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Russian takeover of Crimea leads to inter-Church tensions

Earlier this year, Russian President Vladmir Putin authorized a referendum for Russia to take control of Crimea. As a result, while the Russian Orthodox Church has experienced no difficulties, other denominations of Christianity in Crimea have suffered violence, church closure, and other forms of discrimination. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Protestants within Crimea have all reported hostility from pro-Russian groups and the new authorities.

By Lauren Gunias

6/9/2014 Crimea (World Watch Monitor) – Reports of violence and intimidation by pro-Russian groups against non-Russian Orthodox Christians in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine are beginning to emerge.

…On June 1, a group of armed men in traditional Cossack clothes attacked the Holy Virgin Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate (the UOC-KP) in the Crimean village of Perevalnoe.

The group smashed the door, trashed the church and attacked the priest Ivan Katkalo and parishioners including a pregnant woman, who came to the priest’s aid.

The police took three hours to get to the scene, and upon their arrival they allegedly sided with the attackers, stating that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) was anti-Russian and therefore had no place in Crimea, UOC – KP said.

In March, the Catholic News Agency, CNA, reported some of the first claims of “persecution” made by members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church soon after the disputed referendum, with Russian President Vladimir Putin signing a bill to annex Crimea…

The reported incidents included the kidnapping of three priests in Crimea; members of clergy receiving threatening phone calls; a note being left at the home of a priest stating this should be “a lesson to all Vatican agents;” a parish in Kolomyya being vandalized; and another church in Dora being burned to the ground from arson.

In an email to World Watch Monitor, Ukrainian Pastor Edward Dolzhikiv said he can empathise with feeling unwelcome… His church, [‘New Light’ Presbyterian,] is still in operation but… its legal status is uncertain, given the strict control of religious organisations by Crimea’s new Russian authorities.

Dolzhikiv said it is very likely that the church will close because of fundamental differences between the basic laws concerning religious freedom. Ukrainian law grants equal status to all religions, while Russian law grants special privileges to Russian Orthodoxy.

“The influence of the Russian Orthodox Church is growing. It is very much against the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and any other churches,” said Dolzhikiv.

Since Russian occupation of Crimea the right of religious freedom is also affecting the region’s neighbouring ‘provinces’. A group of 25 armed men, wearing Balaclava masks, seized the [Protestant] Central Church of Christ and a ministry training school in the eastern Ukrainian city of Gorlovka during Sunday morning worship on May 25.

Despite the region’s difficulties Andrew Zhuravlev, the minister for the Central Church of Christ and an instructor for the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Ukraine, said church life was operating normally until the group stormed the church.

“Their commander introduced his soldiers as part of the Russian troops and told us that any denominations apart from the Eastern Orthodox [Moscow Patriarchs] are illegal on this territory,” he said in a statement to World Watch Monitor.

“This officer gave us three hours to take some our things out of the building, after that the building was ’cleaned’ – that meant that remaining things were destroyed and we don’t have any access to the building or neighbouring land,” Zhuravlev said.

“Of course, we were shocked because of all that, children were crying of fear, one young Christian lady fainted, and some started arguing with soldiers trying to get the building back.”

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