CRIMEA: Raids, violence, threats – but what protection do victims get?
Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Russian authorities claim they have the jurisdiction to enforce so-called anti-extremism laws on the region’s inhabitants. Meanwhile, violence and threats of hostility against religious minorities, such as Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and non-Russian Orthodox Christians, are largely allowed with impunity. Recently, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reported that half of its priests, including one who was kept by a mob from entering his church, have fled the region due to lack of protection from the governing authorities.
By Felix Corley
6/26/2014 Crimea (Forum 18) – Since March 2014, places of worship and individuals of some faiths (including followers of Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the [Ukrainian Orthodox] Kiev Patriarchate) have faced violent attacks, apparently without the perpetrators being identified and punished…
The Kiev Patriarchate – which emerged in the early 1990s – is the second largest Orthodox Church in Ukraine after the Moscow Patriarchate. However, the Kiev Patriarchate is not recognised as canonical by any other canonical Orthodox Church.
Religious communities in Simferopol, Sevastopol, Yevpatoriya and Feodosiya – including Latin-rite Catholics and Protestants of various registered and unregistered affiliations – told Forum 18 in mid-June that their life has continued as before since Russia controversially annexed Crimea in March. Some communities appeared to be choosing their words carefully in their responses.
“During the change of leadership, there were questions,” one Protestant pastor told Forum 18 on 23 June. “But there have been no negative consequences for us.”
Russia insists that Russian federal law – including the Criminal Code and the Code of Administrative Offences – now applies in Crimea. This means that its inhabitants may fall foul of Russia’s anti-“extremism” laws.
Early on Sunday 1 June, a mob of about 50 people prevented Fr Ivan Katkalo, a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate, from entering his church in a military base in the village of Perevalnoe in Simferopol District, local media reported. Demonstrators smashed the lock on Holy Protection Church and threw out items belonging to Fr Ivan’s congregation. A pregnant parishioner and Fr Ivan’s daughter, who has cerebral palsy, were caught up in the mob attack.
The demonstrators then changed the lock to prevent the Kiev Patriarchate from gaining access to the building.
Fr Ivan told local media that he had appealed to the police, but they had failed to assist him, protect the community, or take action against the perpetrators.
“Fr Ivan has left Crimea for Canada,” Archbishop Kliment (Kushch), head of the Kiev Patriarchate’s Simferopol and Crimea Diocese, told Forum 18 from Simferopol on 25 June. “I’ve already lost that church.”
Five of the Kiev Patriarchate’s ten priests in the region have already left Crimea since March, including Fr Ivan. All were Ukrainian citizens. “The authorities couldn’t guarantee their security,” Archbishop Kliment told Forum 18. “Some were told they’d be killed. They were threatened by phone, in writing, and face to face.” He stated that complaints to the police and Prosecutor’s Office were rejected. “They said we were the guilty ones.”