In February 2014, armed forces of the Russian Federation seized and occupied Crimea. In March 2014, Russia announced Crimea had become part of the Russian Federation. A UN General Assembly resolution declared continued international recognition of Crimea as part of Ukraine. The U.S. government recognizes Crimea is part of Ukraine; it does not and will not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea. Occupation authorities continue to impose the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory of Crimea.
On July 12, Human Right Watch reported religious activists in Crimea were among victims of torture by FSB agents. The Russian government reported there were 891 religious communities registered in Crimea, including Sevastopol, compared with 831 in 2018, a number that dropped by over 1,000 since the occupation began in 2014, the last year for which Ukrainian government figures were available. Religious activists, human rights groups, and media reports said Russian authorities in occupied Crimea continued to persecute and intimidate minority religious congregations, Jehovah’s Witnesses, OCU members, and Muslim Crimean Tatars. Occupation authorities continued to subject Muslim Crimean Tatars to imprisonment and detention, especially if authorities purportedly suspected the individuals of involvement in the Muslim political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia but is legal in Ukraine. According to Forum 18, administrative court hearings imposed by Russia on Crimeans for “missionary activity” were comparable with the previous year. There were 24 prosecutions for such activity, compared with 23 in 2018, 17 of which ended in convictions with a monetary fine. Greek Catholic leaders said they continued to have difficulty staffing their parishes because of the policies of occupation authorities. The UGCC said it continued to have to operate under the umbrella of the Roman Catholic Church. The OCU reported continued seizures of its churches. Crimean Tatars reported police continued to be slow to investigate attacks on Islamic religious properties or refused to investigate them at all. Religious and human rights groups continued to report Russian media efforts to create suspicion and fear among certain religious groups, especially targeting Crimean Tatar Muslims, whom media repeatedly accused of links to Islamist groups designated by Russia as terrorist groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir. Russian media also portrayed Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists.”
On November 6, the website Crimea-news reported that unidentified individuals destroyed crosses at a cemetery in Feodosia. According to Crimean Tatar activist Zair Smedlyaev, in November unidentified individuals destroyed a tombstone at a Muslim cemetery in Petrivka Village, in Krasnogvardiysk District.
The U.S. government continued to condemn the intimidation of Christian and Muslim religious groups by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea and to call international attention to the religious abuses committed by Russian forces through public statements by the Secretary and other senior officials, as well as messaging on social media. U.S. government officials remained unable to visit the peninsula following its occupation by the Russian Federation. Embassy officials, however, continued to meet in other parts of Ukraine with Crimean Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders to discuss their concerns over actions taken against their congregations by the occupation authorities, and to demonstrate continued U.S. support for their right to practice their religious beliefs.
Section I. Religious Demography
The Crimean Peninsula consists of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (ARC) and the city of Sevastopol. According to the State Statistics Service of Ukraine 2014 estimates (the most recent), the total population of the peninsula is 2,353,000. There are no recent independent surveys with data on the religious affiliation of the population, but media outlets estimate the number of Crimean Tatars, who are overwhelmingly Muslim, at 300,000, or 13 percent of the population.
According to the information provided by the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture in 2014 (the most recent year available), the UOC-MP remains the largest Christian denomination. Smaller Christian denominations include the OCU, the Roman Catholic Church, UAOC, UGCC, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, along with Protestant groups, including Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Lutherans. Adherents of the UOC-MP, Protestants, and Muslims are the largest religious groups in Sevastopol.
There are several Jewish congregations, mostly in Sevastopol and Simferopol. Jewish groups estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before the Russian occupation began; no updates have been available since the occupation began in 2014. According to the 2001 census, the most recent, there are 1196 Karaites in Ukraine; 671 of them lived in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
On November 6, the website Crimea-news.com reported that unidentified individuals had destroyed crosses at a cemetery in Feodosia.
According to Crimean Tatar activist Zair Smedlyaev, in November unidentified individuals destroyed a tombstone at a Muslim cemetery in Petrivka Village, in Krasnohvardiysk District.
Krym Realii news website, in May unidentified individuals destroyed newly installed slabs etched with the names of 64 fallen Soviet Army soldiers, including 57 Crimean Tatars, at a World War II memorial in Orlovka Village, in Sevastopol.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The U.S. government continued its efforts to focus international attention on the religious freedom-related abuses committed by Russian forces and occupation authorities in Crimea, especially on actions taken by those forces and authorities against Christians and Muslims. U.S. government and embassy officials condemned the continuing intimidation of minority religious congregations, including Christians and Muslim Crimean Tatars. On March 4, the embassy wrote, “We remain deeply concerned about Archbishop Klyment’s detention in Crimea yesterday. Despite his subsequent release, this kind of harassment is unacceptable. We expect Russia to respect freedom of religion and stop detaining innocent Ukrainians in Crimea.” On July 25, the embassy wrote, “We are concerned by media reports of looting of the Volodymyr and Olha Cathedral in Simferopol, Ukraine. Residents of Crimea deserve to be able to worship freely, without intimidation, if they so choose. We call upon Russia to end its occupation of Crimea.”
Although embassy and other U.S. government officials remained unable to visit Crimea following the Russian occupation, embassy officials continued to meet in other parts of Ukraine with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders from Crimea. The leaders discussed their concerns over actions taken against congregations by the occupation authorities and reassured the religious leaders of continued U.S. support for the right of all to practice their religious beliefs. Embassy officials told religious leaders the United States would continue to support religious freedom in Crimea and press the occupation authorities to return confiscated property and release prisoners incarcerated for their religious or political beliefs.
In February 2014, Russian military forces invaded Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262 adopted on March 27, 2014, and entitled Territorial Integrity of Ukraine, states the Autonomous Republic of Crimea remains internationally recognized as within Ukraine’s international borders. The U.S. government does not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and considers that Crimea remains a part of Ukraine.
The constitution protects freedom of religion and provides for the separation of church and state. By law, the objective of domestic religious policy is to foster the creation of a tolerant society and provide for freedom of conscience and worship. On January 6, the Ecumenical Patriarch granted autocephaly to the newly created Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), thereby formally recognizing a canonical Ukrainian Orthodox institution independent of the Russian Orthodox Church for the first time since 1686. On January 30, the government officially registered the OCU under the titles Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), stating that the names could be used synonymously. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) continued to be also officially registered as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church even though it remained a constituent part of the Moscow Patriarchate, also known as the Russian Orthodox Church, following the creation of the OCU. The government at times struggled to manage tensions between the newly created OCU and UOC-MP, which competed for members and congregations. According to observers, Russia attempted to use its disinformation campaign to fuel further conflict between the two churches. According to human rights groups, the number of documented acts of anti-Semitism was lower when compared with previous years, but investigations and prosecution of anti-Semitic vandalism were generally inconclusive. Some Jewish leaders continued to state their concerns about what they considered impunity for acts of anti-Semitism and the government’s long delays in completing investigations. Religious leaders also continued to urge the government to establish a transparent legal process to address property restitution claims. Minority religious groups continued to report discriminatory treatment by local authorities in land allocation for religious buildings. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) said the local government in Bila Tserkva, Kyiv Oblast, was unwilling to finalize the allocation of a plot of land for building a church.
Media sources, religious freedom activists, the OCU, Muslims, Protestant churches, and Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that Russian proxy authorities in the Russian-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (regions) continued to exert pressure on minority religious groups. In the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic (“LPR”), proxy authorities banned Jehovah’s Witnesses as an “extremist” organization, while the “Supreme Court” in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (“DPR”) upheld a similar ban. Russian proxy authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk continued to implement laws requiring all religious organizations except the UOC-MP to undergo “state religious expert evaluations” and reregister with them. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a majority of religious groups recognized under Ukrainian law continued to be unable to reregister because of stringent legal requirements under Russian legislation preventing or discouraging reregistration of many religious communities. Many religious groups continued to refuse to reregister because they did not recognize the Russian-installed authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk. All but one mosque remained closed in Donetsk. Russia-led forces continued to use religious buildings of minority religious groups as military facilities. The situation in Russian-occupied Crimea is reported in an appendix following the report on the rest of Ukraine.
After the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate granted autocephaly to the newly created OCU in January, thereby recognizing a Ukrainian Orthodox institution independent of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Kremlin, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the UOC-MP labelled the OCU a “schismatic” group. UOC-MP representatives stated but did not provide evidence that the OCU had carried out “raider attacks” by deceiving and stealing parishioners by using a similar name. There were continued reports of what some media and political observers characterized as radical groups physically assaulting and pressuring UOC-MP supporters and vandalizing UOC-MP property as well as UOC-MP priests locking out parishioners who wished to change to the OCU. In March representatives of the group Right Sector, commonly characterized as a violent radical group, reportedly pushed and possibly hit UOC-MP parishioners during a scuffle between OCU and UOC-MP members near a UOC-MP church in Hnizdychne, Ternopil Oblast. UOC-MP leaders accused the newly formed OCU of seizing churches belonging to the UOC-MP; the OCU responded that parishioners rather than the OCU had initiated the transfers of affiliation. Members of the Jewish community reiterated concern about new construction on a site at Lviv’s Krakivskiy Market located on the grounds of an ancient Jewish cemetery. There were again reports of vandalism of Christian monuments; Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries; and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Halls. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported five violent incidents against members and five cases of vandalism and arson attacks on Kingdom Halls. The All-Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) and the All-Ukrainian Council of Religious Associations (AUCRA) continued to promote interfaith dialogue and respect for religious diversity.
The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials met frequently with officials of the Office of the President, ministry officials, and members of parliament to discuss the protection of religious heritage sites, manifestations of anti-Semitism, and issues within the Orthodox churches. In light of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s granting the OCU autocephaly the Ambassador urged government and religious leaders to practice tolerance, restraint, and mutual understanding to ensure respect for all individuals’ religious freedom and preferences. The Ambassador and other embassy officials continued to urge religious groups to resolve property disputes peacefully and through dialogue with government officials, in particular the dispute regarding the location of parts of the Krakivskyy Market on the site of the Lviv Old Jewish Cemetery. Embassy officials continued to meet with internally displaced Muslims from Crimea to discuss their continuing inability to practice their religion freely in Crimea. In May the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met with government, religious, and community leaders to discuss the need for a strong government response to combating anti-Semitism, promote religious freedom, encourage interfaith dialogue, and assure leaders of U.S. support for all individuals to practice freely their faiths.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 44 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the annual October national survey conducted by the Razumkov Center, an independent public policy think tank, 64.9 percent of respondents identify as Christian Orthodox, compared with 67. 3 percent in 2018; 9.5 percent Greek Catholic (UGCC), compared with 9.4 percent; 1.8 percent Protestant, compared with 2.2; 1.6 percent Roman Catholic, compared with 0.8 percent; 0.1 Jewish, compared with 0.4 percent; and 0.1 percent Muslim, compared with under 0.1 percent in 2018. The survey found another 8 percent identify as “simply a Christian,” while 12.8 percent state they do not belong to any religious group, compared with 7.1 percent and 11 percent, respectively, in 2018. Small percentages of Buddhists, Hindus, followers of other religions, and individuals who chose not to disclose their beliefs constitute the remainder of the respondents. According to the same survey, 64. 9 percent identify as Christian Orthodox; 13.2 percent the new OCU; 10.6 percent the UOC-MP; 7.7 percent Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP); 30.3 percent “just an Orthodox believer”; and 3.1 percent undecided.
According to government statistics, followers of the UGCC reside primarily in the western oblasts of Lviv, Ternopil, and Ivano-Frankivsk. Most Roman Catholic Church (RCC) congregations are in Lviv, Khmelnytskyy, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsya, and Zakarpattya Oblasts in the western part of the country. According to the government’s estimate released in March, most of the then UOC-KP and UAOC (now largely merged into the new OCU) congregations are in the central and western parts of the country, except for Zakarpattya Oblast. Most UOC-MP congregations are also in the central and western parts of the country, excluding Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv and Ternopil Oblasts.
The Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine is the largest Protestant community. Other Christian groups include Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Calvinists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).
Government agencies and independent think tanks estimate the Muslim population at 500,000, while some Muslim leaders estimate two million. According to government figures, 300,000 of these are Crimean Tatars.
The Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD) states there are approximately 300,000 persons of Jewish ancestry in the country. According to VAAD, before the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, approximately 30,000 Jews lived in the Donbas region (Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts). Jewish groups estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before Russia’s attempted annexation.
There are also Buddhists, practitioners of Falun Gong, Baha’is, and adherents of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
A Pew Research Center Global Attitudes and Trends Survey on minority groups in Europe, released in October, found 83 percent of Ukrainians held favorable views of Jews and 11 percent unfavorable, with favorability increasing by 15 percent from the previous survey conducted in 2009. According to an October Razumkov Center poll, 17.4 percent of respondents expressed their positive attitude toward Judaism, compared with 13 percent in 2018 and 14.8 percent in 2016. In the poll, 47.6 percent said they were indifferent toward Judaism, 22.3 percent undecided, and 2 percent said they had never heard of that religion. Almost 11 percent voiced negative attitudes, compared with 13.5 percent in 2018 and 12.6 percent in 2016.
In November the Anti-Defamation League released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s residents. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they believed such statements were “probably true” or “probably false.” The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was: 47 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Ukraine; 72 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 44 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.
On August 25, the Kyiv Pechersk District Court extended the detention of two suspects who police said had injured a Jewish boy in Uman in 2017 in a “terrorist act orchestrated by Russia’s intelligence service” to incite interethnic and religious confrontation. Police stated that in previous years the same individuals had painted anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls of synagogues in Lviv and Odesa and had desecrated a synagogue in Uman near the grave of Rabbi Nachman, founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.
In October a graffiti image of Hitler was found near the grave of Rabbi Nachman. On October 11, local police reported the detention of a suspect in the crime.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reported there were five violent incidents against their members during the year, compared with three in 2018 and 18 in 2017. Examples included an assault on a Jehovah’s Witness in July, who was struck twice in the face and stabbed while offering religious literature in a public area; an assault in June in which the male of a Jehovah’s Witness couple distributing religious literature was struck in the face; and four attacks on eight Jehovah’s Witnesses preaching publicly. Investigations were opened, but the assailants were not been prosecuted by year’s end.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reported three cases of physical assaults during the year, compared with 18 in 2017. They said one individual had physically and verbally assaulted them on at least 15 previous occasions. On May 27, the same individual beat and threw stones at Jehovah’s Witnesses in Korchivtsi Village, Chernivtsi Oblast, injuring one of them and damaging the victims’ car. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, police ignored their complaints and “mildly reprimanded” the attacker. On June 13, police began to investigate the May 27 assault as a hate crime after the Jehovah’s Witnesses took the case to court. The investigation continued at year’s end.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that on June 7, an individual attacked several Jehovah’s Witnesses with a wooden stick in Zhytomyr. He reportedly threw their missionary materials to the ground and punched one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses several times. During the 20-minute assault, the attacker demanded that the Jehovah’s Witnesses make the sign of the cross. Police categorized the assault as personal animosity between the attacker and his victims and forwarded the case to court.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on May 14, an unidentified man in Mykolayiv demanded that a Jehovah’s Witness stop his public ministry and broke a beer bottle on the victim’s head. The attacker fled before police arrived at the scene.
On October 28, the Korolyov District Court in Zhytomyr handed down prison sentences ranging from seven to 11 years to four individuals who attacked Chabad Rabbi Mendel Deitsch at the city’s train station in 2016. Deitsch subsequently died from his injuries.
On September 16, the private Israeli media outlet Mako posted a video appearing to show an allegedly Jewish man setting fire to a large outdoor crucifix located in Uman, Cherkasy Oblast, as Hasidic pilgrims came to a local river to perform a religious ritual. Media reported that the alleged arson provoked a subsequent altercation between some local residents and pilgrims; there we no reports of injuries. Uman Jewish community leaders condemned the attack. Law enforcement authorities opened an investigation that continued through year’s end.
According to the news website 18000, in March the Uman City and District Court handed down a two-year suspended sentence, with no prison time served, to two Jewish pilgrims who on January 19 damaged a crucifix in the city. According to the NMRMG, on January 20 approximately two dozen individuals participated in an anti-Semitic gathering organized by the National Corps party and self-identified right-wing organization, National Militia. Local National Militia leader Yevhen Ustynovych described the January 19 vandalism as evidence the city was facing a “very difficult situation with Yids,” adding that their presence in Uman was like a “gangrene” in need of amputation. Later that night a group of six persons threw a Molotov cocktail into a street in the vicinity of Rabbi Nachman’s burial site, a pilgrimage center, reportedly causing no damage.
OCU Honorary Patriarch Filaret, asked the head of the UGCC, Major Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk, to cancel his plan for a national pilgrimage to an April 7 liturgy at St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv. Filaret stated it would cause “opposition from Orthodox Ukrainians” and he wanted to avoid “tension” in the relationship with the UGCC. On March 7, following a meeting with OCU Primate, Metropolitan Epiphaniy, the UGCC leader, said that the UGCC was canceling the April 7 liturgy at the cathedral because it had to undergo restoration. According to the UGCC, the two leaders reaffirmed their Churches’ “firm desire to promote mutual understanding and cooperation.”
According to Right Sector, it and the National Militia “maintained law and order” at a gathering in the village of Guli, in Vinnytsy Oblast, purportedly at the request of local residents, at which local residents voted to transfer their UOC-MP parish to the OCU. The Right Sector and National Militia insisted that no UOC-MP-affiliated “outsiders” participated in the voting. In a January 6 interview with Channel Five, a private television station affiliated with former President Poroshenko, OCU Metropolitan Epiphaniy called on OCU members to refrain from violence and to treat UOC-MP believers with “love and respect.” He said the OCU would accept into its jurisdiction only UOC-MP congregations that changed affiliation voluntarily.
The Jewish community continued to express concern about the continuing operation of the Krakivskyiy Market on the grounds of an ancient Jewish cemetery in Lviv. The UCSJ urged the government to halt permanently the construction of a multistory building on the cemetery grounds that was initially ordered suspended in 2017. The UCSJ and civic activists continued to express concern over the possible continuation of construction of a high-rise building at the site of the World War II Jewish ghetto in Lviv. In 2016, a court suspended the project after human remains were reportedly found and removed from the soil at the construction site. As of year’s end, the remains had not been returned to the site.
On November 25 unidentified individuals painted swastikas on a monument to Jewish writer Sholom Aleichem in central Kyiv. Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko published a tweet condemning the vandalism and calling for a prompt investigation. The AUCCRO issued a statement describing the incident as an “attempt to undermine interethnic and interreligious peace.”
According to the NMRMG, on May 21, unidentified individuals painted anti-Semitic graffiti on a Holocaust memorial in Poltava, in the central part of the country. Members of the Jewish community condemned the actions and called for the government to find and hold the perpetrators accountable for defacing the memorial.
On July 21, police detained a person suspected of smashing a synagogue door pane in Kryvi Rih, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. Police reported that the attacker was mentally ill and subsequently released.
On October 4, the National Police and SBU reported the detention of a suspect accused of painting swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs on a Holocaust memorial in Holovanivsk, Kirovohrad Oblast, on September 15. The suspect was charged with incitement of ethnic and religious hatred and desecration of a burial site. The legal proceedings continued through year’s end.
In February the UOC-MP reported vandals cut the electricity, disabling an alarm and security camera, and threw a bottle bomb into St. Elijah the Martyr Church in the village of Zelenyi Yar, Mykolayiv Oblast, smashing its windows in the process. The church sustained damage, but no one was injured.
According to the UOC-MP, on October 30, unidentified persons vandalized the sanctuary of the St. Alexander Nevsky Church in Nevske Village, Luhansk Oblast. Law enforcement agencies opened an investigation, which continued through year’s end.
UOC-MP sources said that on September 16, the two individuals who in 2018 attempted to set fire to the UOC-MP Saints Volodymyr and Olga Church in Kyiv sent a letter of apology to its congregation. The congregation accepted the apology, reported UOC-MP members.
According to the Pershyj.com news website, in February unidentified vandals destroyed a cross at a cemetery of an OCU monastery in Zhydychyn, in Volyn Oblast. It was the third such incident at the site, starting in 2018.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported five cases of vandalism and arson attacks on Kingdom Halls during the year, compared with 25 cases in 2018 and 30 in 2017. The incidents included unidentified assailants’ breaking a window in a Kingdom Hall in February in Zaporizhya, painting graffiti in June on a Kingdom Hall in Kyiv, and painting obscene words and images in October on a Hall in Lozova. In four of the cases, police did not initiate criminal proceedings. In the Lozova incident, the investigative judge obliged police to begin an investigation.
The NMRMG reported 14 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism during the year, compared with 12 in 2018 and 24 in 2017. On November 28, Josef Zissels, a Jewish community leader and co-president of VAAD, indicated in a press conference the need to properly investigate and punish xenophobic crimes and open cases under hate crime laws.
On July 1, the Lviv Appellate Administrative Court upheld an appeal by the local Jewish community against a 2018 city council decision declaring the old Jewish cemetery in Kolomyia, Ivano Frankivsk Oblast, a memorial park. In 2017, self-described nationalist activists placed a cross on top of an alleged unmarked grave of Ukrainians killed by Stalin’s regime in the Jewish cemetery. According to the representatives of the Jewish community, the new legal status of the area would make it impossible to seek relocation of the cross. According to video footage of the hearing, when the presiding judge read the ruling, nationalist activists in the courtroom shouted that he was siding with “Yids.”
According to the Jewish community and police reports, unidentified individuals vandalized Holocaust memorials and Jewish religious monuments in various locations, including in the Kyiv, Lviv, and Mykolayiv Oblasts. Police investigations of these acts continued at year’s end. According to police, there was no progress on some of these or similar cases from 2018.
On February 19, the SBU announced the detention of Yevhen Morenets, known as “White Balaclava,” an organizer of a November 2018 anti-Semitic gathering in Kyiv. He was reportedly linked to Mykola Dulsky, leader of the radical pro-Russian group Nazhdak. According to the SBU, Dulsky remained in hiding in Russia.
AUCRA, comprising a number of mainly smaller religious groups and churches, met on April 11 to initiate a national celebration of the Day of the Freedom of Conscience and Worship to emphasize the importance of religious freedom and honor those who suffered for their religious beliefs at the hands of the Soviet regime.
The SBU reported that several individuals accused of painting anti-Semitic graffiti on a Jewish community center in Sumy in December 2017 remained under investigation. Russian intelligence agencies reportedly ordered the group to commit anti-Semitic vandalism.
In March the ECHR opened legal proceedings in response to a complaint filed by the UOC-MP in Ptycha, Rivne Oblast, regarding the community’s inability to use its church, which, according to the UOC-MP, was “seized” by OCU followers supported by local authorities. The OCU denied the claim and said that most congregation members supported the change of affiliation.
On May 5-7, the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine sponsored the first-ever Kyiv Jewish Forum to highlight the global fight against anti-Semitism on the 20th anniversary of the organization.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Ambassador, embassy officials, and other U.S. government officials continued to meet with officials of the Office of the President, Ministries of Culture, Interior, Justice, and Foreign Affairs, members of parliament, political parties, and local officials to engage on issues of religious freedom. They continued to discuss the importance of fair and transparent treatment of religious groups during the establishment of the new OCU, preservation of religious heritage sites, support for religious minorities, and combating increasing manifestations of anti-Semitism. In meetings with government officials at both the national and local levels, the Ambassador called for unequivocal condemnation and swift prosecution of anti-Semitic acts. The Ambassador also urged government officials to increase their efforts to ensure the preservation of historic religious sites.
The Ambassador called for the government to protect the right of all religious groups to govern their religion according to their beliefs and practice their faiths freely. The Ambassador met with religious activists and former prisoners of war to discuss religious freedom abuses in the “DPR,” “LPR,” and occupied Crimea.
In May the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism participated in the Kyiv Jewish Forum and met with government leaders, including then foreign minister Klimkin, his Special Advisor for Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism Anna Vyshniakova, and Minister of Internal Affairs Avakov, to discuss the importance of a strong government response to combat anti-Semitism, including improving monitoring and law enforcement efforts as well as the importance of joining the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
The Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism also met with religious and Jewish community leaders to discuss and encourage efforts to combat anti-Semitism and promote religious freedom. He visited Babyn Yar and learned about Holocaust memorial and community efforts to build a Holocaust memorial and improve Holocaust education.
Embassy officials continued their meetings with internally displaced Muslims from Crimea to discuss their abuse by occupation authorities, including regular searches and detentions, a continuing inability to practice their religion freely or express dissent, a lack of restitution of their religious properties, and other continuing problems they faced with the Crimean occupation authorities.
Embassy officials met with religious leaders to discuss religious freedom abuses in the “DPR” and “LPR,” including banning of certain religious groups, registration requirements, and a lack of restitution of their religious properties.
The Ambassador and other embassy officials participated in Hanukkah, Christmas, other religious holiday events, and Holocaust commemorations, during which they emphasized the importance of religious dialogue and equality and encouraged efforts to combat anti-Semitism and preserve cultural heritage.
The Ambassador and other embassy officials continued to urge the peaceful resolution of property and jurisdiction disputes in meetings with leaders of prominent Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious groups in Kyiv and Lviv. In particular, the embassy continued to encourage religious groups involved in the dispute related to the location of parts of Lviv’s Krakivskiy Market on the former site of the city’s Old Jewish Cemetery to resolve the dispute through constructive dialogue. Embassy officials also discussed other issues affecting religious communities, such as registration procedures for religious groups, desecration of monuments, and the government’s procedures for religious property restitution.
The embassy issued public statements condemning religiously motivated acts of violence and calling for tolerance and restraint to ensure a peaceful transition period around autocephaly. On January 10, the Secretary of State issued a statement welcoming the announcement of autocephaly for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and underscoring U.S. support for religious freedom. On March 4, amplifying a statement by the Secretary of State, the embassy tweeted, “We remain deeply concerned about Archbishop Klyment’s detention in Crimea yesterday. Despite his subsequent release, this kind of harassment is unacceptable. We expect Russia to respect freedom of religion and stop detaining innocent Ukrainians in Crimea.” On March 6, the embassy announced on social media “Under Secretary Hale also visited St. Sophia Cathedral. The U.S. government supports all Ukrainians’ ability to worship as they choose. Tolerance and restraint are key principles for people with different religious affiliations to be able to live together and prosper.” The embassy also used social media to reiterate U.S. government support for religious freedom, including the rights of religious minorities. During a March 14 meeting with Rabbi Mordechai Shlomo Bald, the Ambassador reiterated U.S. strong support for religious freedom, tolerance, and respect. On October 23, the Secretary of State met with OCU Metropolitan Epiphaniy and affirmed U.S. support for Ukrainians’ right to worship in accordance with their faith, free from external interference.