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Though not every denomination has been equally or severely affected, Russia’s annexation of Crimea has resulted in various hindrances and obstacles for several religious communities. Clergy fleeing the initial turmoil of the region seems to have slowed, but several Greek Catholic priests entering the region were informed that they could only stay for three months at a time, with one month between each visit. Russia’s demand for all religious communities to re-register under Russian law will likely prove burdensome to smaller and less-established religious communities who may not be able to meet registration requirements.

By Felix Corley

6/27/2014 Crimea (Forum 18) – Although some clergy fled Crimea amid the turmoil and uncertainty of the Russian takeover in March 2014 – including some Greek Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Kiev Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Church leaders – most such departures seem to have at present halted.

Most Protestant pastors Forum 18 spoke to said they and their colleagues faced no problems remaining at their posts. A total of 12 Latin-rite Catholic priests and 6 nuns (all Ukrainian or Polish citizens) remain at their posts, and Assistant Bishop Jacek Pyl of the Odessa and Simferopol Diocese has been visiting parishes in Crimea with no problem in June, the Diocese told Forum 18 on 24 June.

All but one of the Greek Catholic priests working in Crimea at the time of the Russian takeover left at that time. However, six new priests have arrived since then to replace them, the Greek Catholic Exarchate told Forum 18 from Odessa on 24 June.

However, on arrival the new Greek Catholic priests (all Ukrainian citizens) had to fill in Russian migration cards. They were told they could stay only three months at a time and would have to then leave for at least one month. “This will be very inconvenient,” an Exarchate member complained to Forum 18.

No other religious communities have complained to Forum 18 that their clergy – whether Ukrainian citizens or from other countries – have been restricted to three months in any four in Crimea.

Under an amending law adopted in Moscow by the Russian parliament in April and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin on 5 May, all legal entities in Crimea (including religious communities) will need to bring their statutes into line with Russian law and apply for entry on the unified register of legal entities if they wish their legal status to continue. The law enters into force on 1 July and organisations will need to apply by 1 January 2015.

“All religious communities will have to re-register under the laws of the Russian Federation,” Nikolai Barylyuk of the department that registers non-commercial organisations at the Crimean Justice Department told Forum 18 from Simferopol on 23 June. He added that the law only comes into force on 1 July and “we are still waiting for clarification on implementation from the Justice Ministry in Moscow.”

Russia’s 1997 Religion Law divides religious communities into two categories, restricting the rights of those with the unregistered status of “group.” By requiring independent religious or belief groups seeking registration to have existed for 15 years, the Law effectively forced new individual religious or belief communities to join older unions, often a burdensome and expensive formality and not an option for some communities. Registration has also been denied to some on arbitrary grounds…

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