Cross & Icons seized, Archbishop assaulted in barbaric new attack on Ukrainian Cathedral in Russian-occupied Crimea
Russian enforcement officers and bailiffs burst into the Cathedral of Volodymyr and Olga, the main Cathedral of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Kyiv Patriarchate in Simferopol on Thursday morning. The men, many of them masked, blocked the entire premises and used force against Archbishop Kliment, injuring his arm.
Bailiffs forced their way onto the territory of the Cathedral at 10 a.m. on August 31,damaging property on the ground floor, and the doors to the altar on the first floor. They removed a cross, church chalices, rare icons and some items of porcelain and crystal that had been given to the Church, as well as rugs. No inventory was made of the items and Archbishop Kliment was not given any document to sign.
The Archbishop and members of the congregation were prevented from entering. Archbishop Kliment explains that when he tried to enter the Cathedral, the men seized his arm, twisting it so badly that an ambulance needed to be called.
The battle to seize control of the Cathedral of Vladimir and Olga began soon after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. Kliment has since said that he was initially offered 200 thousand dollars to give the Cathedral up.
Then in January 2016, the Russian-controlled Crimean Arbitration Court issued a ruling ordering the Church to vacate 112 m² of the premises and to pay a prohibitive half a million roubles, which were claimed to be for communal services. The appeal against that ruling was rejected in June 2016.
The men who burst in on Thursday cited another eviction order from December 2016 which apparently demands that they leave the entire ground floor.
In fact, the Archbishop says, this latest move has effectively blocked and seized all 432 m² of the Cathedral’s territory.
Outrage was expressed on Thursday over what Refat Chubarov, Head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, called the barbaric attitude of the Russian occupation regime to the clergy and congregation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. He sees this persecution, like that against Muslims in Crimea as aimed at driving Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians from their homeland which Russia is occupying..
The Kyiv Patriarchate also issued a statement calling the action of the Russian enforcement bodies “lawlessness, violation of the right to freedom of conscience, guaranteed by international agreements binding also on Russia. It considers these actions to be a continuation of the occupation regime’s pressure on the Ukrainian religious and ethnic minority in Crimea, intimidation and an attempt to totally destroy the Kyiv Patriarchate on the peninsula. We believe that it is also revenge from the Russian security service for the position taken by Archbishop Kliment and for his statements in defence of political prisoners of the Kremlin’s regime, including Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian activists. “
The Kyiv Patriarchate calls on the Ukrainian government and on the international community, including the EU and its member states, the USA, Canada and other democratic states, the UN and OSCE, to condemn this attack and to demand, as it does, that Russia stops its religious persecution and interference in the activities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Kyiv Patriarchate in Crimea.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Kyiv Patriarchate has been under intense pressure since annexation. In January 2016, Kliment said that the number of churches held by UOC KP had halved since annexation, and that of the 10 remaining churches, one in Yevpatoria had faced several arson attacks. The seizure of the Church of the Intercession of the Holy Mother of God in the village of Perevalne followed a frightening armed attack on the church and believers in June 2016.
There have also been threats on businesspeople supporting the Kyiv Patriarchate that they could lose their business if they continue to provide premises for places of worship.
The Archbishop has said that many of those who miss Ukraine come to their churches, although it is clear that they are very aware of being under observation.
“Russian-speakers also come here, and just people who never went to church, but whose heart lies with Ukraine and who miss Ukraine. They come just to talk, in Russian or in Ukrainian. We don’t talk about politics, however, 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”.
The Archbishop reported on August 24 that he has addressed an appeal to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asking him to react to infringements of the rights of both the clergy and congregation in occupied Crimea.
In the letter he asked for legal assistance where such infringements have taken place, and for free passage to be ensured between mainland Ukraine and occupied Crimea for clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Kyiv Patriarchate.
Archbishop Kliment has tirelessly defended those facing persecution since Russia’s invasion. He was detained on Oct 19. 2016 on his return from mainland Ukraine and held for an hour. No explanation was given, but the incident came just a week after he addressed an urgent plea to international bodies to “take decisive measures to protect fundamental rights of Ukrainians in Crimea”.
The Archbishop addressed the Autumn session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE] on October 11. He told them of the persecution which the Orthodox Church under the Kyiv Patriarchate has been subjected to since Russia’s annexation, and of the danger which the Ukrainian language was facing under Russian occupation. He called on the international community to help protect the national, cultural and religious rights of all Ukrainian citizens in Crimea.
In late August Archbishop Kliment addressed an appeal to Russian Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Supreme Mufti Sheikh ul-Islam asking them to do all in their power to secure the release of Crimean political prisoners.