With persecutor Poroshenko on his way out, Ukrainian hierarchs call on president-elect to uphold freedom of religion

Ukraine, April 22, 2019


Actor-comedian Vladimir Zelensky defeated incumbent Petro Poroshenko in the second round of Ukrainian presidential elections yesterday, with exit polls showing a landslide 75%-25% victory and Poroshenko conceding defeat.

Poroshenko actively persecutes the canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine, having created a competing schismatic church, traded Church properties for a tomos of autocephaly, signed discriminatory laws that facilitated violent church seizures, and intimidated the hierarchs, clergy, and faithful of the Church by searches, interrogations, and threatening rhetoric.

Given this unfortunate recent history, the faithful of the Ukrainian Church are looking to President-elect Zelensky to uphold the constitutional separation of Church and state. At least two hierarchs—His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine and His Eminence Metropolitan Luke of Zaporozhye—have addressed Zelensky, calling on him to protect the constitutional freedom of religion of which the president is supposed to be the guarantor.

Met. Onuphry writes that the President-elect’s easy victory shows that his “stated priorities for the development of the country coincides with the hopes and aspirations of our people, who wish our country unity, peace, and prosperity, as well as the eradication of everything that brings discord and enmity within the Ukrainian state.”

He continues: “I am sure that your service as President of Ukraine will act as a guarantor of the observance of the constitution by the state authorities, of the principle of the non-interference of the state in Church affairs, and of the rights and freedoms of believers of all confessions.”

For his part, Met. Luke begins by congratulating Zelensky on his win and for not returning the evil of the slander thrown against him, including from certain Ukrainian “clergy,” with evil. He also reminds the actor-turned politician that the people voted for him because they are counting on him to make positive changes, and that he now bears great responsibility.

He writes that the clergy and faithful of the Zaporozhye Diocese are looking forward to the necessary changes being implemented peacefully, in the interests of ordinary people, not a few select oligarchs.

“We also expect that with the arrival of the new head of state, who positions himself as a servant of the people, the constitution and laws that guarantee Ukrainian citizens the strict observance of fundamental rights and freedoms will be restored,” Met. Luke writes. “In particular, this refers to freedom of religion and non-discrimination on religious grounds,” adding that it is abnormal, savage, and terrible when the faithful are violently deprived of their churches, are driven out onto the streets, and are physically attacked.

The Zaporozhye archpastor then calls on Zelensky to cease the state interference in the affairs of the Church, which has already deepened and prolonged the schism in Ukraine “not only for decades, but perhaps even centuries.” And, as Met. Luke writes, it is mainly the ordinary people who suffer. This includes in particular, the overturning of the discriminatory laws that requires the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to change its name and which facilitate church seizures.

Met. Luke also calls for those responsible for the seizure of churches to be brought to justice.

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