Ukraine didn’t forcefully evict Lavra monks thanks to UN, says new UN Human Rights report

Kiev, June 28, 2023

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Federal and local authorities in Ukraine are violating the rights of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the United Nations acknowledges in its latest report on human rights abuses in Ukraine.

In particular, the new report, which covers the period from February 1 to April 30, notes that the state “prematurely” terminated the Church’s lease to use the Lower Lavra. And though the state was determined to forcefully evict the monks in late March, in the end it did not do so thanks to the intercession of the UN.

The UN has repeatedly sounded the alarm over the years about state actions against the Church.

In the opening overview, the report states: “During the reporting period, the number of cases of violence against members and supporters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) increased. In addition, several regional councils have banned the activities of the UOC.”

Further, there is a section entirely dedicated to “The Situation Around the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” dealing with the authorities’ measures against the Church.

The report notes that the state carried out frequent searches in religious buildings, handed notices of suspicion to a number of clerics, and placed several under house arrest, “including one of the main hierarchs of the UOC”—presumably referring to His Eminence Metropolitan Pavel of Vyshgorod, the abbot of the Kiev Caves Lavra.

Concerning the Lavra, the report states:

In addition, the Ministry of Culture prematurely terminated the lease agreement with the UOC for the Kiev Caves Lavra, which is in state ownership. The authorities took into account the advocacy efforts of the UN and refrained from actions that could lead to violence, and did not forcibly evict the UOC from the Lavra by the deadline of March 29…

Although the UOC appealed the decision to terminate the lease agreement in court, on March 30, 2023, the Economic Court of Kiev refused to secure the claim for invalidation of the transaction, which could have stopped the eviction.

Recall that the Ukrainian faithful rallied around the Lavra for several weeks, protecting the monks and the Church from eviction. The matter is now largely being handled in the court system.

The UN also notes that the many regional bans declared against the UOC “go beyond the powers of local councils.”

The report continues:

In addition, in April 2023, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine documented a surge of “hate speech” and several cases of violence against members of the UOC. Civil servants, bloggers, and opinion leaders used discriminatory and inciting rhetoric and openly called for violence against the clergy and supporters of the UOC. During the reporting period, the government and law enforcement agencies were unable to effectively counteract incidents related to “hate speech.”

Overall, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine “is concerned that the cumulative impact of the government’s actions against the UOC may be discriminatory.”

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