31.12.2015 | Halya Coynash

Ukrainian Orthodox Church may be forced to close in Russian-occupied Crimea


   Attack by armed paramilitaries on Orthodox Church under the Kyiv Patriarchate in Perevalne, Crimea (June 2014)

All Ukrainian Orthodox churches under the Kyiv Patriarchate could be forced to close from Jan 1, Archbishop Kliment of Simferopol and Crimea has warned.  In a recent interview, he explained that over the almost two years under Russian occupation, the Kyiv Patriarchate’s community in Crimea has not received registration, and can therefore not conclude official agreements with the de facto authorities. 

He says that all who miss Ukraine come to their churches, although nobody speaks of politics in them.

Russian-speakers also come here, and simply people who never went to church, but whose heart lies with Ukraine and who miss Ukraine.  They come, talk in Russian, or in Ukraine, and just communicate.  We don’t  talk about politics, that’s very dangerous.  There were occasions when people in plain clothes came to church and sat at the back. Later they made comments on what needed to be removed from the service so that it didn’t “jar”.  You mustn’t say, for example, that the good times will return”.

He says that while the authorities are supposed acting in accordance with the law, that law means that the Church under the Kyiv Patriarchate could be dissolved.  It is unclear whether they will be able to sign agreements with the electricity and water authorities.  Up till 2016 there was a corridor, with documents issued under Ukraine still allowed to be used.  From Jan 2016, this will be virtually impossible.

In June this year, Archbishop Kliment issued a desperate  appeal on behalf of the Church and all Crimean Ukrainians to the international community, asking them to defend the national, cultural and religious rights of all Ukrainian nationals in Crimea.  

He mentioned:

the illegal seizures of the Church of the Holy Martyr Clement of Rome in Simferopol and the Church of the Intercession of the Holy Mother of God in the village of Perevalne;

the threat on businesspeople supporting the Kyiv Patriarchate that they could lose their business, with this meaning that premises provided for parishes in Saki, Krasnoperekopsk and Kerch had been taken away. 

The auctioning of premises in Simferopol that had been on long-term lease to the Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate

There was concern within months of Russia’s forced annexation of Crimea that the rules on re-registration would be used as a weapon enabling an effective ban on Ukrainian churches and religious organizations other than the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate. 

As reported, Article 19 of the relevant Russian law states that legal entities which have not brought their founding documents into line with Russian legislation and have not submitted applications to be added to the Single State Register of Legal Entities as branches of a foreign legal entity by the date stipulated will not be able to operate in Russia (including Russian-occupied Crimea) and will be dissolved. 

Such laws on re-registration have already been used to silence Crimean Tatar media in Crimea, with Roskomnadzor either openly refusing to re-register or simply not doing it until the media were faced with breaking the law if they continued to broadcast.

Ukraine’s Institute for Religious Freedom [IRF] sounded the alarm last February when the deadline was still set for the beginning of March 2015.  They pointed out that at the beginning of 2014 there were 1, 409 religious organizations registered as legal entities in Crimea, and around 674 religious communities, mainly Crimean Tatar, which functioned without registration.

By February this year only 9 societies had re-registered, with 73 currently in the process of registering.  Only 2 religious organizations had registered in Moscow.

Russian legislation is more restrictive than Ukrainian with respect to believers, imposing far more onerous demands on bodies wishing to function as a legal entity.  As reported here, one particular point of concern is Russia’s extensive use of dangerously broad ‘anti-extremism’ legislation. 

The deadline was extended, but it has still proven next to impossible to re-register.  One of the requirements is that the religious organization adds words to its association papers that Crimea is part of Russia which many are not prepared to do.

The lack of such registration means that the communities will lose the right to use and dispose of their churches, mosques, places of worship or other buildings. They will also be severely restricted since only registered bodies can carry out religious rites in hospitals, kindergartens, homes for the elderly and prisoners; invite foreign nationals to come to work; open bank accounts for donations; buy or rent premises for services and other property; produce and circulate literature, printed, audio or visual material; carry out charitable work; establish and maintain international contacts. 

All faiths but one (the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate) have come under serious pressure, with both the regulations on Russian re-registration and restrictions on Ukrainian nationals serving to drive many out and / or prevent them from functioning legally.  Most also face heightened attention from Russia’s FSB [Security Service], prohibitive increases in rent, etc.

More details here: Faith under Fire and FSB Surveillance in Crimea

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