war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia charges abducted Ukrainian Orthodox priest with ‘spying’ for Ukraine

Halya Coynash
It seems likely that Father Kostiantyn (Maksymov) from occupied Tokmak was forcibly ‘disappeared’ in May 2023 for opposing attempts to forcibly merge the Berdiansk Diocese into the Russian Orthodox Church

Father Kostiantyn (Maksymov) Photo from the Centre for Civil Liberties

Father Kostiantyn (Maksymov) Photo from the Centre for Civil Liberties

Almost ten months after Father Kostiantyn (Maksymov), a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [UOC], was abducted from his home in occupied Tokmak (Zaporizhzhia oblast), Russia has admitted to holding him prisoner and announced plans to ‘try him’ under Russian legislation with ‘spying for Ukraine’.

Fahter Kostiantyn served at the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in occupied Tokmak.  According to the Centre for Civil Liberties, he left Tokmak in the morning of 15 May 2023 on a humanitarian mission via occupied Crimea. At 10.30 he phoned friends and said that he had arrived at the administrative border with Crimea (presumed to be that at Chonhar).  All contact was lost with him after this, and until now, the Russians had not admitted that he was in their custody.  As with the earlier enforced disappearances of two priest monks from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church - Father Ivan Levytsky and Father Bohdan Heleta, there was no confirmation even that he was still alive.

On 29 March 2024, a Russian-controlled Telegram channel reported that the occupation ‘prosecutor’ has confirmed the ‘indictment’ against Father Kostiantyn.  The latter is identified only as “a 40-year-old citizen of Ukraine”, with no mention made of his not being “Mr Maksymov”, but a Ukrainian Orthodox priest.  The charge is of ‘spying’ under Article 276 of Russia’s criminal code which the aggressor state is illegally applied on occupied territory.  The ‘prosecution’ is claiming that, from April 2022 until February 2023, Father Kostiantyn used Messenger to pass an officer of Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU] information regarding the coordinates of Russia’s anti-aircraft defences in Tokmak and the area.  The ‘trial’ is to be passed to Russia’s illegal ‘Zaporizhzhia regional court’. 

Russia’s ‘spying’ charges are always held in total secrecy, and even where the FSB cannot prevent the person being represented by an independent lawyer, the latter is forced, on pain of criminal prosecution, to agree to not disclose any details about the case.  In this case, however, the situation is even more illegal since Russia is illegally holding Father Kostiantyn incommunicado and will be staging a fake trial on occupied territory, with no access to independent lawyers or international observers. This travesty, which has nothing to do with rule of law, is likely to end in a sentence of from 10-20 years’ imprisonment. 

Forum 18 received a telling piece of information from Artem Sharlay, a Russian-installed ‘official’ dealing with religious organizations for the occupation ‘Zaporizhzhia regional administration’.  While not providing any information as to where Father Kostiantyn was being held, Sharlay did state that Father Konstiantyn had not wanted the Berdiansk Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to become part of the Russian Orthodox Church.  The latter took over the Diocese just days before Father Kostiantyn was abducted.  UOC, as opposed to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, was subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate, but that did not mean that its clergy did not identify with Ukraine.  Father Volodymyr Saviyskiy, who knew Father Kostiantyn, had faced harassment, interrogations and detention for his opposition to such merger with the Russian Orthodox Church; his refusal to stop praying for Ukraine and its defenders and unwillingness to report on members of his congregation. 

It is likely that 59-year-old Stepan Podolchak, a priest of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and head of a church in occupied Kalanchak (Kherson oblast) was abducted by the Russian invaders in February 2024 and murdered because of his refusal to transfer his newly built church and its congregation, into the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarch.   

There remains silence about the whereabouts of Father Bohdan Heleta and Father Ivan Levytsky, the above-mentioned Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest monks who were seized by the Russians in occupied Berdiansk back in November 2022.  The secrecy is particularly disturbing given the chilling claims a week after the men were abducted on Russian propaganda media, including TV Zvezda, a channel linked with Russia’s defence ministry, that they were suspected of ‘terrorism’ and had been found to have “explosives, detonators and pistols”.   

In occupied parts of Zaporizhzhia oblast, the Russian-installed ‘authorities’ have already banned the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, as well as the Grace Church, Melitopol Christian Church, and Word of Life Church.

All of this follows the pattern seen in any part of Ukraine that has fallen under Russian occupation since 2014, with all faiths except the Russian Orthodox Church / Moscow Patriarchate, invariably, and swiftly, coming under fire.

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