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 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 UOC-KP, 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.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
Pursuant to international recognition of the continued inclusion of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea within Ukraine’s international borders, Crimea continues to be officially subject to the constitution and laws of Ukraine. In the aftermath of Russia’s occupation, however, occupation authorities continue their de facto implementation of the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory.
On December 22, the UN General Assembly issued a resolution condemning Russian occupation authorities for “the ongoing pressure exerted upon religious minority communities, including through frequent police raids, threats against and persecution of those belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, the Protestant Church, mosques and Muslim religious schools, Greek Catholics, Roman Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The UN also condemned the “baseless prosecution of dozens of peaceful Muslims for allegedly belonging to Islamic organizations.” Such prosecutions were primarily of Muslims occupation authorities claimed were members of the Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, banned in Russia, but legal in Ukraine.
In a joint 2014-2018 report for the UN Committee against Torture, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Regional Center for Human Rights, and Media Initiative for Human Rights reported religious activists were among victims of torture. According to the report, despite the health problems of Arsen Dzhepparov and Uzeir Abdullayev, detained by the FSB on suspicion of involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir, occupation authorities denied medical assistance to them.
Forced psychiatric examinations of Crimean Tatar Muslim prisoners continued throughout the year. The Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG) said on December 13, Server Mustafayev was placed in a psychiatric institution for a month-long forced examination.
On June 30, the NGO Krymska Solidarnist quoted human rights attorney Emil Kurbedinov as saying the occupation authorities had subjected Muslim activist Neriman Memedeminov to forced psychiatric examination.
According to media, from June 26 to July 18, Muslim detainee Emir-Huseyn Kuku was on a hunger strike to show his solidarity with other political prisoners and to call attention to their treatment. On August 26, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld the Ukrainian government’s petition to require Russia to share information about Kuku’s state of health and the medical care provided to him. According to a September 6 BBC News Ukraine report, the ECHR press service quoted the Russian government as saying that Kuku was receiving proper medical care and was not on a hunger strike at that time.
According to the CHRG, in December the number of Crimean Tatars charged in connection with their Hizb ut-Tahrir membership totaled 29, including Ruslan Zeytullayev, Rustem Vaitov, Nuri Primov and Ferat Sayfullayev, who were serving their prison sentences in Russia. These four were arrested in Sevastopol in 2015 and charged with participation in Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Additionally, defendants in the Yalta Hizb ut-Tahrir case (Enver Bekirov, Vadim Siruk, Muslim Aliyev, Emir Usein Kuku, Refat Alimov, and Arsen Dzhepparov) and the Bakhchisarai Hizb ut-Tahrir case (Enver Mamutov, Remzi Memetov, Zevri Abseitov and Rustem Abiltarov) were in a detention center in Rostov while their trials continued.
Prisoners in the Bakhchisarai Hizb ut-Tahrir case (Ernes Ametov, Marlen Asanov, Seyran Saliyev, Memet Belialov, Timur Ibragimov, Server Zakiryayev, Server Mustafayev and Edem Smailov), Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir case (Teymur Abdullayev, Rustem Ismailov, Ayder Saledinov, Uzeir Abdullayev, Emil Djemadenov), and Sevastopol Hizb ut-Tahrir case (Enver Seytosmanov), and activist of Krymska Solidarnist Nariman Memedeminov were held in pretrial detention in Simferopol. Server Mustafayev, Edem Smailov and Nariman Memedeminov were held in pretrial detention in Simferopol.
According to Krymska Solidarnist, on March 22, FSB officers detained blogger Nariman Memedeminov following a search at his home in Kholmovka village in Bakhchisarai District. The NGO linked the arrest to his reporting on the human rights situation in Crimea. On March 23, the Kyivsky District Court in Simferopol sanctioned his arrest on terrorist charges, citing his involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir.
According to Krymska Solidarnist, on December 24, Roman Plisko, judge of the North Caucasus District Court in Rostov, sentenced Enver Mamutov to 17 years in a maximum-security prison. Ruslan Abiltarov, Remzi Memetov, and Zevri Abseitov each received nine-year maximum-security prison sentences. They were arrested in Bakhchisarai in 2016 and charged with participation in Hizb ut-Tahrir.
According to the Krym Realii news website, on December 6-7, the Kyivsky District Court in Simferopol prolonged until March 9, 2019, the detentions of Seyran Saliyev, Memet Belyalov and Timur Ibragimov, Marlen Asanov, Server Zekiryayev, and Ernes Ametov for their suspected involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir in Bakhchisarai.
According to Krymska Solidarnist, on December 3, Russia’s Rostov District Military Court extended until February 27, 2019, the detentions of Ayder Saledinov, Teymur Abdullayev, Uzair Abdullayev, Emil Dzhemadenov, and Rustem Ismailov, whom the FSB had detained on suspicion of involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir in Simferopol.
According to Krymska Solidarnist, on November 22, the Rostov District Military Court prolonged the detentions of Muslims Aliyev, Emir-Useyn Kuku, Vadym Siruk, Enver Bekirov, Arsen Dzhepparov and Refat Alimov until February 28, 2019. The court cited their suspected involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir in Yalta.
According to an OHCHR quarterly report issued in September, since the beginning of the Russian occupation, at least 33 Crimean residents were arrested for alleged ties with radical Muslim groups. OHCHR reported four of them were convicted in the absence of “any credible evidence that the defendants called for the use of force, violated public order, or engaged in any unlawful activity in Crimea.”
According to CHRG, on December 24, Inna Semenets, magistrate of the Evpatoriya Judicial District, fined the Karaite religious community for failing to place an identifying sign on the building of a religious organization. In December the Crimean magistrates reviewed at least five cases pertaining to “illegal missionary activity.” During the year, 30 of these cases were reviewed, and the magistrates imposed an administrative penalty, fines of 5,000-30,000 Russian rubles ($72-430) and a warning in at least 18 cases.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Forum 18, on November 14, the Russian FSB opened the first criminal case in occupied Crimea against a Jehovah’s Witness, Sergei Filatov, on extremism-related charges. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Filatov is a former head of their Sivash community in Dzhankoy. Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that on November 16, 200 FSB officers raided Filatov’s home and the homes of seven other Jehovah’s Witnesses in the northern Crimean town of Dzhankoy. During the raid, officers reportedly pinned 79-year-old Oleksandr Ursu to a wall, forced him to the ground, and handcuffed him. Ursu spent his childhood years with his family in Soviet exile in Siberia. Later the authorities rehabilitated him as a victim of Soviet political repression. According to JW.org and Forum 18, two Jehovah’s Witness members were hospitalized for high blood pressure, and 22-year-old Zhanna Lungu suffered a miscarriage following the raid.
The investigation of Ervin Ibragimov’s 2016 kidnapping continued with no new information on his whereabouts at year’s end. According to media sources, in March Simferopol’s Kyiv District Court dismissed a complaint by his family’s lawyer about lack of police response to attorney inquiries regarding the investigation of the case. In May 2016, unidentified uniformed men kidnapped Ibragimov, a Muslim and member of the Bakhchisarai Mejlis and of the Coordinating Council of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, after stopping his car on the side of the road.
According to Forum 18, administrative court hearings under Russian law imposed on Crimea for “missionary activity” doubled in Crimea compared to the previous year. There were 23 prosecutions for such activity, 19 of which ended with some type of punishment. Many of those prosecuted had been sharing their faith on the street or holding worship at unapproved venues. According to Forum 18, 12 Russian citizens were fined approximately 10 days’ average local wages. Six Ukrainian citizens were given higher fines of up to nearly two months’ average local wages. Forum 18 stated these six cases, in addition to the case of another Ukrainian who was prosecuted, appear to be the first use in Crimea of a Russian Administrative Code on “foreigners conducting missionary activity” that is “specifically aimed at non-Russians.”
According to Forum 18, occupation authorities brought an additional 17 cases against individuals and religious communities for failing to use the full legal name of a registered religious community. The punishments generally involved fines of approximately 10 days’ wages, according to Forum 18. Occupation authorities brought an additional 14 cases against individuals and religious communities for failing to use the full legal name of a registered religious community.
According to Forum 18, local authorities maintained a ban on the Tablighi Jamaat Muslim missionary movement in Crimea under the 2009 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. Forum 18 reported on its website on November 28 that the trial of four alleged members of the Tablighi Jamaat Muslim missionary movement on extremism-related charges was imminent at the Crimea “Supreme Court” in Simferopol. The four men, all members of the Tatar minority, were arrested in October 2017.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, local authorities maintained a ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Crimea under the 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.
According to the Ministry of Justice of Russia, 831 religious organizations were registered in Crimea, including 69 in Sevastopol, as of year’s end. These included the two largest religious organizations – the Christian Orthodox UOC-MP and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea (SAMC) – as well as various Protestant, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Greek Catholic communities, among other religious groups.
According to data collected by the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture in 2014 (the most recent year available), there were 2,083 religious organizations (a term including parishes, congregations, theological schools, monasteries, and other constituent parts of a church or religious group) in the ARC and 137 in Sevastopol. The numbers included organizations both with and without legal entity status. Muslim religious organizations constituted the largest number of religious organizations in the ARC, most of which were affiliated with the SAMC, Ukraine’s largest Muslim group.
The OHCHR report on the most recent number of registered religious communities indicated more than 1,000 religious communities recognized under Ukrainian law had not reregistered. According to the OHCHR, stringent legal requirements under Russian legislation continued to prevent or discourage reregistration of many religious communities.
According to human rights groups, occupation authorities continued to restrict the rights of Crimean Tatars, who are predominantly Muslim, following the 2016 designation of the Mejlis, recognized under Ukrainian law as the democratically elected representative council of the Crimean Tatars, as an “extremist organization.”
Human rights groups reported occupation authorities continued to require imams at Crimean Tatar mosques to inform them each time they transferred from one mosque to another.
The Roman Catholic Church reported it continued to operate in the territory as a pastoral district directly under the authority of the Vatican. Polish and Ukrainian Roman Catholic Church priests were permitted to stay in the territory for only 90 days at a time and then were required to remain out of Crimea for 90 days before returning.
According to the UGCC, it could still only operate as a part of the pastoral district of the Roman Catholic Church.
According to the UOC-KP, Russian occupation authorities continued to pressure the UOC-KP Crimean diocese in a bid to force the UOC-KP to leave the region. Only five of the 15 UOC-KP churches located in Crimea prior to the Russian occupation remained functioning at the end of the year, compared with eight in 2017.
On June 3, the “Government of Sevastopol” returned to the Roman Catholic Church the vacant former Church of St. Clement. According to the media, “Governor of Sevastopol” Dmitry Ovsyannikov called the decision a “restoration of historical justice.”
According to media sources, Russian authorities ordered the relocation of human remains from an ancient Muslim cemetery near Bakhchisaray due to road construction through the cemetery.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Following an October 17 mass shooting in a Kerch college, Russian media widely discussed a claim that the shooter’s mother was a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses “sect.”
On July 18, local authorities in Kerch said they had identified a group of teenagers who during that month had destroyed 15 tombstones in a Muslim cemetery in Bagerovе. Local government representatives said the suspects would face administrative penalties.
According to Krym Realii news website, on the night of June 18-19, unidentified individuals painted neo-Nazi graffiti on a fence surrounding a mosque in Bilohirsk.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.8 million (July 2018 estimate). According to the 2011 census, of the 90 percent of the population that responded to the question about religious affiliation, 86 percent is Roman Catholic, and 7 percent does not identify with any religious group. Religious groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Russian Orthodox, Old Believers, Lutherans, Reformed Evangelicals, Jews, Muslims, Greek Catholics, and Karaites. In the 2011 census, approximately 5,100 persons identified as followers of Romuva, a religion practiced in the country since before Christianity. According to the 2011 census, the Jewish population is predominately concentrated in larger cities and is estimated at 3,050. The population of Karaites, who traditionally live in Trakai and in the greater Vilnius region, is estimated at 250. The Sunni Muslim population numbers approximately 2,800, the majority of whom are Tatars, a community living primarily in Vilnius and Kaunas. The Muslim community also includes recent converts, migrants, refugees, and temporary workers from the Middle East and Africa, most of whom are Sunni.
According to the 2011 census, less than 1 percent of the population belongs to other religious groups. Among these, the most numerous are Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Full Gospel Word of Faith Movement, Pentecostals/Charismatics, Old Baltic faith communities, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, and members of the New Apostolic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution stipulates there is no state religion and provides for the right of individuals to choose freely any religion or belief, to profess their religion and perform religious practices, individually or with others, in private or in public, and to practice and teach their beliefs. It states no one may compel another person (or be compelled) to choose or profess any religion or belief. The constitution allows limits on the freedom to profess and spread religious beliefs when necessary to protect health, safety, public order, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. It restricts freedom of expression if it incites religious hatred, violence, or discrimination. It stipulates religious belief may not serve as justification for failing to comply with laws.
Under the constitution, the government may temporarily restrict freedom of expression of religious belief during a period of martial law or a state of emergency, although it has never invoked this right.
The constitution acknowledges the freedom of parents or guardians to oversee the religious and moral education of their children without interference and stipulates public education shall be secular, although schools may provide religious instruction at the request of parents. The constitution grants recognition to “traditional” religious groups and provides for recognition of other religious groups if they have support in society and their teachings and practices do not conflict with law or public morals. It states the status of religious groups shall be established by agreement or law, and recognized religious groups shall be free to carry out their activities as long as they are not in conflict with the constitution or laws.
The law defines religious groups as (1) religious communities, (2) religious associations, which comprise at least two religious communities under common leadership, and (3) religious centers, which are higher governing bodies of religious associations.
The law recognizes as “traditional” those religious groups able to trace back their presence in the country at least 300 years. The law lists nine “traditional” religious groups: Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed, Russian Orthodox, Old Believer, Jewish, Sunni Muslim, and Karaite Jewish. Traditional religious groups may perform marriages that are state-recognized, establish joint private/public schools, provide religious instruction in public schools, and receive annual government subsidies. Their highest-ranking leaders are eligible to apply for diplomatic passports, and they may provide chaplains for the military, social care institutions, hospitals, and prisons. The state provides social security and healthcare insurance contributions for clergy, religious workers, and members of monastic orders of the traditional religious groups. Traditional religious groups are also not required to pay social and health insurance taxes for clergy and most other religious workers and members of monastic orders.
Other religious groups and associations may apply to the MOJ for state recognition if they have been officially registered in the country for at least 25 years. Parliament votes whether to grant this status upon recommendation from the MOJ. The Evangelical Baptist Union of Lithuania, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Pentecostal Evangelical Belief Christian Union, and the New Apostolic Church of Lithuania are the only state-recognized nontraditional religious groups.
Recognition entitles nontraditional religious groups to perform marriages and provide religious instruction in public schools. Unlike traditional groups, however, they are not eligible for annual subsidies from the state budget. The law provides recognized nontraditional religious groups with legal entity status, but they do not qualify for certain social security and healthcare contributions by the state.
The MOJ handles official registration of religious communities, associations, and centers. Groups wishing to register must submit an application and supporting documentation to the MOJ, including their bylaws describing their religious teachings and governance, minutes of the founding meeting, and a list of the founders, at least 15 of whom must be citizens. Upon approval of its application, a religious community, association, or center may register as a legal entity with the State Enterprise Center of Registers. Registration is voluntary for religious communities, associations, and centers affiliated with traditional religious groups and mandatory for nontraditional communities wishing to receive legal status.
Registration of traditional religious communities, associations, and centers is free of charge, while nontraditional communities pay a fee of 32 euros ($37). Traditional communities also have a simpler registration procedure, needing to submit only an application, decisions of their governing body on the appointment of their leader, and their headquarters address. The MOJ may refuse to register a religious group if full data are not included in the application; the activities of the group violate human rights or public order; or a group with the same name has already registered. According to the Center of Registers, there are 1,115 traditional and 194 nontraditional religious communities, associations, and centers officially registered in the register of legal entities.
For nontraditional religious groups, official registration is a prerequisite for opening a bank account, owning property, and acting in a legal or official capacity as a community. The law allows all registered religious groups to own property for use as prayer houses, homes, and other functions, and permits construction of facilities necessary for religious activities. All registered groups are eligible for public funds from municipalities for cultural and social projects.
In December 2017, parliament amended the law to exempt all clergy from registered groups from compulsory military service. Previously, only clergy (and theological students) from traditional religious groups were exempt from military service. In the event of a conflict, clergy would be called to serve as chaplains in the military.
Unregistered communities have no legal status, but the constitution allows them to conduct worship services and seek new members.
The Interministerial Commission to Coordinate Activities of Governmental Institutions that Deal with Issues of Religious, Esoteric, and Spiritual Groups coordinates investigations of religious groups if there is a concern a group’s actions may be inconsistent with what the commission perceives to be “principles that stress respect for human freedom of expression and freedom of religion.”
The Journalist Ethics Inspectorate, an independent, government-sponsored organization whose head is appointed by parliament, investigates complaints involving the violation of regulatory laws governing the provision of information to the public, including print media and the internet. These laws include prohibition of the publication of material that fuels religious hatred. The inspectorate may levy administrative fines on newspapers or refer cases to the Office of the General Prosecutor.
The Soviet Union nationalized all religious buildings, some of which it redistributed, while others continued to serve religious communities. For properties belonging to the national government, registered groups could apply to the appropriate ministry for the restitution of, or compensation for, religious property they owned before June 19, 1948. For former religious properties belonging to municipalities, registered groups applied for restitution or compensation to the appropriate municipality. Religious communities could also register a claim for property not officially registered under their name but which they used during the Soviet period. If the ministry or municipality determines the claim is legitimate, it drafts a resolution officially returning the property to its original owner. The deadline for registered religious groups to submit a claim for religious property restitution was 1997. The government continues to review cases filed by the 1997 deadline but is not accepting any new claims. Religious groups may appeal the decisions of the ministry or municipality in court. Unregistered religious groups could not apply for restitution.
A compensation fund for Jewish-owned communal property nationalized under totalitarian regimes is designed to support Jewish educational, religious, scientific, cultural, and healthcare projects with public benefits. Pursuant to the law, the government is committed to disbursing 37 million euros ($42.43 million) over the course of the decade ending March 1, 2023. Funds go to the Good Will Foundation, a public institution governed by national and international Jewish leaders.
The country has no law for the restitution of heirless private property.
The government allocates funds to traditional religious communities for refurbishing houses of prayer, restoring old cemeteries, and preserving cultural heritage sites. Each traditional religion group receives 3,075 euros ($3,500) every year as a base fund plus a variable component that depends on the number of believers of each community.
The constitution and other law permits and funds religious instruction in public schools for traditional and other state-recognized religious groups. Most religious instructors are regular state-employed teachers, but some are priests, seminarians, or monks. Parents must choose either religious instruction or secular ethics classes for their children, but may not opt out of both offerings. Schools decide which of the traditional religious groups will be represented in their curricula on the basis of requests from parents of children up to age 14, after which students present the requests themselves.
There are 30 private schools established by religious communities, 26 Catholic and four Jewish; students of different religious groups may attend these schools. All accredited private schools (religious and nonreligious) receive funding from municipalities and the Ministry of Education and Science through a voucher system based on the number of pupils. Each private school receives 1,099 euros ($1,300) per student. Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, national minority schools, which include schools established by the Jewish community, receive 20 percent more – 1,318.80 euros ($1,500) – per student than other private schools. The per-student stipend covers only the program costs of school operation. Private school operators generally bear responsibility for covering capital outlays; however, per an agreement the government signed with the Holy See, the Ministry of Education and Science funds both the capital and operating costs of private Catholic schools.
The criminal code prohibits incitement of hatred and discrimination based on religion and stipulates fines or up to two years in prison for violations. The code penalizes interference with religious ceremonies of recognized religious groups with community service, fines, or detention for up to 90 days. The law does not address interference with or incitement of hatred against unrecognized religious groups.
The Office of the Equal Opportunities (OEO) ombudsperson investigates complaints of discrimination, including those based on religion, directed against state institutions, educational institutions, employers, and product and service sellers and producers. Parliament appoints the ombudsperson for a period of five years. The office conducts independent investigations, publishes surveys and independent reports on discrimination, and provides conclusions and recommendations on any discrimination-related issues. The office also makes proposals to state and municipal institutions and government agencies concerning the improvement of legal acts and priorities of the implementation of equal rights policy. The OEO ombudsperson does not levy monetary penalties.
The parliamentary ombudsperson often works with the OEO ombudsperson but is a separate entity. The parliamentary ombudsperson examines the conduct of state authorities in serving the population. The law governing the parliamentary ombudsperson specifically includes religious discrimination within its purview. The OEO and parliamentary ombudsperson may investigate complaints, recommend changes in the law or draft legislation to parliamentary committees and ministries, and recommend cases to the prosecutor general’s office for pretrial investigation.
The criminal code prohibits public display of Soviet and Nazi symbols or national anthems. Violators are subject to fines of 144-289 euros ($170-$330).
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On May 25, the MOJ submitted to parliament an application from the Romuva for state-recognized religious association status. Minister of Justice Eimutis Misiunas supported the proposal, stating the Romuva’s commitment to reviving national culture was important for the country’s national identity and that Romuva was the country’s fastest growing religious community. The parliamentary committee on human rights was reviewing the proposal at year’s end. An application for religious association status by the United Methodist Church of Lithuania, which the MOJ submitted to parliament, with a favorable recommendation, in 2001 remained pending. According to the MOJ, it was incumbent on the United Methodist Church to advocate for its application in parliament, but the group had not done so.
In April Minister of Economy Virginijus Sinkevicius introduced in parliament an amendment that would ban the sale of material that “distorts historical facts” about the nation, which was met by criticism from many quarters. Parliament’s legal department concluded it failed to ensure human rights. The LJC said it “raise[d] well-founded concerns and recall[ed] the dark times of government censorship… and ha[d] given rise to anger, with foundation, in the international Jewish community.” Lithuanian and international media also reacted negatively, with some viewing the proposed amendment as a response to the publication in 2016 of a controversial book by Lithuanian writer Ruta Vanagaite and a representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center citing participation by Lithuanians in the Holocaust. The proposal never reached a final vote in parliament, and Sinkevicius withdrew it in May.
In October media reported that the Ministry of Finance had proposed allocating 28.3 million euros ($32.45 million) for the reconstruction of the Vilnius Sports Palace, which the Soviets built on the Snipiskes cemetery, Vilnius’s oldest Jewish cemetery, in 1971. The plans were to convert the buildings into a conference center, with design work scheduled to begin in 2019, construction in 2020, and an opening by 2021. In November the government approved the budget allocation. On August 29, the Vilnius Jewish Community, one of 33 regional branches of the LJC, and other local Jewish groups issued a statement protesting the Sports Palace renovation, as well as other renovation projects of Soviet buildings located on the site of former Jewish cemeteries in Kaunas and Siauliai. The proposed renovations at the latter two sites remained pending. The national LJC supported the Vilnius Sports Palace project. The government stated it would undertake the project in accordance with the August 26, 2009 agreement between the LJC, the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, and the Lithuanian Department of Cultural Heritage, and would protect the area of the cemetery at the Sports Palace and its buffer zone, as well as other related areas. The LJC and Vilnius municipality said that, in recognition of the sensitivity of the issue, they had installed vehicle barriers and 10 information plaques around the Sports Palace, noting it had once been a Jewish cemetery and that all of the human remains had been removed. Initially, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said he backed a proposal to convert part of the new complex into a Jewish museum or cultural center; the government was still considering other proposals aimed at commemorating the legacy of the Snipiskes Jewish cemetery at year’s end.
The government again disbursed 3.62 million euros ($4.15 million) to the Good Will Foundation, in accordance with its agreement with that institution.
The government provided 1.2 million euros ($1.38 million) to traditional religious groups to reconstruct religious buildings and to support other religious community activities. Of this total, it granted one million euros ($1.15 million) to the Roman Catholic Church (some of which was to assist with preparations for the visit of Pope Francis in September) and 61,100 euros ($70,100) to the Russian Orthodox community. The remaining 139,000 euros ($159,000) was divided among the Old Believer, Evangelical Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed, Sunni Muslim, Karaite and other Jewish, and Greek Catholic communities.
On March 15, parliament removed Vigilijus Sadauskas from the government-appointed position of ombudsman for academic ethics and procedures amid allegations of anti-Semitism. Sadauskas, affiliated with Gedimino Technical University, had offered a reward to students who submitted a research thesis about Jewish crimes in the 20th century.
The OEO ombudsperson received five complaints of discrimination based on religion. Two concerned public schools holding graduation ceremonies at Catholic churches. Another concerned the content of the mission statement of a kindergarten operated by a religious community. A fourth involved the establishment of the position of police chaplain, a move that the petitioner stated favored Christianity. The OEO ombudsperson found these four complaints fell outside of the jurisdiction of the OEO office. The fifth complaint was from a prisoner who charged authorities did not allow him to participate in Christmas Mass. The ombudsperson ruled the incident did not constitute religious discrimination.
The government and civil society organizations continued to work together to promote Holocaust education and tolerance in schools. In July the Ministry of Culture sponsored a summer camp in Cekiskes to teach high school students about Jewish history and the preservation of Jewish culture. The program included tours, lectures, concerts, exhibitions, and conferences in Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda, Kedainiai and other cities. On August 24, Prime Minister Skvernelis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended a ceremony at the Paneriai Memorial, which is located less than 11 miles from central Vilnius and marks the site where the Gestapo, the SS security service, and the Vilnius Special Squad executed approximately 70,000 Jews between July 1941 and 1944. Prime Minister Skvernelis referred to the Holocaust as the “worst episode” in the country’s history and said the government was responsible for ensuring that this chapter not be hidden from the world. In September the nongovernmental organization Lithuanian Human Rights Center, in cooperation with local municipalities, installed eight new memorials known as “stumbling stones” to commemorate Holocaust victims in Alytus, Ukmerge, Plunge, and Kuliai.
On September 19, Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevicius called on authorities to remove a memorial plaque located on the side of the library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences in central Vilnius honoring Jonas Noreika, a Lithuanian military officer known as Generolas Vetra (General Storm). Faina Kukliansky, head of the LJC, also called for the removal of the plaque. The appeals came after The New York Times published an article in early September citing a descendant of Vetra, who said Vetra had been complicit in the killing of Jews during the Holocaust. By year’s end, the library had not removed the plaque.
Government officials continued to participate in ceremonies to commemorate the Holocaust. On January 26, Minister of Foreign Affairs Linkevicius delivered a speech on International Holocaust Remembrance Day; he referred to the role of Lithuanian collaborators during the Holocaust as a “scar” on Lithuania’s history. On May 4, Prime Minister Skvernelis, Speaker of Parliament Viktoras Pranckietis, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Linkevicius attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a new museum in Seduva commemorating the country’s extinct Jewish shtetl communities. Minister of Foreign Affairs Linkevicius, the President’s Advisor on Foreign Policy, the Israeli ambassador, and the LJC participated in the annual March of the Living on May 23, to memorialize the killing of 70,000 Jews in Ponary, on the outskirts of Vilnius, during the Nazi occupation.
On September 21, government and nongovernmental bodies organized events to mark the country’s 75th Holocaust Memorial Day. Minister of Foreign Affairs Linkevicius, Vice Chancellor Deividas Matulionis, Mayor of Vilnius Remigijus Simasius, MPs, Catholic Archbishop of Vilnius Gintaras Grusas, the LJC, and foreign dignitaries attended the unveiling of a memorial stone in Vilnius to honor the country’s Righteous Among the Nations – individuals recognized by Israel as risking their lives to help Jews during the Holocaust. In opening remarks, Minister of Foreign Affairs Linkevicius said, “Jews were killed by the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators. We can never forget this. But when there are tragic events and trials, there are also people to whom truth and justice is more important than their own lives.” On September 22, President Dalia Grybauskaite stated, “In a country brutalized by both Nazi and Stalinist crimes, many people stood up to rescue Jews because they saw humanity as the ultimate good.”
On September 23, the anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto, Speaker of Parliament Pranckietis, Minister of Culture Lijana Ruokyte-Jonsson, Mayor of Vilnius Simasius, the LJC, and Litvak (Lithuanian Jewish) organizations from Israel and Poland attended a 75th Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at the Paneriai Memorial. In his remarks, Speaker Pranckietis said, “Today we [Lithuanians] suffer repentance for the grievance caused to the Jewish nation.”
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Authorities did not maintain statistics on religiously motivated incidents.
On February 16, nationalists held a march in Vilnius to commemorate the anniversary of the restoration of the country’s independence. The march attracted approximately 300 participants, compared with 150 in the previous year; some of the participants held torches and carried national flags. The march included a banner with a picture of, and a quote by WWII-era anti-Semite Kazys Skirpa. Nationalists also organized a march in Vilnius on March 11, the country’s Independence Day, involving approximately 1,000 persons, compared with 500 in the previous year. According to local observers, some of the participants displayed fascist or neo-Nazi symbols such as a skull and crossbones flag, and carried a banner with the images of Lithuanian partisans who many believe were Nazi collaborators, such as Skirpa and Jonas Noreika.
A Lithuanian writer who cowrote a controversial 2016 book on Lithuanian participation in the Holocaust told an Israeli newspaper she had received threats to her safety, which she attributed in part to her book.
Anonymous anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim comments on the internet were common, for example on Lithuanian media portal Delfi. Examples of anti-Semitism in this forum included statements that Jews who collaborated with the KGB should be condemned by the LJC or statements justifying the Holocaust because “Jews collaborated with the Soviet Union and killed Lithuanian partisans.” Most anti-Muslim examples included equating Muslims with terrorists. Main media portals generally removed such comments promptly after becoming aware of them.
On September 23, more than 50 people gathered for a ceremony at the site marking the former Vilnius ghetto to place stones made of lava and ash into a metal structure in the shape of the Star of David. During the ceremony Mayor Simasius said, “Our duty is to mark this day, to remember and say deep in our heart, ‘never again.’”
Also on September 23, Pope Francis visited the country and prayed at the site of the former Vilnius ghetto. At a Mass in Kaunas, he warned against any rebirth of “pernicious” anti-Semitism and honored Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 44 million (July 2018 estimate). According to the annual March national survey conducted by the Razumkov Center, an independent public policy think tank; 67.3 percent of respondents self-identify as Christian Orthodox; 9.4 percent Greek Catholic; 2.2 percent Protestant; 0.8 percent Roman Catholic; and 0.4 percent Jewish. Another 7.7 percent self-identify as “simply a Christian” and 11 percent say they do not belong to any religious group. Small percentages of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, adherents of other religions, and individuals who chose not to disclose their beliefs constitute the remainder of the respondents.
The same survey breaks down the 67.3 percent identifying as Christian Orthodox: 28.7 percent UOC-KP (26.5 percent in 2017); 12.8 percent UOC-MP; 23.4 percent “just an Orthodox believer”; 0.3 percent the UAOC; 0.2 percent Russian Orthodox Church (as distinct from the UOC-MP); and 1.9 percent undecided. In a separate Razumkov survey conducted in September after the government, UOC-KP, UAOC, and some bishops representing the UOC-MP petitioned the Ecumenical Patriarchate for autocephaly, the number of respondents self-identifying as UOC-KP increased to 45.2 percent, while 16.9 percent of respondents self-identified as UOC-MP, and 33.9 percent “just as an Orthodox believer.”
According to the Ministry of Culture, the UOC-KP has followers primarily in the central and western oblasts, with a smaller number in Zakarpattya Oblast. The UOC-MP is present in all regions of the country, but it has a smaller presence in Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv Oblasts in the western part of the country. Most UAOC adherents are in the western part of the country. According to the Ministry of Culture, the UOC-MP had 12,348 congregations throughout the country, compared with 12,328 in 2017, while the UOC-KP had 5,167, compared with 5,114 in 2017, and the UAOC had 1,167, compared with 1,195.
According to government statistics, followers of the UGCC reside primarily in the western oblasts of Lviv, Ternopil, and Ivano-Frankivsk. Most Roman Catholic Church congregations are in Lviv, Khmelnytsky, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsya, and Zakarpattya Oblasts in the western part of the country.
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. Some Muslim leaders put the number at 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 Jewish persons lived in the Donbas region. 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
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship. By law, the government may restrict this right only in the “interests of protecting public order, the health and morality of the population, or protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons.” The constitution provides for the separation of church and state and stipulates, “No religion shall be recognized by the state as mandatory.”
By law, the objective of religious policy is to “restore full-fledged dialogue between representatives of various social, ethnic, cultural, and religious groups to foster the creation of a tolerant society and provide for freedom of conscience and worship.”
The law requires a religious institution seeking official status as a legal entity to register both as a religious organization and as a nonprofit organization. Religious organizations include congregations, theological schools, monasteries, religious brotherhoods, missions, and religious associations consisting of religious organizations. To obtain official religious status, an organization must register either with the Ministry of Culture, the government agency responsible for religious affairs, or with regional government authorities, depending upon the nature of the organization. Religious centers, administrations, monasteries, religious brotherhoods, missions, and religious schools register with the Ministry of Culture. Religious congregations register with the regional authorities where they operate, either with the city government in Kyiv or the respective oblast government outside of Kyiv. While these religious congregations may form the constituent units of a nationwide religious organization, the nationwide organization does not register on a national basis and may not obtain recognition as a legal entity; rather, the constituent units register and obtain legal entity status.
To be eligible for registration, a religious congregation must have at least 10 adult members and must submit its statutes to the registration authorities. To obtain status as a nonprofit organization, a religious organization must register with the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for maintaining the government’s register of legal entities. This register lists all entities with this status, including religious ones. The law does not specify which of the two registration procedures must be undertaken first.
Without legal entity status, a religious group may not own property, conduct banking activities, or publish materials. Per the stipulation against national registration, only the registered constituent units of a nationwide religious organization may own property or conduct business activities, either for themselves or on behalf of the nationwide organization. The law grants property tax exemptions to religious organizations and considers them nonprofit organizations.
The law requires commanders of military units to allow their subordinates to participate in religious services but bans the creation of religious organizations in military institutions and military units. The Ministry of Defense defines selection criteria for clerics to become chaplains, the status of chaplains in the chain of command, and their rights and duties in the armed forces, National Guard, and State Border Guard Service.
The law gives prison chaplains access to both pretrial detainees and sentenced inmates. It also protects the confidentiality of confession heard by prison chaplains, prohibits the use of information received during confession as evidence in legal proceedings, and does not allow the interrogation of clerics, interpreters, or other persons about matters associated with the confidentiality of confession.
According to the constitution, organizers must notify local authorities in advance of any type of planned public gathering, and authorities may challenge the legality of the planned event. According to a 2016 Constitutional Court decision, religious organizations need only inform local authorities of their intention to hold a public gathering, and need not apply for permission or notify authorities within a specific period in advance of the event.
The law allows religious groups to establish theological schools to train clergy and other religious workers, as well as seek state accreditation through the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance for their curriculum. The law states theological schools shall function based on their own statutes.
Government agencies authorized to monitor religious organizations include the Prosecutor General, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and all other “central bodies of the executive government.”
Only registered religious groups may seek restitution of communal property confiscated by the Communist regime. Religious groups must apply to regional authorities for property restitution. The law states the authorities should complete their consideration of a restitution claim within a month.
The law prohibits religious instruction as part of the mandatory public school curriculum and states public school training “shall be free from interference by political parties, civic, and religious organizations.” Public schools include ethics of faith or similar faith-related courses as optional parts of the curriculum.
The law provides for antidiscrimination screening of draft legislation and government regulations, including based on religion. The law requires the legal department of each respective agency responsible for verifying the draft legislation conduct the screening, in accordance with instructions developed by the Cabinet of Ministers, to ensure the draft legislation does not contain discriminatory language and to require changes if it does. Religious groups may participate in screening draft legislation at the invitation of the respective agency.
The law allows alternative nonmilitary service for conscientious objectors. The law does not exempt the clergy from military mobilization.
The Office of the Parliamentary Human Rights Ombudsman is constitutionally required to release an annual report to parliament with a section on religious freedom.
The law restricts the activities of foreign-based religious groups and defines the permissible activities of noncitizen clergy, preachers, teachers, and other representatives of foreign-based religious organizations. By law, foreign religious workers may “preach, administer religious ordinances, or practice other canonical activities,” but they may do so only for the religious organization that invited them and with the approval of the government body that registered the statute of the organization. Missionary activity is included under permissible activities.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Since 2015, the government has exercised the right of derogation from its obligations under the ICCPR with regard to the portions of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts under the control of foreign forces, including the ICCPR provisions pertaining to religious freedom.
On December 26, President Petro Poroshenko signed amendments to a 1991 law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations. The objective of the amendments was to require religious organizations with a “governing center” in a country designated by law as a state that “committed military aggression against Ukraine and temporarily occupied Ukraine’s territory” to use the full title of the foreign religious organization in its name. In practice, this meant the UOC-MP was required to change its official title to reflect its affiliation with the Moscow Patriarchate. The amendments also restricted access of clerics belonging to such organizations to the armed forces and other military organizations. President Poroshenko stated, “It is easier to make a choice when all things are called by their names, when there is enough information to make this choice voluntary. The implementation of the law will give the citizens full information.” The UOC-MP criticized the bill as governmental interference in religious life.
On October 26, the Odesa Regional Administrative Court overturned a decision by the State Migration Service to deny refugee status to a young Jehovah’s Witness woman, an Iranian citizen, and allowed her to remain in the country.
On June 14, following intervention by the parliament’s Human Rights Ombudsman, the village council in Zvedenivka, Vinnytsya Oblast dropped its demand that local Jehovah’s Witnesses conduct their ministry “under control of village council members or police officers.”
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, between September 2017 and November 2018, its congregations reported 19 cases involving municipal officials or police officers demanding that they stop public missionary work, comparing it to commercial advertising. At times, the officials reportedly used abusing language and threats.
In his annual address to parliament on September 20, President Poroshenko noted that the creation of a united autocephalous Orthodox Church would help strengthen national unity. He said the state would not interfere in internal affairs of the church and would respect the choices of those who decide to remain with the Moscow Patriarchate.
On October 10, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul stated it would proceed towards granting autocephalous status to a Ukrainian Orthodox Church after receiving a joint appeal from the Ukrainian government and bishops from the UOC-KP and UAOC and some UOC-MP bishops on April 20. The statement said the Holy and Sacred Synod in Istanbul also revoked the right of the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv.
On November 3, Patriarch Bartholomew and President Poroshenko signed a Bilateral Agreement on Cooperation and Coordination “within the framework of granting autocephaly to the unified Orthodox Church in Ukraine.” On November 29, the Holy and Sacred Synod in Istanbul announced it had drafted the Constitutional Charter for an autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Also on November 29, President Poroshenko announced publicly that the Ecumenical Patriarchate had approved the text of a decree that would grant autocephaly to a new Ukrainian Church.
In mid-December the UAOC and UOC-KP disbanded themselves to create a united Orthodox Church. On December 15, representatives of the UOC-KP, UAOC, and some UOC-MP representatives, including two metropolitans, formed the OCU and chose Metropolitan Epiphaniy of the former UOC-KP as its head at an Establishment Council in Kyiv. The UOC-MP declared the OCU as a “union of schismatics” that had “no relation” to the UOC-MP, and suspended the clerics who participated in the Establishment Council. At year’s end, administrative centers of the UOC-KP and UAOC continued to exist as legal entities pending state registration of the OCU administration.
The UOC-MP stated law enforcement gave far-right groups a “free hand” to pressure and intimidate UOC-MP parishioners to leave the Church, although some media reports stated the Russian government sought to spread trumped up charges of pressure on the UOC-MP.
On October 12, following UOC-MP allegations of possible attempts by radical groups to seize its major monasteries, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov issued a statement that religion-based violence and extremism were “unacceptable.” He called on political and public figures to refrain from provocations and attempts to destabilize the situation in the country. The minister promised a “tough” response to extremism and religious hatred. He repeated the pledge in an Interfax-Ukraine interview on December 29.
On November 22, the government hosted a meeting with Muslim community leaders, discussing ways to amend regulations that would allow Muslim women to wear head coverings for internal passport (passport for domestic use only) photographs.
On October 3, the Rivne Oblast State Administration registered a statute of a local Jehovah’s Witnesses organization pursuant to a court order overturning the 2017 refusal by the administration to approve the registration request. The court had rejected the administration’s 2017 claim that members of the organization were not allowed to preach or study the Bible outside Kingdom Halls because by law religious groups may preach outside their places of worship and there is no regulation banning missionary work.
On October 10, the Supreme Court upheld a petition by a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in Tetiyiv, Kyiv Oblast, against the local government’s attempts to fine the congregation for an alleged violation of zoning regulations during the recent construction of its Kingdom Hall.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that from September 2017 to November 2018 local authorities in Myropil, Zhytomyr Oblast, Tetiyiv, Kyiv Oblast, Torun, Transcarpathia Oblast, and Kharkiv denied zoning permits or created other impediments to construction of Kingdom Halls. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, UOC-MP representatives campaigned against the construction of a Kingdom Hall in Myropil, Zhytomyr Oblast. On June 19, UOC-MP representatives reportedly prevented the Myropil town council from designating a Jehovah’s Witnesses-owned plot of land for the constriction project, advocating that other religious denominations should not be present in the town. On August 3 and November 2, the council rejected a resolution to designate the land for construction. On December 3, the Lviv District Administrative Court began examining a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ appeal against the council’s inaction on their request.
On April 19, the government revived the Interagency Commission to Realize the Rights of Religious Organizations. Although inactive since 2012, the commission was established in 2008 to address complex restitution issues as well as promote dialogue between the government and religious groups. The commission discussed ways to streamline registration procedures for religious organizations, respond to what it characterized as massive violations of religious freedom in the occupied areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, and address religious property restitution.
The Pastoral Council for Religious Support of the Penitentiary System, an advisory interfaith board designed to promote prison chaplaincy established in 2017, worked with the Ministry of Justice to develop guidance for chaplains ministering to prisoners who faced torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.
The UOC-MP said that on July 25, representatives of the Svoboda Party, which political observers describe as a nationalist party, threatened to burn the buses of local bus companies in Nizhyn, Chernihiv Oblast, if they provided transportation for local pilgrims planning to participate in the July 27 UOC-MP procession in Kyiv celebrating St. Volodymyr’s Day.
On November 30, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) searched a country residence of Metropolitan Pavel, abbot of the UOC-MP Kyiv Pechersk Monastery, and the monastery farm office, calling the search an investigation into charges of incitement to religious hatred. On December 3, the metropolitan rejected the hate speech charges and condemned the searches as political pressure.
On December 5, following several days of searches at UOC-MP buildings in Kyiv and Zhytomyr Oblast, the SBU said it had identified an organized network that distributed materials inciting religious hatred. The SBU posted copies of several confiscated UOC-MP leaflets presenting the Church’s view on Orthodox Church autocephaly, and labeling Jehovah’s Witnesses as a “sect.”
On November 5, officers of the SBU Rivne Oblast branch interrogated 12 UOC-MP priests as part of an investigation into cases of hate speech and high treason. The religious news website risu.org.ua and news website charivne.info said a local UOC-MP priest faced treason charges because the Russian media were using his commentaries about regional parish jurisdiction disputes in false reports about “religious war” in Ukraine. The UOC-MP denied the charges.
On March 6, according to the Umma Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine, approximately two dozen SBU and Kyiv City procuracy representatives conducted a search of the Kyiv Islamic Cultural Center. According to the search warrant, SBU officials were looking for materials promoting “violence, racial, interethnic or religious hatred.” Members of the Umma said the law enforcement officials did not allow the cultural center’s security guard to inform them by phone about the raid. According to the Umma representatives who witnessed the search, the law enforcement representatives planted and immediately “found” “extremist” materials in the library, school premises, and bookstore and also planted and “found” two “extremist” publications during a search in a librarian’s apartment. The Kyiv City procuracy said authorities conducted the search “in strict accordance with the law.” It described the search as part of SBU-initiated operations to stop distribution of materials promoting violence. In 2012, an Odesa court banned distribution of the books seized by the SBU.
Umma Administration leaders said the SBU did not follow legal protocols for search and seizure because it did not employ independent witnesses required to observe the search to prevent attempts to fabricate evidence. Instead, the law enforcement officers reportedly brought “their own” witnesses who were biased and paid no attention to SBU officers planting the publications. Umma representatives said this was the third search of congregations associated with Umma in less than a year in which they said law enforcement authorities planted the same books. In 2017, law enforcement authorities conducted searches at Islamic centers in Sumy and Zhytomyr.
Small religious groups stated local governments continued to discriminate with regard to allocating land for religious buildings in Chernivtsi, Mykolayiv, Odesa, and Ternopil Oblasts, and the city of Kyiv. Roman Catholics, UOC-KP members, UGCC members, the UAOC, and Muslims continued to report cases of discrimination. UGCC representatives said local authorities in Sumy and Odesa were still unwilling to allocate land for UGCC churches. UOC-MP representatives said local authorities in the Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk Oblasts continued to refuse to allocate land for UOC-MP churches. UOC-KP representatives said the Haisyn District State Administration refused their request to build a church in the town. Roman Catholic Church leaders stated they continued to ask authorities to return former Church properties in the western part of the country and elsewhere. Roman Catholics stated the government continued to refuse to support the restitution of Odesa’s Roman Catholic seminary building, which the Soviet regime had confiscated. Church of Jesus Christ representatives stated the Kyiv City government continued to fail to reinstate a lease, first revoked in 2015, on land to build a house of worship. The UAOC said the Chernivtsi City Council was unwilling to finalize allocation of land for a UAOC diocesan administration office in the city.
According to the UOC-MP, in February the village council in Stary Hvizdets, Ivano Frankivsk Oblast, illegally transferred ownership of the local UOC-MP Annunciation Church from the government to the UOC-KP. Local police reportedly opened an investigation.
On February 7, the Volyn Oblast Appellate Court rejected a petition by the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ) to remove a private industrial facility from the grounds of a Jewish cemetery near Toykut village in Volyn Oblast.
Kyiv’s Muslim community said the local government, which allocates land for cemeteries, had not acted on the community’s request for additional free land in Kyiv for Islamic burials, which was their legal right. Muslim community leaders said they were running out of land for burials of their members.
All major religious organizations continued to appeal to the government to establish a transparent legal process to address property restitution claims. Most organizations said they experienced continued problems and delays in the restitution process to reclaim property seized by the Communist regime. They said the consideration of claims often took longer than the month prescribed by law. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups stated a number of factors continued to complicate the restitution process, including intercommunity competition for particular properties, current use of some properties by state institutions, the designation of some properties as historic landmarks, local governments disputing jurisdictional boundaries, and previous transfers of some properties to private ownership. They continued to report local officials taking sides in property restitution disputes, such as the case of the Lviv city government continuing to deny Roman Catholic Church requests for restitution of several properties turned over to the UGCC.
Muslim community leaders expressed concern over the continued lack of resolution of restitution claims involving historic mosques in Mykolayiv.
The AUCCRO, a longstanding independent interfaith board representing more than 90 percent of all religious organizations in the country, continued to appeal to parliament to impose a moratorium on the privatization of previously confiscated religious buildings. Despite renewed government promises to address the issue, the government had taken no action by the end of the year.
The Jewish community expressed concern over the continued failure of national and local government authorities to protect historic religious properties, particularly historic synagogues in Lviv, Brody, Sokal, Stryi, Zhokva, Berezhany, Husyatyn, Pidhaytsi, and Dubno.
Jewish community leaders said they continued to experience difficulties with the Ternopil municipal and district governments with regard to property restitution. The Ternopil District Council continued to reject local Jewish community requests to return a prayer house confiscated during the Soviet regime. On October 25, local authorities in Chortkiv, Ternopil Oblast, transferred a former synagogue building that had been used as a warehouse to the Jewish community.
On July 25, the Dnipro City Council returned to the Muslim community a mosque confiscated by the Soviet government.
On February 5, the Ministry of Culture issued a statement saying that the UOC-MP had constructed Sts. Volodymyr and Olga Church in central Kyiv on the grounds of a state-run national museum. On February 9, the Municipal Development Commission of the Kyiv City Council upheld a petition to demolish the building. The government stated that in 2013, the UOC-MP built the church without legal permission. The building was still standing at year’s end.
UOC-MP representatives continued to object to what they characterized was the central government’s inadequate response to discrimination and intolerance toward its members by UOC-KP and UGCC representatives and high-ranking UOC-KP and UGCC supporters in some local governments. According to the UOC-MP, law enforcement agencies ignored its requests to bring to justice a Sokal District administration official who intimidated UOC-MP parishioners in Shpykolosy village, Lviv Oblast, over their refusal to join a newly created local UOC-KP congregation.
On December 11, the Lviv Oblast Council declared 2019 as the Year of Stepan Bandera and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). The Council issued the decision to mark the 110th anniversary of Bandera’s birth and the 90th anniversary of OUN’s establishment. Jewish community representatives criticized the decision. In the 1940s, OUN led the nationalist partisan movement, some of whom were responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews.
On December 18, the parliament adopted a resolution to mark a number of significant anniversary dates in 2019, including the 110th anniversary of the birth of Ivan Klymiv, one of the leaders of the OUN. Jewish community representatives criticized the decision due to his role in instigating anti-Semitic pogroms in Nazi-occupied Lviv in 1941.
On September 20, the Kyiv District Administrative Court reaffirmed its 2017 ruling against a proposal to rename a city street in honor of Roman Shukhevych, one of the OUN leaders and commander of the Nazi-controlled Nachtigall Battalion.
In an interview with the Insider news website published on June 25, Deputy Prosecutor General Anatoliy Matios suggested, “Jews seek to drown Ukraine in blood.” He compared a Jew facing terrorism charges to Jewish communist Alexander Parvus. Matios said Parvus “who brought money to Lenin for the revolution that flooded Slavs with streams of blood” was also Jewish. “In this case, they want to do the same to Ukraine,” he said. Eastern Europe Simon Wiesenthal Center Director Efraim Zuroff publicly condemned Matios’ statements as “outrageous and false,” and called for his dismissal.
On May 14, Ukrainian Jewish Committee Director Eduard Dolinsky filed a formal complaint to authorities regarding anti-Semitic remarks Skole mayor and Right Sector member Volodymyr Moskal reportedly made in 2017 that “the government of Moskovites and Yids” is running Ukraine and Jews seek to dominate the world, treat all other nations as “subhumans” and destroy them. The local procuracy and police opened an investigation. There was no progress reported in the investigation by year’s end.
On May 2, Odesa Oblast Right Sector leader Tetyana Soykina said during a rally held by representatives of Svoboda, Right Sector, and National Militia in the city that “Ukraine will belong to Ukrainians, not to kikes, not to oligarchs!” On May 4, President Poroshenko condemned all manifestations of intolerance and anti-Semitism and pledged the government’s “swift” and “resolute” reaction to any attempt to sow enmity in society.
During a meeting with Kyiv Chief Rabbi Jonathan Markowitz on May 7, Interior Minister Avakov condemned the Odesa rally and all other manifestations of anti-Semitism as “unacceptable.” He added that the Russian government might have orchestrated some anti-Semitic acts in an effort to destabilize Ukraine. The Odesa police investigated the May 2 act as a criminal code violation of racial and ethnic equality.
According to media reports, on April 18, the Kostopil District State Administration, Rivne Oblast, urged law enforcement agencies to identify and bring to justice perpetrators who in mid-April painted a swastika on a Holocaust memorial near the town. Local college students removed the graffiti, and an investigation into the case continued at year’s end.
The AUCCRO continued to appeal to the government to adopt a draft bill entitled, “The Concept of Relations between the State and Religious Denominations,” which would shape cooperation between the government and religious groups and provide long-term basis for legislation on religious issues.
In an April 16 meeting with UOC-KP Patriarch Filaret and again during a July 4 meeting with the AUCCRO, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman reaffirmed the government’s commitment to promoting religious freedom and dialogue with religious communities.
Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors
Russia-led forces in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts continued to detain and imprison members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as other religious leaders.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on November 30, representatives of the “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”) detained Jehovah’s Witness Mykhailo Papeta as he was travelling to Luhansk through an “LPR” checkpoint. During a search of his vehicle, they found a business card containing a jw.org address. They told him that all Jehovah’s Witnesses material and ministry had been banned. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, “LPR” representatives took the detainee to a police station, handcuffed, and beat him. While under detention, “LPR” personnel searched Papeta’s home and confiscated some of his religious books. After several hours, they released Papeta, threatening to imprison him again in the future.
According to media, on September 26 the “Supreme Court” of the Russia-controlled “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) upheld the “DPR’s” acting prosecutor general’s request to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization. The “LPR” authorities introduced a similar ban earlier in the year.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Russian government reportedly sent seven FSB (Federal Security Service) representatives to the “DPR” to intensify harassment of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In October and November, “DPR” and “LPR” “law-enforcement agencies” reportedly received orders to identify and prosecute Jehovah’s Witnesses who did not comply with the ban on their ministry. The authorities summoned several Jehovah’s Witnesses for interrogation.
During home visits in Boykovske (formerly Telmanove), “DPR police” warned all local Jehovah’s Witnesses about the ban on their activity and collected their signatures to acknowledge receipt of the warning.
On February 2, the Russia-controlled “LPR People’s Council” adopted the Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations. The law requires all religious organizations except for the UOC-MP to undergo “state religious expert evaluation” and reregister by August 2. The council later extended the deadline to October 15. In October the Ukraine-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Institute of Religious Freedom quoted Protestant leaders as saying that the “LPR” had denied reregistration applications of Baptist and Pentecostal churches and Seventh-day Adventists, citing negative results of the “evaluation.” The leaders described the refusal as a complete ban on their religious activities, including prohibiting religious ceremonies held by believers at their homes. According to “LPR” proxy authorities, to be eligible for registration a “local religious organization” must have at least 30 adult members, while a “centralized religious organization” must be composed of at least five such local organizations. These requirements effectively outlawed some smaller religious associations. The law requires Christian Orthodox congregations to register as part of a “diocese recognized by the Orthodox Churches around the world within the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate,” putting at risk the further existence of several remaining UOC-KP parishes.
On April 13, the Russia-controlled “DPR People’s Council” amended the 2016 Law on the Freedom of Worship and Religious Associations banning all religious organizations that do not meet a March 1, 2019, registration deadline. The revised law gave the “DPR’s Ministry of Culture” additional powers to monitor the registration of religious associations in the region and to abolish them on various grounds. The requirement remained for a “religious group,” a newly created religious association not seeking legal entity status, to submit written notification to authorities about its function, location, administration, and the names and home addresses of its members. The “DPR” authorities had 10 days to either put the group on the Register of Religious Groups or cancel the group’s legal status. The “DPR” authorities had a month to examine the application documents of “religious organization,” a religious association seeking legal status. In either case, the “DPR” authorities could conduct a “state religious expert evaluation” of the documents, which could take up to six months, or deny a registration request on a number of grounds, such as missing required information or if authorities had banned the registration of the religious entity that was applying. All religious organizations and religious groups had to notify authorities about their continued existence annually. The law required the UOC-MP to undergo a simplified “legalization” procedure without reregistration and “state religious expert evaluation.”
According to Muslim community and Ukrainian media reports, in late June the “Ministry of State Security of the DPR” raided Al-Amal Mosque in Donetsk, seizing prayer books and other religious materials. The proxy authorities interrogated the mosque’s imam and congregation members. Subsequently, the “DPR” proxy authorities closed the mosque based on what the Muslim community and some Ukrainian media reports called fabricated extremism charges.
According to the All-Ukraine Baptist Union, on June 3, the “LPR State Security Ministry” raided a Baptist church when its members convened for a religious service at a private apartment in Luhansk. The authorities confiscated religious literature and sealed the entrance to the apartment. All-Ukraine Baptist Union sources said that on August 2, proxy authorities ordered the head of the congregation to pay a fine of 8,000 Russian rubles ($110). Following the raid, in July the “LPR State Security Ministry” labeled the All-Ukraine Baptist Union as an “extremist” religious organization. The “LPR” proxy authorities accused the Baptists of “evading mandatory state registration,” promoting the “violent assault of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” and using “psychotropic substances” to put psychological pressure on members of the congregation.
As of August 29, Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives reported “DPR” and “LPR” representatives had seized 16 of their buildings in Debaltseve, Donetsk, Horlivka, Perevalsk, Khrustalny (former Krasny Luch), Boykovske (former Telmanove), Yenakieve, Holubivka (former Kirovsk), Alchevsk, Sorokyne (former Krasnodon), Bryanka, Vyhlehirsk, Luhansk, and Kadiyivka (former Stakhanov), and searched two.
On May 30, a fire destroyed a Kingdom Hall seized by the “LPR” in Luhansk in August 2017. No additional information on the arson was available.
On January 22, the “LPR” authorities closed down a Kingdom Hall in Antratsyt.
No additional information on the closure was available.
According to NGO reports, Russia-led forces continued to use previously seized places of worship as military facilities. Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives stated Russia-led forces used some places of worship as barracks.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, since June “DPR” and “LPR” authorities had collected information about their congregations in Donetsk, Torez, Snizhne, Shakhtarsk, Yenakieve, Makiyivka, Bryanka and others, and took some congregation members for questioning.
The “DPR” continued to label materials distributed by the Jehovah Witnesses as “extremist.” From July 2017 to March 2018, the “Supreme Court” of the “DPR” issued four “rulings” declaring seven of their publications “extremist.” The “court” did not notify Jehovah’s Witnesses about its “hearings.” Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives said that as a result, they could neither defend themselves against the charges nor appeal the “rulings.”
On August 22, the “DPR Supreme Court” upheld a request by the “DPR Acting Prosecutor General” to declare Jehovah’s Witnesses website as “extremist”. On September 5, the “DPR Ministry of Communications” instructed telecommunications providers to ban internet access to the website pursuant to the “court’s” order.
On March 15, the “DPR Supreme Court” and “Ministry of Justice” posted a Republican List of Extremist Materials on their websites. The list included the four latest issues of The Watchtower.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
On September 6, the chief of the National Police described the explosion that injured a Jewish boy in Uman in 2017 as a terrorist act orchestrated by a foreign state’s intelligence service to incite interethnic and religious confrontation. He said he had confirmed earlier police reports alleging that in previous years the same individuals as those responsible for the terrorist acts painted anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls of synagogues in Lviv and Odesa, and desecrated a synagogue near the grave of Rabbi Nachman, founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement, in Uman.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reported three cases of physical assaults during the year, compared with 18 in 2017. They said one of the attackers had physically and verbally assaulted them on at least 15 previous occasions. On May 27, he beat up and threw stones at Jehovah 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.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, 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 then broke a beer bottle on the victim’s head. The attacker fled before police arrived at the scene.
A court in Zhytomyr continued hearings on a criminal case against four individuals arrested for allegedly attacking Chabad Rabbi Mendel Deitsch at the city’s train station in 2016. Deitsch subsequently died from his injuries.
Authorities dropped the investigation of a 2016 case involving a teenager who reportedly shoved a rabbi and used anti-Semitic insults, including “Kikes out of here,” after the teenager apologized to the Jewish community.
On May 31, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a UOC-MP priest who in 2014 physically and verbally assaulted a Jehovah’s Witness in Berezhonka village, Chernivtsi Oblast. The victim sustained a concussion and was hospitalized.
On May 16, the Baranivka District Court, Zhytomyr Oblast sentenced Oleg Nikitchyn to 160 hours of community work for verbal and physical assault on Jehovah’s Witness Yuriy Vorobei in June 2017. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the court based its “lenient” sentence on the assailant’s statement, disregarding what they called verifiable signs of a hate crime. The court rejected Vorobei’s demand that the attacker cover the cost of his medical treatment.
On May 8, Kyiv’s Sviatoshyn District Court found R.V. Prokopenko guilty of hooliganism and ordered him to pay a fine of 8500 hryvnias ($310) for insulting and injuring two Jehovah’s Witnesses, and damaging their mobile display of missionary materials in December 2017. During the pretrial investigation, Prokopenko apologized to the victims and compensated them for damages.
On July 27, the UOC-MP celebrated St. Volodymyr’s feast day with a procession in Kyiv. Police estimated that 20,000 persons participated in the event. The UOC-MP put the number at 250,000. Police detained three individuals linked to the Bratstvo group, which had reportedly intended to disrupt the procession. Observers of the group described it as a pseudo-nationalist group with a history of provocations in support of pro-Russian causes. During the march, Bratstvo streamed a live “interview” with one of its members posing as an anti-Ukrainian UOC-MP monk.
On September 16, 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. According to media, 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.
The AUCRA, established in 2017 by a number of mainly smaller religious groups and churches, met on March 20 to discuss ways to promote interfaith dialogue. The group reiterated its commitment to dialogue and to building partnerships between religious organizations and the government.
According to the UOC-MP, local authorities continued to transfer parish jurisdictions from the UOC-MP to the UOC-KP against the will of the parishioners. Ternopil Oblast authorities reportedly refused to renew state registration of the UOC-MP parishes whose church buildings in Butyn and Kynakhivtsi villages were transferred to the UOC-KP in 2014 and 2017 following a split within the two congregations.
On April 3, several dozen members of the C14, which observers describe as a far-right group, arrived at the Kyiv Lavra Monastery compound and armed with sticks to “search” for pro-Russian separatists. They held two monastery guards to cut sleeve patches off the guards’ uniform. C14 left the monastery upon arrival of a police patrol. Law enforcement authorities did not press charges against them. C14 streamed the incident live on its Facebook page.
In a YouTube video posted on April 18, Bratstvo representatives urged Ukrainians to “seize” UOC-MP churches and ignore UOC-KP calls to refrain from violence against the UOC-MP. Media and civil society characterized Bratstvo as a group of “paid thugs” notorious for their involvement in violent provocations orchestrated by Kremlin-linked political forces since 2004.
Posts on the Right Sector website continued to repeat previous statements by the group stating that, at the request of the UOC-KP, it would continue to visit sites disputed between the UOC-MP and UOC-KP to “facilitate” a change of jurisdiction.
Following the UOC-MP and Right Sector statements, UOC-KP Patriarch Filaret repeated previous UOC-KP statements in an August 2 interview with the UOC-KP press center, rejecting accusations that the UOC-KP was involved in the seizures of UOC-MP churches. Patriarch Filaret repeated that these were legitimate transfers to UOC-KP jurisdiction initiated by parishioners. The UOC-KP stated it would continue to act according to the law, but also would continue to accept into its jurisdiction any UOC-MP clergy and laity requesting affiliation with UOC-KP (and after the December 15 Establishment Council, with the OCU). Following the autocephaly petition from the government and Orthodox bishops to the Ecumenical Patriarchate on April 20, the UOC-KP repeatedly stressed that transition of UOC-MP congregations to a future united Ukrainian Orthodox Church must be voluntary, and free from coercion and violence.
The Jewish community continued to express its concern about the continuing operation of the Krakivskiy 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.
According to UGCC representatives, on July 13, a group of local residents tried to prevent construction vehicles from entering a site designated by the local government for construction of the Nativity of Christ Church in Bila Tserkva, Kyiv Oblast. One of the local residents reportedly held a hand grenade and threatened to detonate it. Police detained the protester and brought administrative charges against him. On August 17, dozens of individuals who UGCC said were “hired” destroyed a fence surrounding the construction site. Police reportedly detained the suspects and released them after questioning. The authorities opened an investigation. On August 20, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement condemning the incident and urging law enforcement agencies to bring the perpetrators to justice.
According to media, on July 25, supporters of Svoboda physically assaulted Chief Editor of Visti Borznyanshchyny newspaper Serhiy Blyznyuk for publishing a positive report on a children’s summer camp organized by a local UOC-MP diocese. Svoboda supporters described the article as “anti-Ukrainian.” Under Svoboda’s pressure, the Borzna District State Administration in Chernihiv Oblast reportedly forced Blyznyuk to resign.
According to the UOC-MP, Svoboda supporters verbally abused Borzna District State Administration Deputy Chairman Oleksandr Maksymov and staffers Olena Taran and Yevhen Tarnovsky and forced them to write resignation letters for allowing the UOC-MP to host the camp in the district. Earlier local Svoboda activists threatened Archbishop Klyment, head of the local UOC-MP diocese, for organizing the camp. The UOC-MP representatives said on July 21, a group of drunk Svoboda supporters visited the camp but the site was empty because the children had left the day before.
According to the UOC-MP, on November 27, unidentified individuals splashed red paint at the entrance to UOC-MP diocesan office in Rivne and defaced its wall with graffiti, saying, “Our Sailors’ Blood is on Your Hands.” The graffiti was an apparent reference to Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels and 24 crewmembers near the Kerch Strait.
According to police reports, on November 15, two men threw Molotov cocktails at the door of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s St. Andrew’s Church in Kyiv. The Molotov cocktails did not ignite and caused no damage. The attackers fled, using pepper spray against security guards who confronted them. According to the UOC-KP, the arsonists injured a UOC-KP priest. The attack occurred after the government gave permission for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to open a representative mission in the historic building. On November 27, police detained one of suspected arsonists and found flammable liquid in his apartment in Kyiv.
According to the UAOC, on August 30, unidentified individuals burned and destroyed the interior and roof of the Nativity of the Theotokos Church in Hanychi Village, Transcarpathia Oblast. No suspects were detained.
According to the UOC-MP, on March 14, unidentified individuals set fire to an auxiliary building near the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God Joy of All Who Sorrow in Kyiv. The fire destroyed the roof and stored construction materials. Shortly before the fire, two individuals reportedly asked the church’s security guard about the church’s affiliation. Police could not identify the perpetrators. There have been six previous arson attacks on the church since 2014.
According to the UOC-MP, on March 10, unidentified individuals set fire to its Transfiguration Church in Kyiv, causing serious damage to the building. Police opened an investigation; however, no one was detained by year’s end.
According to media sources, on January 25, individuals who self-identified as members of C14 and others, tore down an information board near the UOC-MP Sts. Volodymyr and Olga Church in central Kyiv. They posted leaflets on church doors describing congregation members as Russian FSB agents. The individuals fled when police arrived. C14 then posted footage of the occurrence on its Facebook page.
According to police, on the night of January 25, individuals doused the UOC-MP Sts. Volodymyr and Olga Church with flammable liquid and ignited it, causing minor damage to the building. They insulted and spit at UOC-MP clerics who arrived at the scene. Police detained two suspects and found several canisters with flammable liquid near the church. The detainees said the attack was in retaliation for what they characterized as the Moscow Patriarchate’s endorsement of Russian aggression against Ukraine. On January 27, Kyiv’s Shevchenkivsky District Court ordered the detention of the suspects for 60 days. Parliament member Ihor Lutsenko condemned the Shevchenkivsky District Court’s decision to detain the suspects, describing members of the monastic congregation of the church as “FSB agents.” The Kyiv Appellate Court released the suspects on bail on February 5, following petitions from parliamentarians and a UOC-MP request to mitigate punishment for the suspects. During the court hearing, the suspects pleaded guilty. They described the arson attempt as their protest against UOC-MP clerics, saying they were “FSB agents,” and against the “unlawful” construction of the church building at a protected historical heritage site. On February 6, UOC-KP Patriarch Filaret condemned the arson attack.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 25 cases of vandalism against Kingdom Halls during the year, compared with 30 acts of vandalism in 2017. The incidents included an arson attack that destroyed a Kingdom Hall in Radomyshl, Zhytomyr Oblast, on March 25. Police continued to investigate the arson at year’s end.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on May 19, unidentified individuals broke windows of a Kingdom Hall in Smila, Cherkasy Oblast. Police made no progress in investigating this occurrence or two previous acts of vandalism against the building committed in 2017.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on May 2, unidentified individuals defaced a wall of a Kingdom Hall in Kharkiv with graffiti saying “sect.” Police did not open a criminal investigation of the act, reportedly describing it as a minor case that did not meet the threshold for an investigation.
The National Minority Rights Monitoring Group reported 12 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism during the year, compared with 24 in 2017 and 19 in 2016.
The Jewish community continued to express concern over the local government’s inability to relocate a cross that self-described nationalist activists placed in the old Jewish cemetery in Kolomyia in 2017. On September 6, the Kolomyia City Council upheld the activists’ request to declare the cemetery a memorial park. The Jewish community filed a lawsuit against the decision, saying that the new legal status of the areas would make it impossible to seek relocation of the cross. The hearing continued at the Ivano-Frankivsk District Administrative Court at year’s end.
The case against three suspects who vandalized a local synagogue and cemetery and attempted to set fire to the ohel, a structure covering the grave of Chief Rabbi Gillel Boruch Liechtenstein, continued in Kolomyia, Ivano Frankivsk Oblast.
According to the Jewish community and police reports, Holocaust memorials and Jewish religious monuments were vandalized in various locations, including in Cherkasy, Chernivtsi, Khmelnytsky, Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Poltava, Rivne, and Ternopil Oblasts and Vinnystya City. Police investigations into these acts continued at year’s end; according to police, there was no progress on these case or similar cases from 2017.
Jewish community representatives reported systematic desecration of a Holocaust mass grave in Sosonky near Rivne. On July 21, police detained one of two alleged perpetrators who dug up the mass grave in search of gold. The second vandal fled the scene. The detainee reportedly claimed he was only a driver for his associate and was soon released; the case remained under investigation at year’s end. In April police detained two individuals who dug a tunnel through the Holocaust mass grave in Nemyriv, Vinnytsya Oblast, and removed human remains. The individuals said they were looking for gold from the grave.
In mid-November unidentified individuals in Kyiv posted leaflets announcing a rally to topple the government to “hand over power to the people.” Authors of the leaflet featuring a crossed-out Menorah, the president’s photo, and a satanic pentagram, urged the government’s opponents to stop tolerating “genocide.” According to media reports, on November 18, approximately 300 individuals participated in the announced gathering in central Kyiv. Its anonymous organizer, wearing a balaclava, and other speakers blamed “Yids” for “seizing power” in the country. One speaker demanded that Jews be “destroyed.” The crowd helped the man in a balaclava escape from police, who tried to detain him because of his statements. After the scuffle, police briefly detained a suspect allegedly involved in the gathering.
On October 29, during a protest against increasing utility tariffs in Vinnytsya, protesters Yuriy Kysil and Mykhailo Siranchuk stated Jews had “seized power” in the country. On November 23, in response to an inquiry by Member of Parliament Oleksandr Feldman, the Vinnytsya police department said the statements did not constitute hate speech because the activists “had noted they did not mean to fuel ethnic, racial, or religious hatred.”
On February 2, Maryana Polyanska, editor of the Chortkivsky Visnyk newspaper in Ternopil Oblast, published an article titled “Yids or Jews?” stating Jews profiteered at the expense of Ukrainians and dominated the government. The regional police and procuracy investigated the article as an attempt to incite interethnic hatred. The local government condemned the publication. On February 9, the Independent Media Trade Union condemned Polyanska’s article as an expression of “religious and ethnic discrimination” and terminated her union membership.
According to the Vechirniy Kamyanets news website, on October 14, unidentified individuals painted swastikas on a Holocaust memorial in Kamyanets-Podilsky, Khmelnytsky Oblast.
According to media reports, on April 27-28, unidentified individuals smashed windows and scattered prayer books at the ohel over at the grave of renowned 17th century Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, in Ostroh, Rivne Oblast. Police opened an investigation but did not report any developments by year’s end.
According to media sources, in mid-April unidentified individuals painted neo-Nazi graffiti on a Holocaust monument in Poltava. Police said they had not made progress in the investigation by year’s end.
On March 22, the SBU announced the detention of several individuals accused of painting anti-Semitic graffiti on a Jewish community center in Sumy in December 2017. According to the SBU, Russian intelligence agencies had ordered the group to commit anti-Semitic vandalism.
According to media reports, on January 29, a masked individual ran into a Lviv bookstore hosting a Holocaust history lecture and threw a smoke bomb. The attacker fled after a participant in the event confronted him. The Lviv mayor’s office condemned the attack, calling on the law enforcement agencies to investigate it. Police opened an investigation by did not identify the attacker.
According to the Jewish community, police had yet to identify the arsonists who in 2017 damaged parts of the Jewish cemetery in Kolomiya.
Police continued to investigate 2017 acts of vandalism against Holocaust memorials in Lviv, Kyiv, Odesa, Svalyava, Ternopil and Uzhhorod. Authorities also continued to investigate 2016 acts of vandalism against the Israeli flag in Babyn Yar in Kyiv, the ohel on the grave of Rabbi Aryeh Leib in Shpola, and desecration of the Holocaust monument in Uzhhorod, all reportedly without progress.