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Ethnic and Religious Clashes

Ethnic and Religious Clashes The Seizures of the churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) by the supporters of the UOC-Kyiv Patriarchate became a sad tradition of Ukraine in 2014-16.

Ukraine is a multinational, multi-confessional state, in which it is unacceptable and extremely dangerous to underestimate, let alone ignore the problems of interethnic and interreligious relations.

In 2015, interreligious clashes took on a threatening character in Ukraine.

Submitted to the public in May 2015, the report of Ukrainian human rights defenders “When God Becomes Arms: The Persecution of Religious Beliefs in the Armed Conflict in Eastern Ukraine” is devoted to the analysis of the religious situation and the targeted persecution of religious communities in the territories of eastern Ukraine controlled by the separatists. The Report affirms the participation of the clergy of the UOC-MP in the military conflict. According to local residents of Svyatogorsk, Donetsk region, the city monastery and the Lavra of the UOC (MP) provided their premises for the housing needs of militant groups at the beginning of hostilities. Many priests of Donetsk and Lugansk regions provided moral and spiritual support to the armed groups of Donetsk and Lugansk.

As of March 2015, only those professing the Orthodoxy of the Moscow Patriarchate, were spared from persecution and were free to engage in religious activities and visit Orthodox churches. With regard to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, it is said that most of the parishes of Donbass do not operate, secret services are held, priests are threatened, their abduction is signalled, and property of the UOC-KP is seized.

At the same time, the territory controlled by the Kiev authorities, has turned into the arena of the most powerful inter-religious confrontation in the entire post-Soviet space. As evidenced by independent sources during this period, there was an interreligious conflict between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (hereinafter - the UOC) and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (hereinafter - UOC-KP).

These are systemic unlawful and violent attempts to capture the churches of the UOC by radical forces and the UOC-KP, slander and discredit the UOC in the media, often in the person of leading politicians and government officials, attempts by radical forces to translate the conflict in the East of Ukraine into an interdenominational plane.

Unfortunately, this issue was not reflected in the above-mentioned reports and reports of human rights defenders and NGOs, although the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a major religious organization of Ukraine.

In the annual Report of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on Human Rights for 2015, it was noted that the growing number of attempts to unlawfully change the religious affiliation of religious communities is of concern. In particular, the Commissioner received 7 appeals on inter-confessional conflicts of Orthodox Christians in the Rivne, Ternopil and Volyn regions.

However, the number of appeals to the Commissioner, as specified in the Report, is not indicative: on the website of the Christian portal “Kirios” there is a map showing that during 2015 there were about 100 transitions, including those carried out under pressure, of the religious communities of the UOC under the jurisdiction of the UOC KP. As the media note, in the UOC, these facts are called “raider seizure of parishes”, and in the UOC-KP - “the transition of communities in the Ukrainian (local) Church”.

In the appeals received by the Ombudsman, the representatives of the UOC complained of harassment of parishioners due to their religious affiliation, inaction of law enforcement bodies, which manifested itself in refusing to register criminal proceedings on the facts of illegal keeping of religious relics and obstructing the performance of religious rites. According to the above facts, the Commissioner took measures to respond, including requests to law enforcement agencies, local state administrations, local authorities in which attention was drawn to the need for detailed investigation of all the circumstances of the case, taking into account the motive of intolerance in the qualification of these acts and taking all the measures stipulated by law, aimed at eliminating these violations and facilitating the establishment of interfaith dialogue.

In an interview dated August 11, 2015, the governor of the Holy Dormition Pochaev Lavra, Vladika Vladimir, noted that the Lavra sent statements to the official authorities about the prevention of possible provocations against the Holy Dormition of Pochaev Lavra, including the monastery. According to preliminary information provided by individuals, there was a probability of throwing weapons marked “DNR” and “LNR” and withdrawing a video about it with a negative propaganda goal.

At the meeting of the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko with the members of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil and Brovary signaled the seizures of the churches: “In the Rivne, Kiev, Lviv, Ternopil, Volyn, Cherkassy regions, attempts were made to unlawfully seize the parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. At the moment, the seizure of 20 parishes of our Church is recorded. Still on 8 parishes the extremely tense situation » remains. As the hierarch noted, all this happens “with the actual consent of the local government authorities.” “With impunity, representatives of individual political parties interfere into these delicate questions. Such processes not only violate the religious world in our country, but also carry a threat to the security of the state. We believe that the leadership of the country should pay special attention to this, “he said. Along with this, the representative of the Church said that from different dioceses of the UOC constantly send humanitarian supplies to the war zone. Only medicines and medical equipment were provided for more than 2 million UAH. In addition, 1200 thousand tons of food, clothing and essentials were collected and handed over.

In April 2015, in the village of Ptichia, Rivne, an inter-confessional conflict broke out: parishioners of the Orthodox Church of the Kiev and Moscow Patriarchate fought over the church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. As the villagers noted, there were many non-local participants among the participants in the scuffle. The war for the cathedral began six months ago, when most of the villagers in the referendum voted for the transfer to the UOC-KP and the transfer of the rural church to the ownership of this patriarchate. In response, parishioners of the UOC protested against such a decision and threatened to block the route in protest. The parishioners of the UOC complained that they were called “separatists” and “Muscovites”. The church conflict was referred to the court.

On November 15, the conflict situation in the village of Ptichya, Rivne region, continued. About 20 parishioners of the Kyiv Patriarchate broke into the temple and locked themselves inside. They said they were on a hunger strike. In response, on November 16, more than 50 believers of the UOC blocked the section of the Kiev-Chop highway in protest against the capture of the church. As early as December 2015, members of the “Right Sector” and representatives of the Kyiv Patriarchate, as a result of attempts to seize the temple in the village of Ptichia, beat Orthodox Christians. Attackers beat believers with truncheons and armature, threw firecrackers into them, “Molotov cocktails”, used pepper gas and threatened with massive seizures of temples in the region.

According to the information provided by the Rivne Eparchy of the UOC, complaints were sent to the Administration of the President of Ukraine and the General Prosecutor's Office of Ukraine about the seizures of temples in which they were informed of criminal offenses, seizures of private property, violence, persecution on religious grounds, but the addressees refused to consider appeals and forwarded them to the Ministry of Culture. The UOC called it “open mockery.”

Another interreligious conflict in 2015 broke out among the parishioners of the UOC-KP and UOC in the village of Popilna, Zhytomyr region. The reason for it was that supporters of the UOC-KP, with the help of a local deputy from the “Svoboda” party, formed a community in the village, illegally annulling the church's membership in the UOC, which they claimed. As early as June 30, 2015, an attempt was made to seize the temporary church of St. Nicholas with supporters of the Kyiv Patriarchate. Local believers and clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church defended the church. Despite the arrival of the police, the seizure of the temple continued, and then was sealed until the dispute was resolved.

In Chernivtsi region, the village of Vakhnivtsi of Vyzhnytskyi District was marked by the situation when the churchwarden convened a meeting of the community on the transition of the Kyiv Patriarchate, after which it was stated that the church community and the temple in honour of the Archangel Michael went under the jurisdiction of the KP. At the same time, information was noted that the abbot of the church was threatened, preliminarily collected signatures in support of the canonical UOC were selected, and the villagers were intimidated and allegedly bribed by the KP representatives.

In June, media published information about the capture of the temple in the village of Bashuki Kremenets district of the Ternopil region by representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, accompanied by priests and several dozen people in camouflage clothes with the symbols of the Right Sector and in balaclava. The invaders broke open the doors of the church and belltower, phoned the belltowers, replaced the locks and did not allow worship in it. Later, a divine service was held with the participation of a priest from the Kyiv Patriarchate. On the glade in front of the temple there were minibuses that did not belong to local residents, with the identification marks of the Right Sector. Law enforcement officers who arrived at the scene tried not to interfere in the events and prevent direct violence. According to information for 2015, the temple in Bashuka remained seized, while representatives of the UOC-KP did not provide any documents that would confirm their right to use the church.

On August 25, 2015, an action was held by the supporters of the Kyiv Patriarchate in the village of Kolosova, Kremenets district of the Ternopil region. Residents of the village, wishing to re-subordinate the St. John the Theological Church to the Kyiv Patriarchate, strolled for more than two hours on the pedestrian crossing on the road “Domanovo-Kovel-Chernivtsi”, preventing the movement of cars. “We want to have a Ukrainian church in our village and that the” Our Father “speak Ukrainian. And we are not that the current owners of the Moscow Patriarchate are not allowed into the church, but they are not even allowed into the courtyard, “the protesters told reporters. Earlier in April 2015, representatives of the KP tried to seize the temple, but the attempt ended unsuccessfully - the village council's refusal to facilitate this. The picketing ended after the arrival of a representative of the regional state administration.

In the village of Katerynovka in the Ternopil region, for several months the conflict of two Orthodox communities continued - the Moscow and Kiev Patriarchates around the church of St. Great Martyr George the Victorious of the UOC. On September 21, 2015, on the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin, representatives of the UOC-Kyiv Patriarchate with the help of the Right Sector and the Ternopil region battalion decided to take the temple. Representatives of the Right Sector were cordoned off by the church along the perimeter, a window was broken, central doors were broken, after which representatives of the KP entered the structure. Members of the UOC were not allowed into the church. Later, there was a violent confrontation. Parishioners and priests of the UOC were repelled with truncheons and tear gas. As a result, more than ten people were injured, craniocerebral injuries and fractures of the limbs. At the same time, it is alleged that the police were on the side of the invaders and refused to accept the allegations of beatings. In turn, in the Kiev Patriarchate in a fight accused representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate. According to them, about 200 parishioners of the UOC after the verbal squabble took to storming the village church.

At the end of 2015, observers for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) visited the Kremenets region of the Ternopil region in connection with interfaith conflicts in the region. In response, officials of the Kremenets Regional State Administration (RGA) informed the OBCE representatives about the religious situation in the district, provided information on the procedure for registering religious communities, reported on emerging conflicts and the status of claims in the courts.

In particular, representatives of the RGA said that during the year of 2015, 13 appeals of citizens, representatives of religious communities, law enforcement bodies and other institutions on the religious situation in the villages of Kulikov, Bashuki, Katerynovka and Kolosovaya were considered. In their actions to resolve the arising disputes in the RGA guided by the current legislation of Ukraine, as well as the orders of the Ternopil regional state administration. In most cases, the authorities noted that in the context of resolving interreligious conflicts in the region, representatives of the UOC-KP and the UOC are offered alternately to use temples and worship services by mutual consent or by concluding agreements. For example, on the basis of the decree of the head of the Ternopil Regional State Administration “On Determining the Order of Using the Church of St. George the Victorious” p. Katerynivka Kremenets district and the property that it contains “(07.09.15, №555 C.C.), the RGA concluded an agreement with the communities of the UOC-KP and the UOC on the use of the temple, determining the schedule for the alternate services.

Another Seizure of the temple of the UOC took place on December 27 in the village of Kolodyanka in the Zhytomyr region of Ukraine.

The above-mentioned examples of the capture of the churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate by radical forces and the Kyiv Patriarchate of the churches are not isolated and not exhaustive, which were signalled by the media, the press service of the UOC, parishioners in 2015. Often, the seizures and defilements of churches take place under the guise of “fighting separatists and Russian aggression.”

Thus, according to the information of the press service of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in April 2015 armed people searched for “separatist weapons” in the Holy Transfiguration Church (Gusintsy settlement, Borispol district): “People wearing masks, using weapons in the hands of the SBU, the Holy See and made a search in the temple. They explained their outrage by searching for weapons allegedly acquired by the Moscow Patriarchate and kept in the temple to support Russian aggression. “ Police of the Kiev region confirmed the fact of the search of the SBU together with the prosecutor's office. The press service of the UOC noted: “We are forced to say that cases of vandalism and the spread of lies have increased in relation to the church (UOC) today.

In March 2015, a number of mass media (websites, for example, InformNapalm Internet resource) disseminated provocative and untruthful information that in the St. Nicholas Cathedral Stakhanov Lugansk region there are ammunition, the alleged object requires close attention of OSCE observers and the world community. Later, the OSCE mission in the Donbass denied information that there is an ammunition depot of separatists on the territory of St. Nicholas Cathedral, which was published on its official website. The mission arrived at the invitation of the parish council of St Nicholas Cathedral in the city of Stakhanov in order to find out whether there are actually ammunition depots on the territory of the church. This knowingly false information aroused great indignation among parishioners and the church community and is regarded as provocative, and in relation to the Church - as blasphemous and defamatory.

As for the ethnic clashes in 2015, it is possible to single out a case that took place on June 11, 2015 in Kharkov in the student campus on Pavlovskaya Pole, where there was a massive fight. About 40 people, some in masked faces, with bits and knives, attacked a group of students, mostly foreigners, who were resting near a nightclub. As a result, four Jordanian students were injured.

There were no other conflicts, however, the situation in the country remains so tense that a clash took place in the summer of 2015 in the Transcarpathian region of Mukachevo, where the Rusyn and the Hungarian minority reside, a conflict broke out over the redistribution of power and business with the participation of the political force “Right sector “.

These events were perceived by the Hungarian minority as a possible attempt on their rights. There followed a sharp statement by the head of the cabinet of the Prime Minister of Hungary, Janos Lazar: “If the Hungarians in Transcarpathia are offended and they are forced to flee, we will help everyone and take them all.” At the same time, officially, according to the 2001 census, there are 151.5 thousand people living in Transcarpathia, or 12% of the total population.

Rusyns of Transcarpathia in 2015, namely the Coordination Council of the Rusyn organizations of Transcarpathia, wrote an appeal to the authorities of Ukraine, Transcarpathia, Mukachevo and to the Ruthenian communities, political and public circles in different countries (USA, Canada, Australia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary). In the appeal Rusyns were asked to pay special attention to the situation that has developed recently in the Transcarpathian region, under which all conditions for the emergence of a major conflict, including on an inter-ethnic basis, are being formed. Such a conflict, in their words, in particular, can lead to the genocide of national minorities, primarily the Rusyns, who make up the majority of the region's inhabitants.

In this appeal, the Ruthenians of Transcarpathia noted that the Right Sector organization is trying to establish its illegal control over the region, and threats of physical destruction from the Ukrainian authorities for the demands for recognition and consideration of the interests of the Ruthenian minority are increasingly being received, there is an increase in actions aimed at discrediting, persecution of representatives of the Rusyn community of Transcarpathia.

Leaders and activists of the Coordinating Council, other Rusyn organizations of Transcarpathia are summoned for interrogations to the local offices of the Security Service, the Prosecutor's Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Their houses are subjected to constant searches. Local authorities are trying to take away from the Ruthenians Centre for their social activities, Rusyn House in the city of Mukachevo, and transfer it to commercial structures. At the last action, the Rusyns responded with a rally of the Rusyn public in the city of Mukachevo near the monument to the Rusynian patron Alexander Dukhnovich on August 15. In response, Kyiv and local authorities are trying to justify their repressive actions against the Rusyn community of Transcarpathia, accusing alleged Rusyns and a number of Ruthenian organizations of extremism and separatism.

There were also publications in the media in 2015 with a proposal to consider the military conflict in the East of Ukraine as an interethnic conflict between Russian residents of Donbass and Ukrainian nationalists, since the main two big ethnic groups of Ukraine are Ukrainians and Russians.

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