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Crimean churches under attack

13 June 2014


Amid the strife: the Ukrainian Orthodox Archbishop Mytrofan leads prayers for peace, in Luhansk, Ukraine, on Monday 

Amid the strife: the Ukrainian Orthodox Archbishop Mytrofan leads prayers for peace, in Luhansk, Ukraine, on Monday 

AS WESTERN leaders discussed the situation in Ukraine at the G7, the Kiev Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church said that its churches in the Crimean peninsula were being exposed to "pressure, intimidation, and discrimination" from "chauvinistic and anti-Christian forces" within the new Russian-led civil authorities (News, Comment 7 March).

There are two Orthodox Churches in Ukraine: the Moscow Patriarchate is the canonical Orthodox Church in the country, while the Kiev Patriarchate claims autocephalous authority, but is not recognised by other Orthodox Churches.

"Their anger is the fact that our church is the pillar for believers in Christ, the majority of whom are ethnic Ukrainian," the Kiev Patriarchate's Archbishop Clement of Simferopol and Crimea said. "Unfortunately, in today's Crimea, there is no respect for God's truth, or freedom for the rights of believers and Ukrainians."

He described the actions as "cynical and audacious . . . persecution against the Church on the Crimean peninsula".

In one incident, earlier this month, the Archbishop said that a group of armed Russian Cossacks broke into the Church of the Holy Virgin, in the village of Perevalnoe, in the Crimea region, destroying relics, shouting abuse, and attacking worshippers, including a pregnant woman.

During the attack, "another group of armed thugs blocked the rector's car and attacked him," Archbishop Clement said.

He accused the police of refusing to recognise that the attack took place; and that this was indicative of wider, officially sanctioned actions against the Church.

The State Council of Crimea had increased the rent on the Kiev Patriarchate's cathedral in Simferopol by "600,000 times, at a time when much of the economically active parishioners had recently left the Crimea", the Archbishop said. Attempts to meet the Crimean authorities to discuss the situation had been rebuffed.

"I consider these actions to be part of an undisguised desire by the authorities to destroy the . . . Kiev Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Crimea," he said.

He called on the government of Crimea and Russia "immediately to stop all kinds of repression and discrimination against the Church in the Crimea, to ensure the implementation of our legitimate rights to freedom of religion".

G7 talks tough on Ukraine

LEADERS of the G7 kept up their rhetoric against Russia last week, and threatened further sanctions unless the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, takes action to bring stability to Ukraine.

The G8 had been due to meet in Sochi; but, after the expulsion of Russia from the élite club of the world's leading economies - described by the President of the EU Council, Herman Van Rompuy, as a "temporary suspension" - a hastily arranged G7 met instead at the EU Council's headquarters in Brussels.

After the meeting, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States, and the UK, together with the Presidents of the European Commission and EU Council, issued a communiqué condemning the "unacceptable interference in Ukraine's sovereign affairs by the Russian Federation", and calling on the "illegal armed groups to disarm".

"We are united in condemning the Russian Federation's continuing violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine," they said. "Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, and actions to destabilise Eastern Ukraine, are unacceptable and must stop. These actions violate fundamental principles of international law."

The leaders called for the complete withdrawal of Russian military forces from the border with Ukraine, and urged Russia to "stop the flow of weapons and militants across the border". They said that Russia should "exercise its influence among armed separatists to lay down their weapons and renounce violence".

They warned: "We stand ready to intensify targeted sanctions, and to implement significant additional restrictive measures to impose further costs on Russia, should events so require."

But the communiqué also had a positive tone, welcoming the election last month of the new Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko.

President Poroshenko had an informal meeting with President Putin in Normandy on Friday; and on Saturday, the Russian ambassador to Ukraine attended the presidential swearing-in ceremony in a sign that Moscow accepts the results of the election.

Speaking at a joint press conference with his "great friend and partner" David Cameron, the US President, Barack Obama, said that President Putin had the "chance to get back into the lane of international law", and said that the inauguration of President Poroshenko was an "opportunity" that "Russia needs to seize".

President Obama continued: "Like many Ukrainians [Poroshenko] wants to forge closer ties with Europe and the United States, but he also recognises that Russia will benefit from a constructive relationship with Russia."

Mr Cameron echoed the message, saying: "From the outset of this crisis, the G7 leaders have been united: clear in our support for the Ukrainian people . . . and firm in our message to President Putin that Russia's actions are completely unacceptable."



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