Ukraine has no specific legislation regarding the restitution of Holocaust-era private property or heirless property, and the new government has not announced any plans to introduce such legislation. Citizens and non-citizens can file claims in court, but the Department of State is not aware of any ongoing or successful cases.
Under the 1994 U.S.-Ukrainian Agreement on the Protection and Preservation of Cultural Heritage, the Ukrainian government undertook, subject to the availability of funds, to “protect and preserve the cultural heritage of all national, religious, or ethnic groups that reside or resided in its territory and were victims of genocide during the Second World War.” The government pledged to ensure protection and preservation of cultural heritage for those groups unable independently to do so.
The 1991 Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations and a number of government decrees allow Jewish religious groups to seek restitution of previously confiscated places of worship. According to current law, only religious organizations are eligible for restitution of property nationalized during the Soviet period. In addition, only places of worship and religious artifacts immediately necessary for religious services are subject to restitution. Restitution of other forms of communal property (e.g., school buildings and community centers) formerly owned by religious organizations is not regulated by current legislation. Religious buildings and property currently under state ownership may be returned to religious organizations.
In most cases, local municipalities make the decision of whether to return religious buildings or property. The central government decides whether to return those properties designated as national heritage sites.
Numerous Jewish congregations have negotiated successfully with governmental authorities for worship space. However, the resolution of more complex religious property restitution cases remains slow. VAAD has identified approximately 800 synagogues confiscated by the Soviet regime. Between 1992 and 2019, the government returned about 60 of them to the Jewish community. Inadequate enforcement of court decisions often hampers efforts to identify Jewish sites and delineate the historical boundaries of older Jewish cemeteries.
The slow pace of restitution is partly a reflection of the country’s economic situation, which limits funds available to relocate occupants of previously seized religious property. However, the Ukrainian government estimates that the majority of synagogues for which specific claims have been pursued have been handed over to the Jewish religious organization that made the claim. Other confiscated religious properties for which restitution has been sought are occupied by state institutions or have previously been transferred to private ownership; Jewish and civil society organizations have questioned the legality of such transfers. At times, disagreements among Jewish community representatives complicate the resolution of restitution issues.
The All-Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, the country’s largest interfaith group, has repeatedly called on parliament to impose a moratorium on the privatization of previously confiscated religious buildings under state and religious community ownership. A 1998 government resolution commits regional state administrations to pursue the restitution of unused or misused places of worship to religious organizations. However, this resolution depends on implementation by local authorities, which has been uneven.
In 1998, Ukraine issued an ordinance prohibiting construction on and privatization of previous and current Jewish cemeteries. Nevertheless, there are reports of construction occurring on land and in areas that were once Jewish cemeteries. In 2008, the Jewish community in Vinnytsya reached an agreement with the city administration over the excavation of a building foundation on the site of a former Jewish cemetery. The city arranged for the reburial of the human remains exposed by the digging. Periodic digging to erect market kiosks disturbed the sanctity of a historic Jewish cemetery in Lviv. The city made preparations to create a memorial park on the remaining, undeveloped part of the cemetery but explained it could not relocate the market because some of the buildings at the market had become private property, albeit under nontransparent circumstances. In February 1999, the country’s president instructed the State Property Fund to take measures to ban the transfer of property formerly owned by religious communities to private (i.e., non-religious) owners.
In February 2018, the Volyn Oblast Appellate Court rejected 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 in Volyn Oblast.
The UCSJ, meanwhile, expressed concern over the possible continuation of construction of a high-rise building at the site of a World War II Jewish ghetto in Lviv. In 2016, a court suspended the project after human remains were reportedly found and removed at the construction site.
Jewish community representatives continue to experience difficulties with the Ternopil district government with regard to property restitution. The Ternopil District Council has ignored local Jewish community requests to return a prayer house confiscated during the Soviet regime.
In April 2018, Ukraine revived the Interagency Commission to Realize the Rights of Religious Organizations. The commission had been established in 2008 to address complex restitution issues and promote dialogue between the government and religious groups; it had been inactive since 2012. Some observers expressed concerns about the commission’s effectiveness and the transparency of its procedures.