Ukrainian Archbishop Klyment detained in Russian-occupied Crimea on grotesquely absurd charges
Archbishop Klyment, Head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in Russian-occupied Crimea was detained on Sunday morning, 3 March, and held in custody until late evening, facing two separate charges of breath-taking cynicism. He was first accused, on the basis of an anonymous denunciation, of stealing religious items from his own church, and then, citing an equally anonymous ‘complaint’, of having used bad language at the bus station.
The Archbishop was setting off for Rostov-on-Don to attend the court hearing in the politically motivated ‘trial’ of Pavlo Hryb, a young Ukrainian student. The court in Rostov had given permission for Klyment to visit Hryb in the SIZO or remand prison where he is being held. He was detained by the Russian-controlled police when already seated on the coach, and taken to the central police station in Simferopol, where lawyer Emil Kurbedinov joined him as soon as he could, and, a little later, his colleague Nikolai Polozov.
The initial excuse was the bizarre claim that the Archbishop of Simferopol and Crimea had ‘stolen’ something from his own church. This was purportedly prompted by a telephone call to the police which listed the items that Klyment was carrying, calling these stolen.
Together with Kurbedinov, Klyment wrote a statement, explaining that the items belonged to him and that the claim that he had stolen them was absurd. The matter should have ended there, however the police refused to release him, initially claiming that they were waiting for some kind of ‘protocol’.Polozov writes that after several hours, they insisted on leaving together with the Archbishop, since he had not been detained and there were no grounds for forcing him to remain. It was as they were leaving that the ‘police’ came up with the second surreal accusation of having used foul language.
It was already evening when Polozov reported that the deputy head of the Simferopol police had told the Archbishop that he was being taken to the Kievsky district police station to have an administrative protocol drawn up. The absurd charge was of ‘petty hooliganism’, i.e. supposed bad language, and it looked for several hours as though Russia was planning to impose a period of administrative arrest which could be up to 15 days.Although the Russian occupation regime stopped short of imprisoning the Archbishop and he was finally released, without any protocols drawn up, this is a very dangerous new move in Russia’s persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and of Klyment himself.
It comes only weeks after Klyment was forced to appeal to the international community to prevent the effective destruction of the Church which first came under attack soon after Russia’s invasion and annexation. Klyment had earlier warned that the persecution was likely to escalate after the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine with autocephaly or independent status, a move met with rage by both the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate
Klyment reported on 8 February that he had received a writ ordering that he leave the Cathedral of Vladimir and Olga in occupied Simferopol which was now under the so-called ministry of property and land relations. The occupation authorities were thus terminating the agreement between the Church and the Crimean Property Fund in 2002, and the Church was given 30 days to vacate the building. This, the Archbishop warned, was likely to lead to eight parishes in rural areas also being forced to close.
During a press conference in Kyiv on 12 February, Klyment called on the international community, and on the ambassadors of European countries, the USA and Canada in Ukraine to take the situation under their personal control. If pressure on the Church intensifies, he said, personal sanctions were crucial against those involved in terminating the Church’s lease agreement.
It was the Ukrainian Church, then under the Kyiv Patriarchate, that first came under fire following annexation, not least because of its openly pro-Ukrainian position and its public statement on 11 March 2014 condemning Russian occupation of Crimea. For understandable reasons, the Church has consistently refused to re-register under Russian legislation.
In just the first year, 38 out of 46 parishes ceased to exist, and in at very least three cases, churches were seized by the occupation regime: in Sevastopol; Simferopol and in the village of Perevalne. Of 25 priests in 2014, by October 2018 there were only four. There had been nine until the summer of 2018, however five had left for mainland Ukraine after a number of searches of the homes of members of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre and after it became clear that the lack of a Russian passport was likely to be used against them.
Lack of such registration has given Russia weapons to use in depriving the Church and believers of their places of worship and of other rights. Other methods have also been used, including the threat of physical reprisals by the armed paramilitaries, especially in 2014, vulnerability over the lack of Russian citizenship and also economic intimidation. There have been threats, for example, against those businesspeople who provided premises for the Church to use, with this a reason why many religious communities have lost their places of worship.
It now appears that Russia is using its customary abuse of the law for direct persecution of the Archbishop himself.
Archbishop Klyment 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 had addressed an urgent plea to international bodies to “take decisive measures to protect fundamental rights of Ukrainians in Crimea”. It is no accident that this new wave of repression comes a month after the Archbishop was appointed the head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine’s Mission to help victims of rights abuses and illegal imprisonment in Russia and occupied territories.