There is an immediate risk of liquidation of the Crimean eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate). The churches in Sevastopol, Kransnoperekopsk, Kerch and Perevalne have already been closed, while the war against the church in Mramorne is ongoing. Representatives of the organisation “Crimean Field Mission” are claiming that these actions violate the freedom to worship which is a fundamental human right.
The situation with the churches of the Kyiv Patriarchate in Crimea is worsening. According to Archbishop Klyment (head of the Church's Crimean Eparchy), churches in Crimea are being taken away using the same scenario: “At first, the parishioners of Moscow patriarchate show up. Then “Cossacks” and “self-defense” members join them. All of this is done openly. That is how it happened in Perevalne and in Simferopol…People were trying to get inside the church building, but we locked the front gates and the provocation did not take place. The same scenario is being used in the village of Mramorne and Evpatoria.” This was also confirmed by the New Pathway in an interview with the parish priest of Perevalne, Father Ivan Katalko on August 1, 2014.
In Sevastopol, according to Archbishop Klyment, some of the things that belonged to the church were stolen but church members managed to transport the church belongings to Simferopol. In Sevastopol, the Church was based within the military base which was closed in April. There were negotiations and the Church’s belongings were left there and they were given the right to go to the church and pray privately there. About a week ago, they were told that if they do not take their belongings, the authorities would not allow them to enter the church and would just throw their things outside. The Archbishop continues: “When we came to the base, we saw that they made good on their promises. Everything was thrown out of a window; there was a large heap of “garbage”: Ukrainian clothes and symbols. Expensive church doors were taken down, they took out the sink and faucets from the kitchen. An expensive icon was stolen, and the priest was hospitalized after this”.
Father Katalko believes this intolerance and violence towards the Ukrainian church in Crimea is based on the Russian Orthodox Church belief, which he experienced as early as 2006, that the Kyiv Patriarchate is Satanic. Father Katalko recalled how his arm was broken by members of the Russian Orthodox faith who believed that “because a priest of the Kyiv faith was Satanic, they could do away with him.”
Archbishop Klyment said that priests are leaving Crimea and their families are being threatened, while neither police nor local authorities are reacting to complaints. Father Katalko stated that many parishioners have left Crimea but there are still many there who need the protection of the Church. He himself cannot go back to Crimea: if he does he believes he “will either be killed or arrested” by Russia's FSB.
There was a lot of pressure on Father Katalko, as on other Ukrainian priests in Crimea, to switch to the Russian Orthodox Church. Father Katalko stated that the Russian authorities said that “nothing would change: you would still stay in the same church, you would have the same service but we would be in charge…It would also be easier for you to go into the FSB” as a spy. It is only after he said no to this that the FSB began an investigation into him and even had one of their agents disguised as a priest to force parishioners to sign a petition stating that Father Katalko was saying illegal sentiments. He was labeled a terrorist and a member of the Right Sector trying to establish the organization in Crimea.
Father Katalko experienced a terrifying moment when pro-Russians attacked the car he, his wife and their disabled daughter were in. After three hours of terrorization, the Crimea police showed up but in the end did not do anything to protect them. They were saved by their parishioners show of solidarity and force. Father Katalko does not see these pro-Russians as “people, but only as animals…they showed me their crosses as they were attacking me to show me they there Christians, but what kind of Christian attacks others of their shared faith?…Is not the Christian church one that is based on love, friendship and humanity to others?…They kept on yelling that they only recognized priests of the Russian church and I was therefore, not a priest in their eyes.”
Furthermore, according to Archbishop Klyment, children from Ukrainian classes are being terrorized at schools. For example, in Evpatoria, in the school with a Ukrainian class, the school year ended with a game called “war”. Schoolchildren were playing this game with the Ukrainian class because they are “banderites” and “fascists”, and they were to be beaten up. Those were junior school students, so one can only imagine high school students beating and terrorizing little kids. Children were coming back home with bruises, torn backpacks and some of their belongings were stolen. Teachers would tell parents that it was just a game. The Archbishop concludes that harassment for not being Russian is cultivated at schools in Crimea.
Kyiv Patriarchate believes that its congregations should remain in Crimea. It is important for parishioners, priests say. At the same time, it is impossible to resist pressure. “At the moment, the rumors are being spread that the Kyiv Patriarchate is a fascist church that blesses murder of people, opposes Russia and cooperates with criminals who threaten peaceful Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics”. All of this violates a human right of freedom to worship and is religious based discrimination, the Archbishop said.
The misinformation about the Kyiv Patriarchate leads to physical violence against priests. Vice-head of Crimean Field Mission, Olha Skrypnyk, gave the following comment: “Starting from March 2014, our mission has been recording violations of freedom of expression and religious freedom. A number of these violations are related to church members of the Kyiv Patriarchate. The Russian Federation signed the European Convention on human rights and freedoms. This convention guarantees and obliges the country to provide all opportunities for the people to freely practice any religion. If Russia states that Crimea is under its jurisdiction, then it has to protect all human freedoms and rights.” The human rights activist summed up: “Parishioners need to use legal methods of protection; they need to go to the courts and the ombudsman. From the Ukrainian side, there should be adequate actions and claims, the issues related to the specific property of Kyiv Patriarchate should be addressed. The Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate in Crimea needs legal support so that it retains ownership of church buildings, and people have the opportunity to practice the religion of their choosing”.