Not a single church is banned in Ukraine, unlike the Russian-occupied territories – UCCRO delegation stated
Despite the war, a high level of religious freedom is preserved in Ukraine, and not a single church has been banned. The situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine is the opposite, as the Russian military is implementing the “Russkiy Mir” (Russian World) ideology by exterminating the Ukrainian identity and brutally persecuting all religious minorities.
This issue was raised by the delegation of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations during meetings with American journalists, experts of leading research institutions, and a U.S. senator in Washington, D.C., on October 31, 2023.
The Ukrainian religious leaders answered questions about the legal reforms in religious activity provided for by draft law # 8371. In April of 2023, the Ukrainian Council of Churches unilaterally declared the “unacceptability of the activity in Ukraine of any organizations, the centers and leadership of which are located in the Russian Federation, including religious ones.”
Democratic debate on this draft law continues in Ukraine, and there is a possibility that it will be corrected before the second reading in the Parliament. Nevertheless, there is a provision for a judicial procedure that would allow to consider ceasing the activities of those religious organizations that fail to adhere to the government order to sever ties with religious centers in Russia, an aggressor state.
“Sadly, the Moscow Patriarchate is, de facto, not a religious organization but a Russian state structure for control over religious life and execution of the Kremlin’s politics. This is why the draft law proposed to the Parliament of Ukraine is a way to protect our citizens from abuses of religious freedom, as Russia uses the churches and religious communities it controls as proxy war instruments,” reasoned Metropolitan Yevstratiy (Zorya), a representative of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
A discussion on this topic was held at Hudson Institute, an American conservative analytical center, with the participation of the UCCRO delegation and experts from various U.S. research centers.
Answering the question “what will be considered a victory by Ukraine,” Chief Rabbi of Kyiv and Ukraine Yaakov Dov Bleich noted that first and foremost, it is crucial to force Russia to stop violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity and shelling civilians. A gradual liberation of all territories of Ukraine within the internationally recognized borders of 1991 is a fundamental task.
“Ukrainians strive for justice and sustainable peace. This will only be possible when Russia is punished for the crime of aggression. Every Russian war criminal must be prosecuted for crimes against the people of Ukraine, including the genocide of the civilian population and targeted destruction of church buildings and prayer houses that we now observe daily,” stressed Ivan Rusyn, the deputy Head Bishop of the Ukrainian Evangelical Church.
Ukrainian religious figures shared about the dramatic deterioration of the condition of Ukrainian churches and religious communities on territories controlled by Russian soldiers. This was discussed during a meeting with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R), who has served as a senator from Iowa since 1981 and chairs the subcommittee in the Senate Finance Committee.
“The Russian government spreads hatred against Ukrainians and Ukrainian churches on occupied territories. Even the Catholic Church became an object of humiliation and hatred in the media, controlled by the occupation authorities. At the same time, the Russian intelligence services are attempting to establish total control over any religious activity,” stressed Bishop Vitalii Kryvytskyi, Ordinary of Kyiv-Zhytomyr of the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine.
While they were in Washington, the delegation of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations visited the Holodomor Memorial to Victims of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932–1933 and honored the memory of Ukrainians who were exterminated by the Soviet regime.
Ukrainian religious figures had a separate meeting with the Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, who received the UCCRO delegation at the embassy.
The delegation of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations arrived in the United States consisting of representatives of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Pentecostal Church, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Evangelical Church, the Union of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine, the Religious Administration of Muslims of Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Bible Society, as well as the leadership of the Institute for Religious Freedom.
After the events in Washington, Ukrainian religious leaders will visit Houston, Texas, to hold a series of meetings with local religious figures, politicians, and opinion leaders. The visit of the UCCRO delegation to the United States is supported by RAZOM, a U.S. non-profit.