Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at Arria-formula meeting of UNSC members “Situation with freedom of religion and belief in Ukraine: persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church”

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Introductory remarks: We welcome all participants of the Arria -formula meeting of UN Security Council member states that we called to draw attention to an unprecedented situation.

The canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) – a traditional church with centuries-long history and millions of worshippers – is on the verge of being banned by law. Its main sacred sites, such as the Kiev Pechersk Lavra may be expropriated, the clergy live in constant fear for their lives, and the believers do not know if tomorrow they can still go to the church or would be detained by Kiev regime’s enforcement bodies, like the SBU, for being in possession of religious literature.

We would like to show you a video reel that clearly illustrates what is going on in Ukraine these days.

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This tragic story did not start yesterday. At the Russia-initiated Security Council meeting in January, Metropolitan Anthony spoke about the tragedy that is happening in Ukraine. However, a metropolitan is a man of God, so he cannot always call things by the names that would reflect the reality most adequately. So allow me to elaborate on it.

In 2014 in Kiev, the new authorities that had come to power following a deadly coup d’état where neo-Nazi formations had played a role, decided to replace the canonical Orthodox Christianity with an “independent” church of their own.

Apparently, they borrowed this strategy from the Middle Ages, when Europe was engulfed in religious wars, and the rule “cujus regio, ejus religio” was in effect. The Kiev regime decided to revive this rule in our times. It was decided to disband the canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine so it does not come in the way of their political projects. They were pursuing this goal for years while being confident that all decision-making in Ukraine (including the spiritual choices) belongs only with them and the nationalist groups that underpin their authority – the same groups that organize torch marches and hold rituals in the pagan and Nazi fashion.

However, such a plan was not easy to fulfil in a country where the majority of believers belong with the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. So the former President, P.Poroshenko, established a new church with a very similar name – the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

After that, the Kiev authorities started to exert pressure on the priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and forced them (in the very best traditions of religious wars – by threats and physical violence) to transfer to the new artificial church that was established in 2018. In order to accomplish this, and also to expropriate Orthodox monasteries and temples, the same nationalist organizations were used.

Seizures of UOC temples and forceful, illegal disbanding of religious communes is preesented as so-called “voluntary transfer” to the new church of P.Poroshenko. Such “transitions” normally go hand in hand with mass clashes, as well as beatings of clergy and parishioners. After a religious commune has been “reregistered” in legal terms, its church is usually seized by force, sometimes by armed people. In 2022 and in January-February 2023, approximately 300 raider seizures of UOC communes took place.

The practice has become widespread when local authorities may terminate land lease contracts for lots where temples and other real estate of the UOC is located.

Starting October 2022, Kiev’s punitive bodies have been holding mass searches (without any legitimate grounds) in UOC churches and monasteries throughout Ukraine. SBU has conducted more than 100 searches in UOC temples, monasteries, and administrative buildings of UOC episcopates across the country.

Criminal cases are initiated against clergy, where old newspapers and magazines, as well as ecclesiastical and history books from personal libraries serve as evidenced. Criminal charges were brought against the metropolitans who spoke out in support of canonical unity of the UOC.  

Almost 250 clergy members of Ukrainian Orthodox Church were banned from entering Ukraine. The total of 61 criminal cases have been started against UOC clergy. In February 2023, Ukrainian court sentenced a UOC priest to seven years in prison on charges of cooperation with Russia. This priest was detained by Ukrainian special services in Ukraine-controlled Krasnolimansky district of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

Now we would like to demonstrate two video reels. One of them will show a seizure of a church in Boyarka (the Kiev region of Ukraine), the other one will demonstrate an attempted detention of a priest in Chernovtsy. These reels are in free access on Youtube. One can find numerous footages like these on the Internet.

In December 2022, V. Zelensky’s decrees approved the decisions of the National Security Council of Ukraine on “sanctions” against 14 hierarchs of the UOC – citizens of Ukraine, which means, among other things, their actual deprivation of property on the territory of Ukraine and infringement of their personal rights. By a direct decree of V. Zelensky, twelve bishops of the UOC were deprived of Ukrainian citizenship, which is likely to be used as a reason to expel them from the country.

By now, the Kiev regime has dropped all its masks and simply submitted several draft laws to the parliament that suggest banning the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and taking away all its property. One of the draft laws was introduced following a direct order of V.Zelensky of 19 January 2023. Those draft bills have not passed yet. So we call on everyone in this room and on those who watch the webcast, to break their silence and speak out that such laws are unacceptable and must not be adopted.

In some Western regions of Ukraine, a campaign is gaining momentum to prohibit the UOC at the regional level. This has been done in the Zhitomir, Rovno, Khmelnitskiy, and Lvov regions. From March 2022 to February 2023, 81 decisions by local authorities in Ukraine were adopted to ban the activities of religious organizations associated with the UOC. Local councils in Lvov, Kirovograd, Chernovtsi, Ternopol, and Rovno regions have called on the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to ban the UOC across the country.

The decision to expropriate the churches of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra from the UOC and transfer them to the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine became a symbol of the crackdown on canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine. The Kiev-Pechersk Lavra in itself is a symbol of Orthodox Christianity in Ukraine, one of the largest functional monasteries and a major site of the Christian civilization.

What can this decision be compared to? Imagine a district court of the city of Rome discover some irregularities in the title documentation of Saint Peter’s Basilica… However the tragedy that we are talking about is not covered by global media, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights turns a blind eye to it. Western members of the Security Council will also tell you that all this is disinformation. To those who still have doubts I would recommend reading the decision of the Kiev Court, it is an open-access file.

Since March 2023, the monks of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra have been under the risk of expulsion. At the same time, they are promised a place in the Lavra if only they forsake their church and transition to the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Both the monks and the parishioners have tried to prevent the forceful seizure of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra. However, the Kiev police responded with beatings, detentions, and apprehending the protesters for violating the public order. On 1 April, the Ukrainian Security Service placed Archimandrite Pavel, the governor of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, under house arrest. He was ordered to stay away from the Lavra.

Let me stress again like I did at the meeting in January, that the UOC never asked us to convene this meeting and did not authorize us to speak on its behalf at the United Nations. We are not speaking on behalf of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. But we want draw everybody’s attention to this flagrant infringement on all thinkable norms as regards freedom of faith and basic norms of morality. Millions of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine are subjected to discrimination. We call on all UN member and observer states, the Secretary-General and international human rights watchdogs to prevent this looming disaster.

We already convened a meeting in order to do so, but Western representatives, who routinely disregard all crimes and violations of their “clients”, basically spoke out in support of Kiev’s course. In the opinion of some of them, religious communes are not protected by the right to freedom of faith. I suggest we should remember this point. It will surely go down in history. Others said that the disaster we are talking about simply does not exist. That is why we decided to invite several briefers to this meeting, who have some firsthand knowledge about this “nonexistent persecution”. But before giving them the floor, let me show you two more reels – comments by a parishioner of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra and an address by its monks.

Closing remarks:

I thank our briefers for the time they spent trying to bring the truth about the precarious situation with freedom of faith in Ukraine to the attention of the global community.

One of the statements today raised the question of who ruined people’s peaceful life. As we said many times, we have different points of reference on that matter. You disregard the long 8 years that the Kiev regime was committing crimes against its own people in Donbas. For some reason, you were not bothered at all that peaceful lives of those innocent people were ruined.

To those who do not believe what we say and to those who again called our words “disinformation”, I would like to underscore the following. The crackdown on the UOC did not start in February 2022. This is a campaign that the Kiev regime conducted at least since March 2014 – since the coup in Ukraine. Now it has escalated to a total mayhem. None of our former Western colleagues turned to Ukraine to call for observance of the rights of believers. Unfortunately, some of you either cannot or do not want to understand what is actually happening and what sort of persecution of canonical Orthodox Christianity in Ukraine is taking place at the behest of the Kiev authorities, with their full support and connivance.

Nevertheless, we call on the colleagues in the Security Council, UN member states and international human rights organizations to give this a thought and influence Kiev to prevent this tragedy and stop persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and millions of its worshippers.

All materials provided today by the Permanent Mission of Russia and the briefers are accessible through this link.

I thank you.

Full video:

Source: Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations (