U.S. government support for their right to the free exercise of religion. Embassy officials highlighted Russia’s religious rights abuses in public messaging.
Embassy officials as well as other Department of State officials and the Secretary of State participated in the August 23 virtual Crimea Platform Summit, an international gathering of senior officials to discuss Russia’s purported “annexation” of Crimea, in which human rights was one of the five key topics. The Secretary of State spoke at the event, reaffirming U.S. government support for Ukraine and condemning the “unrelenting crackdown on Crimea’s minority ethnic and religious groups.” Embassy officials continued to meet with Crimean Muslim, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders to discuss their concerns regarding actions taken against their congregations by the occupation authorities and to demonstrate continued U.S. government support for their right to practice freely their religious beliefs.