Vitaly Solonchak

Echo of the events of church life in mainland Ukraine in the occupied Crimea
Shortly after the start of Russia’s full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, on March 2, 2022, 10 priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) of the Smelyansky district of the Ukraine’s Cherkasy Region, headed by the oldest priest of the Cherkasy diocese, Petro Dmytruk, signed an open appeal to the primate of the UOC-MP, Metropolitan of Kyiv and all Ukraine Onufry and Metropolitan Theodosius of Cherkasy and Kanev.

Among other things, they expressed support for the Ukrainian clergy of the UOC-MP, who resolutely refuse to commemorate the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), Patriarch Kirill, as their “great father and master” during divine services, and added that they themselves have not mentioned him since the Russian occupation of Crimea, Donetsk and Lugansk started.

The Smelyansky priests of the UOC-MP insisted on the termination of all relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, the restoration of church communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch and other local Orthodox churches, as well as on an open dialogue with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). This position corresponded to the mood of the absolute majority of the parishioners, who were increasingly speaking out in favor of church independence from the Moscow Patriarchate.

Less than a month later, on March 28, representatives of the Cherkasy diocese of the UOC-MP arrived at Petro Dmytruk and handed him an order to remove him from the staff and release him from his long-term duties as rector of the Intercession Cathedral in Smila. But on April 3, 2022, a meeting of parishioners and clergy of the Holy Intercession Cathedral of Smela, headed by Dean-rector Petro Dmytruk, took place, at which a decision was made to join the OCU.
In the days when priests and parishioners in Smila were fighting to deprive the Moscow Patriarchate of influence, a group of seven people’s deputies of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine submitted for consideration by the relevant parliamentary committee a bill on the activities of the UOC-MP, and specifically on introducing into the Law of Ukraine “On freedom of conscience and Religious Organizations” amendments that would make it impossible for religious organizations or associations whose headquarters are located in a state that carries out military aggression against Ukraine and the occupation of its territories.

It would seem – what does Russia have to do with the events in Cherkassy and Smela, and what is the role of collaborators in the Crimean peninsula, occupied by Russian invaders? It turned out that “the most direct”. On March 29, the chairman of the Investigative Committee of Russia, Alexander Bastrykin, instructed the central office of the department to “investigate the circumstances of the alleged use of violence” specifically on the events in Smela as allegedly “the seizure of the church.” Consequently, the Russian law enforcement agency once again criminally emphasized that the aggressor state is ready to make every effort to maintain the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

Unexpectedly, due to the events in the Cherkasy Region, the fake “head of the Republic of Crimea” Sergei Aksyonov also “voiced”. In particular, on March 29, he expressed the criminal “belief” regarding Smela that due to the aggression of the Russian army, allegedly “the world will become cleaner and freer.” The next day, March 30, the Crimean gauleiter “expressed deep concern” about the submission to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine of a bill banning the activities of the “canonical” UOC-MP, which is “the largest confession in Ukraine”. Aksyonov not only went into hysterics, but “in response to the actions of the Ukrainian authorities,” he criminally instructed his minions to develop a “draft federal law” on the “ban” of the OCU, which he called criminally as allegedly “schismatic structure.”

Similar criminal narratives were spread on March 31 during the “X Parliamentary Meetings” in the fake “legislative assembly” of Sevastopol, by the so-called “speaker” of the Sevastopol “parliament” Vladimir Nemtsev.

As for the criminal ban on the OCU in Russia itself, which the “head of Crimea” Sergei Aksyonov dreams of, if it is possible, it practically makes little sense, since in fact only the parish of this church, located in the city of Noginsk, Moscow Region, is located on the territory of the aggressor state , where the parish and at the same time the cathedral church has been under the threat of demolition since 2016.

“You can’t leave it”: the way of the cross of the Crimean diocese of the OCU
In the occupied Crimea, its fake “head” Aksyonov, not for the first time, demonstrates a desire to end almost all confessions, except for the local dioceses of the UOC “in unity with the Moscow Patriarchate”.
Seven years ago, a fake “draft law” on freedom of conscience and religious associations was submitted to the Crimean criminal “state council” for consideration. A similar fake “document” was “developed” under the auspices of Aksyonov in the fall of 2014, but for some reason, after being submitted to the occupational “state council”, his “creation” was “withdrawn”.

In the “modified” version of the fake “project” of 2015, attention was primarily drawn to the concepts of “traditional religion” and “totalitarian sect”: the Crimean criminal “legislators” “ranked” religions with “shaping cultural significance for historical communities” as the first ones; that is, those “that at one time had a significant impact on the formation of the actual confessional situation in Crimea.”

It should be noted that over the past few centuries, the population of Crimea has been influenced mainly by Orthodoxy and Sunni Islam, as well as to some extent by Catholicism, the Karaite religion and Judaism. In the aforementioned fake “bill”, the concepts of “totalitarian sect” and “destructive cult” did not have clear definitions, which would allow Russian punishers to “classify in these categories” virtually any religious organizations that could be criminally “recognized” by the occupiers in Crimea as “undesirable” ones.

Also, the fake “document” contained a “prescription” that in the occupied Crimea “the creation of a religious organization on a national basis as part of confessions or religious movements is not allowed”. This could pose a threat to one of the indigenous peoples of Crimea – the Karaites, in whose national identity the original religious component plays an important role.

In general, the unlawful “acceptance” of this fake “draft law” could lead to a “ban” by the occupiers on the activities of many religious organizations that would not be recognized as “traditional” in Crimea. In addition, the illegal “bill” allegedly “would allow” Russian punishers to “prevent” the activities of “prohibited extremist organizations” on the peninsula.

Knowing what meaning the occupying state puts into the concept of “extremism”, summing up any “non-Russian” manifestations of public and private life under it, it can be argued that this “legislative” initiative would clearly be biased towards supposedly “non-traditional” religions.

And this despite the fact that in December 2014, the then Archbishop (now Metropolitan) of Simferopol and Crimean UOC-Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP, now OCU) Clement reported that at meetings of the fake Crimean “ministry of culture”, some representatives of the occupation “authority” criminally declared that “they will decide which denominations are traditional and which are not”. At the same time, Bishop Clement clarified that in religious terminology the concepts of “traditional” or “non-traditional” churches are absent as such and are the personal opinion of the people operating them.
The occupation of the Crimea by Russia had an extremely negative impact on the Crimean diocese of the UOC-KP, whose clergy and laity categorically refused to accept proposals for a transition to the UOC-MP, or to undergo “re-registration” under the “legislation” of the occupying state before the “deadline” of January 1, 2016.

This still gives “reason” for local fake “officials” and “journalists”, controlled by the Russian special services, to reproach them for allegedly “illegal” religious activities. Starting from March 2014, some communities of the UOC-KP in different regions of the Crimean peninsula were criminally deprived by the occupiers of prayer rooms rented from private owners, on which the local “authorities” criminally pressed in order to force them to “break agreements” with the parishes of the Ukrainian church.

Thus, the number of liturgical premises actually halved in two years – from 20 to 10 (of which 9 were converted and one was built). In 2014, after the Russian occupation of Crimea started, 6 out of 15 priests of the UOC-KP were forced to leave the peninsula because of the danger to their lives; the rest were constantly visited by the punishers of the FSB of the occupiers, criminally trying to force them to “cooperate”. It even reached criminal demands for censoring the texts of sermons.

At the end of April 2014, the Sevastopol community of the UOC-KP was deprived of the church in honor of the Holy Martyr Clement of Rome: representatives of the Russian occupation military contingent threw clothes and symbols out of its premises onto the street, and damaged property. The premises of the temple were criminally “transferred to the management” of the aggressor’s ministry of defense and attributed illegally by the aggressor allegedly to “state property”. After the destruction of the temple, its rector Macarius was criminally forced by the aggressor to abandon the practice of worship, so the community of the UOC-KP in Sevastopol actually stopped its organized activities.

On June 1, 2014, the parishioners of the Church of the Intercession of the Holy Mother of God of the UOC-KP in the village of Perevalne, Simferopol District, were attacked by representatives of the so-called “cossack” formations. In the morning, a group of armed men in the form of “cossacks” burst into the temple, breaking down the door: they destroyed the internal equipment of the temple, destroyed some Orthodox relics and forbade parishioners from entering the prayer room.

During the incident, the rector of the community, Archpriest Ivan Katkalo, his daughter, who suffered from cerebral palsy, and a pregnant parishioner were injured. After some time, representatives of the “self-defense of Crimea” armed with machine guns arrived at the temple in order to allegedly “prevent provocations from the activists of the Right Sector.”

Of course, this criminal attack was not “investigated” by the occupiers’ punitive organs. After the forcible seizure of the Church of the Intercession in Perevalne, it was unlawfully “transferred” to the Simferopol and Crimean diocese of the UOC-MP – whose representatives had previously stated that they “are not going to seize any property of the UOC-KP” and “have nothing to do with this situation.”

In October 2015, Archbishop Kliment spoke about an artificially created “conflict” with the fake “property fund” of the Crimean illegal “ministry of land and property relations”, which demanded an unbearable “amount” to the Crimean diocese of the UOC-KP for “renting premises” in the central part of Simferopol, where a cathedral in the name of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir and Princess Olga is located, as well as a “fine” allegedly for “lining the rent”.
Earlier, in March of the same year, the question arose of a possible criminal seizure by the Russian occupiers of the premises of the diocesan administration and the cathedral, since the Crimean fake “arbitration court” “recognized” their lease agreement as allegedly “invalid”, and the premises themselves were unlawfully “transferred” through an “auction” to firm “Razum”, engaged in cash loans at interest.

The premises of the diocesan administration and the Cathedral of the UOC-KP in Simferopol were transferred on May 16, 2001 by a decree of the Verkhovna Rada of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea for free use until 2050. After the Russian occupation of Crimea, the fake “authority” “introduced” illegal “changes” into this resolution, “determining the rent rate according to a certain calculation method.”

In 2015, the Crimean fake “arbitration court” unlawfully “satisfied the claim” of the same fake “ministry”, which demanded not only “to vacate part of the premises”, but also to recover a “forfeit” from the diocese for allegedly “groundless use of property for the period from 2014 to September 30, 2015”.

As of the beginning of 2016, parishes of the UOC-KP were operating in the occupied Crimea in Simferopol, as well as in Crimea’s Pervomaisky and Belogorsky districts; the diocese consisted of 9 functioning parishes and 13 priests, half of which served as a “shift method”, arriving in Crimea for 10 days, after which they left mainland Ukraine for 20 days.
In October of the same year, the Crimean diocese of the UOC-KP actually lost control over rural parishes, where people were afraid of possible consequences for themselves from Russian punishers. Earlier, in August, in the village of Oktyabrske, Crimea’s Pervomaisky district, a lock appeared on the doors of the temple of the UOC-KP by an unlawful “decision” and with the participation of the village fake “chairman” Anatoly Dankevich; the parishioners tore it off, but decided not to enter the premises until the arrival of the priest.

The day before, Dankevich criminally declared to the parishioners that the temple, which the community had been using since 2002 by the decision of the village council, allegedly “does not belong to them anymore”. Attempts by the local fake “authority” to deprive the religious community of the premises continued on the basis of fake “documents”, allegedly “transferring the church back to the balance sheet of the village council”, began in 2015, but the parishioners managed to resist this for some time. In November 2016, the Russian occupiers studied the possibility of a criminal “confiscation” of the temple from the community of the UOC-KP in the village of Kumovo, Razdolnensky district of the Crimea.

As of the end of summer 2017, in the Crimean diocese of the UOC-KP, in addition to the cathedral in Simferopol, there were 4 rural buildings converted into prayer buildings, and a wooden chapel in Yevpatoria. 8 parishes served 5-6 priests, 4 of which were permanently in Crimea, the rest came on a rotation basis.

On the morning of August 31, 2017, representatives of the occupational fake “executive service” and “property fund” broke into the UOC-KP Cathedral in Simferopol, who broke the locks on the closed doors. The door to the altar of the cathedral was also broken down and the invaders completely blocked the temple premises, criminally arranging a “confiscation of property”; the doors to the administration of the diocese and other premises were “sealed”.

On December 15, 2018, at the Unification Council in Kyiv, which was also attended by the Archbishop of Simferopol and Crimean UOC-KP Clement, along with his priests and parishioners, the creation of the OCU was proclaimed. As a result, the Crimean diocese of the UOC-KP began to exist as the Crimean diocese of the OCU – however, allegedly in an “illegal status”, from the criminal point of view of the fake Crimean “authorities”.

On February 5, 2019, Archbishop Kliment received from the fake Crimean “ministry of property and land relations” a criminal letter about the “early termination of the lease agreement dated November 11, 2002” on real estate allegedly “owned by the state of the republic of Crimea”, in connection with so-called “non-re-registration administration of the Crimean diocese of the OCU in accordance with the requirements of the legislation” of the aggressor.

Soon, in March, the Crimean fake “authorities” began to criminally demand from the Yevpatoria community of the OCU to “dismantle on their own” the wooden church, built in 2013,. Meanwhile, in Simferopol the Russian occupiers began illegal construction of a residential complex for punishers of the FSB of Russia, on land plots provided to the former Crimean diocese of the UOC-KP in 2013 for the construction of a cathedral near the Ukrainian school-gymnasium.

In June 2019, the fake “department of municipal control of the administration of Yevpatoria” issued a criminal “instruction” to the local community of the OCU to “vacate the land plot” on which the wooden church is located and to “dismantle” it or “immediately issue documents for real estate”.

In Simferopol, the fake “arbitration court of the Republic of Crimea” made another criminal “decision” to “break the building lease agreement” of the OCU Cathedral, illegally “obliging” the diocese to transfer “non-residential premises” to the fake “ministry of property and land relations of the republic of Crimea”.

In August 2019, an initiative group of more than 50 Crimean parishioners of the OCU sent an appeal to the UN Human Rights Committee regarding the seizure of the cathedral in Simferopol.

In early September 2019, Archbishop Kliment left Crimea to speak at the OSCE Human Dimension Meeting in Warsaw. On November 6 of the same year, the fake “Yevpatoria town court” issued a criminal demand from the “town administration” to unlawfully “oblige” the local community of the OCU to demolish a wooden temple within a month, described as allegedly “built without documents under the guise of Euromaidan”.

In fact, the construction of this temple was completed a few months before the events of the Revolution of Dignity; according to Bishop Clement, the land on which the temple is located does not belong to the territorial community, but to the association of owners of the “Quartz” apartment building, with which, before the occupation of Crimea started, an agreement was concluded on the construction of a wooden church, designed as a small architectural form.

In 2020, the diocese applied to the European Court of Human Rights regarding the eviction of the OCU community from the cathedral in Simferopol. On August 17, Bishop Clement stated that the priest of the Simferopol and Crimean diocese of the UOC-MP Dmitry Krotkov, who is a member of the fake “public councils” of a number of Russian invaders’ structures in the Crimea, has repeatedly raised the issue that the premises of the cathedral and the diocesan administration of the OCU in Simferopol should also be taken away as the head administration of the diocese of the UOC-MP.

On March 15, 2021, Metropolitan Kliment received another criminal “demand” from the fake “department of the federal bailiff service” for the “immediate dismantling of the church” in Yevpatoria and the “payment of an administrative fine” of 50,000 rubles for “failure to comply with a similar previous order.”

On August 8, 2021, at the criminal demand of the fake “ministry of justice of the republic of Crimea”, the so-called “investigators” of the Simferopol-located invaders’ “center for combating extremism” under the leadership of Vladimir Gorevanov broke into the premises of the OCU monastery of St. Demetrius of Thessalonica in the village of Balki, Crimea’s Belogorsky district.

Archimandrite Damian (Skokov) was criminally forced to stop worship, declaring his actions allegedly “illegal”, since he prayed in a room that allegedly did not “comply with the legislation” of the occupying state for this purpose. The Russian occupiers took the parishioners who had gathered at the service to the courtyard of the monastery and drew up unlawful “protocols” against them. The monastery is actually located in a private building belonging to Damian: one of its premises is residential, the other is temple.

The Russian occupiers “opened” illegal “case” against Damian on charges of allegedly carrying out “illegal missionary activities”. According to the archimandrite, before the visit of the occupying security forces, a provocateur came to the monastery for three weeks, who allegedly “planned to bring drug addicts and alcoholics to rehabilitation,” and was also interested in the sources of financial support for the monastery.

On August 23, 2021, the fake Russian invaders’ “magistrate” Novikov unlawfully “sentenced” Archimandrite Damian to pay a fine of 15 thousand rubles.

Since the beginning of large-scale aggression against Ukraine at the end of February 2022, Metropolitan of Simferopol and Crimean OCU Kliment has been in Kyiv in the conditions of hostilities and the criminal Russian occupation of part of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions. Meanwhile, several priests of the OCU remain on the peninsula, who are territorially located in different regions.

On April 6, 2022, the “ForPost” reactionary resource in Sevastopol published a material apparently ordered by the aggressor called “A Strike in the Heart: An Attack on Russian Orthodoxy” by Pavel Kukhmirov, a native of Russia’s Rostov-on-Don. The author of the aforementioned libel considers the goal of “a complete spiritual separation of Ukraine from Russia” to be “a blow to the heart of Russian culture and civilization” and sees the dependence of its completion on how “successfully” the criminal occupying Russian army will operate on the territory of Ukraine.

The fake “commentators” of the material echo him, who propose to “strengthen” the Orthodox churches of the “canonical Russian Church in Ukraine” with “Orthodox Kalashnikov assault rifles”. No matter how fake such criminal statements and appeals sound, it should be borne in mind that the Crimean “authority” and its supporters “justify” their criminal acts of actually destroying the Ukrainian church on the occupied peninsula.