Kiev, February 20, 2019
His Grace Bishop Viktor (Kotsaba) of Baryshevka, the head of the canonical Ukrainian Church’s representation to European international organizations has released a video message in which he addresses the UN, the EU, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe concerning the widespread violations of human rights in Ukraine that the faithful of the canonical Church are facing, and of the real threat of an escalation in religious conflicts.
The text of his address, provided by the Union of Orthodox Journalists, is given below the video.
Dear representatives of the European and international community!
On behalf of the believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, I appeal to all concerned representatives of the international organizations. Our Church is the largest confession of Ukraine, with more than 12 thousand parishes. The UOC temples and monasteries are visited by millions of Ukrainian citizens who love their country and their nation, constantly praying for the cessation of the war and the establishment of peace in our homeland. Most regrettably, however, the Orthodox believers of Ukraine became hostages of a political game of our country leaders, who also involved Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in these processes, which has already led to numerous clashes on religious grounds.
It would seem that a good deed – an attempt to create a Single Local Church in Ukraine – should have eventually led to reconciliation, but instead, our country is struck by new confrontations and conflicts.
Today, the temples of our Church, which has 1000-year history, are being illegally seized, with believers beaten, and government officials forcing the clergymen of the UOC to move into the “new church”, supported by the President of Ukraine. The Security Service of Ukraine calls in our priests for questioning, and our bishops can travel abroad only after preliminary interrogation and thorough inspection by special state services. In this address, you will see shocking footage of beatings of our believers and seizures of churches in the presence of police officers, which is getting common in our country. Finally, we publish links to human rights reports and our statements to the OSCE and the UN, containing detailed evidence of these facts.
For the last five years, politicians of the highest level have openly expressed animosity toward our Church, offering the whole society markers that it is possible to commit crimes against the UOC and its believers with impunity.
Most recently, the Parliament of Ukraine adopted a law obliging all our religious organizations to amend their historical names, including the information that does not correspond to reality. This law is a direct interference of the state into church affairs, which violates not only fundamental human rights but also the European principle of autonomy of religious organizations. We have never denied our spiritual communion with the Russian Orthodox Church, from which the Ukrainian Orthodox Church gained independence in all administrative, financial and economic issues according to the Tomos on independence and self-government, granted to our Church in 1990. For 29 years, the administrative center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been located in the capital of our independent state – the city of Kiev.
Nevertheless, the President and other politicians are trying to accuse us of non-existent "ties with Moscow", "separatism", "propaganda of the Russian world", by sticking political labels on our believers which have nothing to do with church life.
Today in Ukraine there is a struggle over the last barrier of human dimension – the spiritual. Without a doubt, this will entail negative implications not only for our country which is integrating into Europe, but also for all countries of the European Union and the whole world. Never have the persecutions of Christians been traceless for the rulers who committed them, for we know God cannot be mocked.
We are all well aware of the fact that you can significantly influence the developments in our country, since Ukrainians are by their nature peace-loving people who stand aloof from conflicts and discord; and inciting religious hatred is an artificial process initiated by people who challenge legal, European, democratic and human values.
Millions of believers of our Ukrainian Orthodox Church address European officials to raise their weighty voice and intervene in the current situation in Ukraine, using their authority and mandates which provide for the right to speak, act and defend justice through modern tools of diplomacy, law and jurisdiction.
We invite all stakeholders – journalists, human rights defenders, officials of the United Nations, the European Union and other countries – to come to Ukraine and see firsthand everything that is happening in order to study our complicated situation in detail.
For our part, for the past few years we have been informing the international human rights mechanism, the UN special rapporteurs system on freedom of religion or belief, the UN Human Rights Council, and the OSCE about violations of the rights of the UOC believers and will continue to do so.
Thank you for your attention.
Follow us on Facebook!