On January 22, the Prosecutor-General’s Office (PGO) completed an investigation against police officers who in 2013 detained Metropolitan Oleksandr, personal secretary of then-UOC-MP leader, Metropolitan Volodymyr. The detention reportedly was part of an effort by ex-President Yanukovych, the former prosecutor-general, the former interior minister, and other high-level officials of the Yanukovych government, to remove Metropolitan Volodymyr from his leadership position because he did not support church involvement in politics.
The PGO concluded that Yanukovych-era Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko, then-Kyiv Police Chief Valeriy Koryak, and the commander and deputy commander of the Kyiv-based Gryphon police unit unlawfully detained Metropolitan Oleksandr for six months. Zakharchenko, Koryak, and the Gryphon officers were charged with unlawful imprisonment and abuse of office. Both Zakharchenko and Koryak fled the country after the protests against then-President Yanukovych in 2014.
According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, on July 17 the Osytniazhka Village council in Kirovohrad Oblast decided to ban the registration of any religious organization except for a local Orthodox congregation. Referring to this decision, on August 18, the village mayor reportedly prohibited some Jehovah’s Witnesses from telling local residents about the Bible and ordered them to leave the village immediately.
On August 25, President Petro Poroshenko approved the National Human Rights Strategy. The document aimed to improve the procedure for state registration of religious organizations and for approval of peaceful religious gatherings. The national strategy also aimed to “ensure effective investigation of religiously motivated and other hate crimes, and prosecution of offenders.”
Religious leaders and human rights activists continued to urge the government to simplify religious registration procedures and lift the requirement for a government permit to hold peaceful religious assemblies. They also encouraged the government to adopt the Concept of Church-State Relations, which was drafted by religious groups and experts in 2004, to shape cooperation between the government and religious groups and provide the basis for legislation on religion issues. According to the AUCCRO, the Concept of Church-State Relations was designed to “tackle consequences of the atheist past, secure constitutional freedoms, and establish specific mechanisms of cooperation between religious organizations and the state.” Among other things, the document describes the rule of law and the equality of citizens and their associations before the law as the foundation for all legal relations in Ukraine in the area of religious freedom.
UOC-MP representatives complained about what they said was the central government’s inadequate response to increasing discrimination and intolerance toward its faithful by UOC-KP representatives and high-ranking UOC-KP supporters in some local governments. According to the UOC-MP, emboldened by police inaction and support from radical groups, particularly activists from Right Sector political party, some local government representatives, and businessmen, the UOC-KP intensified efforts to seize a number of UOC-MP church buildings. Some of the incidents occurred after local authorities had transferred parish jurisdictions from the UOC-MP to the UOC-KP, reportedly against the will of some parish members.
Right Sector representatives claimed they had visited the disputed sites on the UOC-KP’s request to facilitate the change of jurisdiction and protect UOC-KP followers from “violent attacks” by UOC-MP supporters. The UOC-KP attributed Right Sector involvement to the fact that parishioners themselves “often turn to patriotic organizations” for protection. The UOC-KP Ternopil Diocese said that UOC-MP parishioners were “forced to go to temples of the Russian Church in Ukraine [reference to UOC-MP] and pray for their murderers and invaders.”
On September 7, the Ternopil Oblast State Administration issued a resolution that the UOC-MP St. George parish in Katerynivka, Ternopil Oblast, should use its church on a rotational basis with a newly created local UOC-KP congregation. The UOC-MP appealed the decision in court. The UOC-MP stated that on September 21 the UOC-KP supporters arrived at the church, accompanied by about two dozen members of Right Sector. The UOC-MP said the group then forcefully occupied the church building, insisting that it belonged to the UOC-KP. During the seizure, Right Sector members reportedly threw a smoke bomb into a private house as they chased a UOC-MP church guard and detained him. The UOC-MP stated police representatives sided with Right Sector representatives, denying UOC-MP members entry to the churchyard. Members of the UOC-MP stated that several of their followers forced their way into the yard, demanding that their priest be allowed to enter the church. Police ordered them to leave the site. After they refused, riot police used batons and physical violence to chase them from the yard and continued to beat some who fell behind. Right Sector representatives also participated in chasing UOC-MP followers, using pepper spray and physical violence. The UOC-MP said 15 of their representatives were injured and several of them were hospitalized. Some were reportedly afraid to seek medical assistance, following statements that Right Sector representatives were forcing victims to retract complaints lodged at a local police department and had visited a local hospital requesting medical staff disclose identities of the injured. A local police representative told the media that the riot police had to use force in self-defense.
On September 23, the Right Sector issued a statement describing the Katerynivka incident as part of a “fight against Moscow’s stooges and separatists” and vowing to use “any available means to defend the development of a local Ukrainian Christian Church.”
According to the UOC-MP, since April 26, masked Right Sector representatives armed with sticks and knives repeatedly visited Kolosova village, Kremenets District, Ternopil Oblast to intimidate members of the local UOC-MP parish of St. John the Theologian, who opposed the change of parish jurisdiction to the UOC-KP. At times, the Right Sector activists reportedly brought “fighting breed” dogs to the village in an attempt to put more pressure on UOC-MP followers.
In July the Kremenets District State Administration set up a coordination council to solve the parish jurisdiction dispute. The administration also warned the Ternopil Oblast State Administration against hasty reregistration of the Kolosova UOC- MP parish as part of UOC-KP, saying that not all members of the parish wanted to join the UOC-KP.
On August 26, the Kremenets District Court prohibited the Ternopil Oblast State Administration from reregistering the Kolosova parish. On August 28, following a protest by local UOC-KP followers, the Ternopil Oblast State Administration chairman issued the reregistration order, thereby transferring the church building to the UOC-KP. The chairman stated that he only learned of the court ban after he had signed the order. The UOC-MP said its parishioners would no longer be able to hold religious services at the church because the oblast administration’s decision had deregistered its congregation.
The Ministry of Culture encouraged the UOC-MP to resume dialogue with the UOC-KP in a working group set up in 2014 to mediate disputes between the two Churches.
As Russia’s occupation of Crimea continued and Russian-backed separatists retained control of portions of Donbas, the reported seizure of UOC-KP properties in those areas continued.
In certain regions of the country, smaller religious groups continued to report discriminatory treatment by local authorities in allocating land for buildings. In the central and southern regions, Roman Catholics, UOC-KP members, UGCC members, and Muslims reported similar instances of discrimination. According to UGCC representatives, local authorities in Odesa remained unwilling to allocate land for UGCC churches. UOC-MP representatives reported a continued refusal by local governments in the Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk regions to allocate land for UOC-MP churches. According to Roman Catholics, the government continued to refuse to facilitate the restitution of Odesa’s Roman Catholic seminary building, which was confiscated by the Soviet regime. According to the Baptist Union, the local government in Ivano-Frankivsk delayed allocation of land for construction of a church. Due to the local government’s unwillingness to allocate the land, the Baptists independently purchased a plot of land in the city. According to Mormon representatives, the city government in Kyiv rescinded a lease on land to build a house of worship.
All major religious organizations continued to urge the government to establish a transparent legal process to address restitution claims. Most organizations reported problems and delays in the restitution process to reclaim property seized by the Communist regime, with the consideration of a claim frequently taking longer than the month prescribed by law. Complications for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim properties included intercommunity competition for particular properties, current use by state institutions, designation of some properties as historic landmarks, local government jurisdictional issues, and previous transfer to private ownership. At times, local officials took sides in disputes pertaining to property restitution. The Roman Catholic Church urged authorities to return former Church properties in the western part of the country and elsewhere. Jewish community leaders reported continued property restitution difficulties with the Ternopil and Kyiv municipal governments. Muslim community leaders expressed concern about unresolved restitution claims involving historic religious buildings in Mykolayiv.
The AUCCRO continued to call on parliament to impose a moratorium on the privatization of previously confiscated religious buildings.
On June 4, the Rivne Appellate Economic Court upheld the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union appeal of the 2007 decision by the Kovel District State Administration, Volyn Oblast, to allow the construction of a private industrial facility on the grounds of a Jewish cemetery near Toykut village, Volyn Oblast. The court also revoked the 2008 contract on the lease of the cemetery’s land. On November 25, the High Economic Court of Ukraine overturned the June 4 Rivne appellate court ruling, reinstating the original lower court ruling and renewing the construction permit.
In April the Vinnitsya City Council stopped construction of a private residence on a Jewish cemetery that had been illegally privatized.
The Jewish community expressed concern with the failure of local government authorities to protect historical religious properties. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has not appointed anyone to the office of the Special Representative for Prevention and Combatting Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia.
On June 2, the parliament passed legislation allowing registered religious organizations to establish private educational institutions where students, in addition to a secular curriculum, would be educated according to the religious values of the organization.
The Ternopil City and Kyiv City Councils, on February 27 and January 28, respectively, granted property tax exemptions to all local churches, except for those affiliated with the UOC-MP. According to a deputy of the Kyiv City Council, the UOC-MP’s tax exemption was revoked because it allegedly held an “anti-Ukrainian position.” On June 18, Kyiv’s District Administrative Court revoked the Kyiv City Council resolution on the basis that it violated the principle of religious freedom and, on July 30, the Kyiv Appellate Administrative Court upheld the ruling.
In a February 17 meeting with the AUCCRO, an independent interfaith board representing more than 90 percent of the country’s religious organizations, President Poroshenko emphasized that all churches and religious organizations in the country had equal rights. The AUCCRO pledged to combat what the organization said were Russian attempts to create religious tension in the country.
During a September 16 meeting with the AUCCRO, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that the government would continue to address all religious freedom abuses.
On April 24, the MFA, religious leaders and experts created a civic council for cooperation with religious organizations, an advisory body designed to develop MFA interaction with religious communities. The council met three times during the year, discussing issues such as combatting Russian propaganda, participation of religious groups in international forums, assisting international religious events in the country such as the Uman pilgrimage, and monitoring the religious situation.
In April the Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches of Ukraine appealed to the president and prime minister to grant members of the clergy exemption from the military mobilization resulting from Russia’s military intervention in the east of the country. The council also complained about continuing attempts by the armed forces to call up conscientious objectors for military duty. Members of the council and legal experts attributed such attempts primarily to legislative gaps, including the lack of alternative civilian service during mobilization for the current conflict, and urged the government to rectify the issue.
On June 23, the High Specialized Court of Ukraine for Civil and Criminal Cases upheld a February 26 ruling by the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast Appellate Court confirming a November 2014 verdict by the Novomoskovsk District Court that the application of Jehovah’s Witness member Vitaliy Shalaiko for alternative civilian service had been improperly denied. The court ruled that, in addition to regular military conscription, conscientious objectors had the right to alternative service during mobilization. There were no subsequent prosecutions involving alternative service.
On September 29, the High Specialized Court of Ukraine for Civil and Criminal Cases made a similar ruling in overturning a May 28 Rivne Oblast Appellate Court ruling. The appellate court had upheld the March 13 verdict by the Volodymyretsky District Court sentencing an evangelical church member and conscientious objector to two years imprisonment for “dodging” mobilization.
On June 11, the Kharkiv District Administrative Court supported an appeal by Pavlo Bakum, a member of the New Generation Evangelical Christian Church and a conscientious objector, of the May decision by Kharkiv’s Frunzensky District military office to call up Bakum for military service.