Crimean Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate and its believers attacked
In the village of Perevalne, outside Simferopol, believers at a church under the Kyiv Patriarchate have been attacked by armed pro-Russian ‘Cossacks’, and the church itself seriously vandalized. The assailants were later joined by ‘self-defence’ vigilantes who claimed to be looking for members of Right Sector, the far right party which Russia has been demonizing since before its invasion and annexation of the Crimea.
The Kyiv Patriarchate’s press centre reports that armed men of criminal appearance and dressed like Cossacks appeared at 8 a.m. on Sunday at the Church of the Intercession of the Holy Mother of God in Perevalne, broke down the doors and burst into the church. They smashed the interior and prevented believers from entering the church for the Sunday service.
Father Ivan Katkalo warned them that other believers would be coming which they chose to interpret as a threat and called for the so-called ‘self-defence’ to come to their assistance. Armed members of this paramilitary formation turned up, claiming that they were there to ‘prevent provocation from Right Sector activists.
Echoes of the strident propaganda on the Russian media are clear from all accounts of the events. Archbishop Clement of Simferopol and the Crimea says that during the attack, the assailants called the worshippers ‘fascists’ and ‘satanists’. While one group of gunmen blocked and smashed up Father Ivan’s car, another set to destroying the church. A pregnant believer and Father Ivan’s daughter who has cerebral palsy were injured in the attack.
The police only arrived much later and essentially took the side of the attackers. The press centre says that both the assailants and the police claimed that their behaviour was because “Kyiv Patriarchate is carrying out anti-Russian activities and there’s no place for the like in Russian Crimea.”
The Kyiv Patriarchate says that this is clearly a planned attack and points out that a priest from the Moscow Patriarchate appeared at Father Ivan’s home the day before and demanded that he ‘voluntarily vacate’ the church, claiming that these were his last days in the Crimea.
The planning is doubtless reflected also in the group of elderly people with placards who stood protesting against the presence of the Kyiv Patriarchate believers.
The protesters appeared together with the ’self-defence’ vigilantes. Their placards read: "No Right Sector in the Crimea" and "Ivan Katkalo is a provocateur"
Archbishop Clement has demanded an end to discrimination against the Church and says that over recent months the Crimean eparchy of UOC KP and members of the community have been subjected to pressure, intimidation and discrimination. He expressed outrage at the “cynical and arrogant harassment of the Church which is accompanied by promises from the Crimean and Russian authorities to respect the rights of Orthodox believers.”
The Church, he said, is also facing economic repression. The Cathedral in Simferopol is presently threatened with closure because the puppet parliament passed a decision to raise the rent by 600 thousand times.
The Church is also calling on the UN, the OSCE and Council of Europe to “prevent the destruction of the Church in the Crimea and to protect believers from lawlessness and persecution”.
There have been many attacks on religious freedom in the Crimea since Russia’s annexation. The puppet regime and its paramilitary ‘self-defence’ have forced a number of Greek Catholic priests, Orthodox priests from the Kyiv Patriarchate and at least one rabbi to leave for mainland Ukraine.
Maksym Vasin, lawyer and executive director of the Institute of Religious Freedom has analysed likely problems for religious believers under Russian rule, given legislation which seeks much greater control over religious life. Vasin writes that “this is especially apparent in the Federal Law of Russia ‘On Countering Extremist Activities’ and related laws, according to which religious organizations, their literature, and even internet resources may be prohibited.”
There is already evidence of Crimean Tatar Muslims being under surveillance and even suspected of ‘extremism’.
Perhaps the only cheering development since Russian occupation has been the increasing degree of cooperation and mutual support between those faiths to varying degrees under siege. These included the offer from Crimean Tatars for believers from the Kyiv Patriarchate to use their mosques for religious services.
Tragically, such help may soon be needed.