CHURCHES in the Crimea peninsula of Ukraine, annexed by Russia,
are set to lose their religious leaders after a new law passed by
the Kremlin stripped all Ukrainian registered entities of their
Under the law, all visas and resident permits issued by Ukraine
will cease to have effect; and all organisations registered in the
Ukraine must register instead with the Russian authorities or lose
The Kremlin annexed Crimea in March despite condemnation from
the Ukrainian government in Kiev and the international community
(News, 21 March).
The Forum 18 News Service, a Christian organisation monitoring
religious freedom from its headquarters in Oslo, says that Fr Piotr
Rosochacki, a Polish national who has been the Roman Catholic
priest of Simferopol parish for five years, has already had to
leave Crimea; and that "all other Catholic priests and nuns will
have to leave by the end of 2014," when the law takes effect.
The Russian authorities refused to extend Fr Rosochacki's
Ukrainian residence permit, which expired on 24 October.
The Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the
Most Revd Sviatoslav Shevchuk, told Forum 18 that four of its five
Crimean parishes were now without priests.
The cancellation of residence permits for foreign nationals has
not affected the independent Kiev Patriarchate of the Ukrainian
Orthodox Church. Eleven of its priests in Crimea have taken Russian
citizenship; others, however, are able to continue using their
Ukrainian passports for the time being, as they were registered as
Crimean residents at the time of the March annexation.
"We went through some tough times earlier this year, but the
situation has now normalised", Metropolitan Kliment of Simferopol
& Crimea told Forum 18.
The move doesn't apply only to Christians. Of the 23 Turkish
imams and religious teachers serving the Muslim community in
Crimea, 18 have already had to leave, and the remaining five must
go by the end of the year.
Five religious organisations, including Protestant Evangelicals
and an Islamic group, have sought registration under the new law.
All five have been refused.
Elsewhere in Crimea, tensions are rising again in the breakaway
eastern regions after separatist leaders held elections last
weekend, which were won by pro-Russian candidates.
The Minsk Agreement, which paved the way for a ceasefire between
the separatists and the Ukrainian government in September,
contained provisions for limited autonomy for Donetsk and Luhansk,
with elections - organised by Kiev - planned for December.
Last weekend's elections have been roundly condemned by the
European Union and the United States. The British Foreign
Secretary, Philip Hammond, issued a joint statement with his
counterparts in the Visegrad Group - the Czech Republic, Hungary,
Poland, and Slovakia - describing the elections as
Russia, however, welcomed the elections. They were, it said,
"held in an organised way in general and with high voter turnout.
We respect the will expression of the citizens of the