Thursday, October 11, 2018

After Autocephaly, Russian Occupiers in Crimea Likely to Intensify Pressure on Ukrainian Church There, Its Archbishop Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 10 – Archbishop Kliment of Simferopol and Crimea says that once autocephaly is granted to Ukraine, the Russian occupation forces on the Ukrainian peninsula are likely to dramatically increase the pressure they have used against his bishopric and the few remaining priests who continue to serve believers there.

            The churchman spoke at a roundtable in the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center this week ( in Ukrainian; for a discussion of his remarks and the implications for the Ukrainian church in Crimea in the coming weeks and months, see Yevgeny Solonina’s article at

            The situation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate in occupied Crimea is complicated already, Kliment says. On the one hand, the occupiers have stopped seeking to close his bishopric as such although they continue to demand that it recognize that Crimea is Russian not Ukrainian.

            But on the other, they actively work against priests and congregations, harassing the former and trying to recruit them to the Russian security services and Russian church and restricting the ability of the latter to attend services by blocking access or threatening those who remain true to their faith.

            Now that the Ukrainian church is on the bring of receiving autocephaly, however, the archbishop says, Russian lawyers and officials with whom he has spoken suggest that “pressure by the Russian authorities on the UOC KP in annexed Crimea is likely to intensify, with the actions of the local officials becoming ever “harsher.”

            Just how dire the situation already is was underscored by another participant at the media center event. Aleksandr Sagan, a Ukrainian specialist on religious affairs, noted that 38 of the 46 UOC KP churches have been closed since 2014, 20 of 25 priests have either fled or ended their activity since the occupation, and services are held in only nine places.

            Obviously, the situation, one in which UOC KP clergy can continue to function legally only if they acknowledge Russian sovereignty, can get worse. Indeed, Archbishop Kliment told the group that it would have already had it not been for the support his church has received from abroad.

            The work of human rights groups and the declarations of various governments, both of which have denounced the Russian actions against his faithful, the churchman said, have kept Moscow from being even more repressive in the past by raising the costs to the Russian side from such actions.

            Archbishop Kliment said he hoped that these same sources would continue to support his church when as seems likely the situation deteriorates further in the coming days.

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