At a recent press conference in Kyiv, Klyment, Archbishop of the Simferopol and Crimea Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate announced that the Russian Arbitration Court in Crimea had ruled that premises belonging to the Crimean Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate (KP) would be seized and confiscated.
The Archbishop explained that the ruling concerned the Cathedral of Saint Volodymyr and Olha in the centre of Simferopol.
“We’ve been asked to pay half a million rubles to the Ministry of Property and Land Relations, vacate the premises within ten days and prepare for the fact that the building will be confiscated because all communications, water, light, power and heat supplies are located on these 112 square metres.”
“The leadership of the Crimean Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate will not leave the Church and will continue to stand up for its rights. We’ve been fighting for our Church with the Property Fund of Crimea for over 20 years and we’ll continue.”
He told Krym.Realii that the number of premises belonging to the UOC-KP in the Crimea has dropped from twenty to ten since the start of the occupation.
“Two premises were leased from the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine – in Sevastopol and Perevalny – others were leased from Ukrainian businessmen. The Church has kept some buildings in smaller towns, but there are no priests or religious services. Some towns have no congregation; the people have fled to the mainland.”
He added that activists of Crimean Ukrainian communities had left mainly because their children were not allowed to study in their native language. There are ten UOC-KP structures remaining in Crimea – nine have been rebuilt and renovated and one built from scratch.
“It’s a wooden church in Yevpatoria; we finished building it in May 2014.”
Archbishop Klyment reminded Krym.Realii that the Church in Yalta had been set on fire several times.
According to Andriy Shchekun, representative of the NGO Crimean Centre for Business and Cultural Cooperation, Ukrainian House, the Ukrainian government should show more political will so that the UOC-KP in Crimea could defend its rights. He believes that the transfer of the Ukrainian-owned cathedral to the Crimean diocese will help the Crimean priests defend their interests in international courts and on the peninsula.
Russian authorities and courts in Crimea have not commented on the situation.
After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Russian Property Fund informed the Archbishop that the lease for the Cathedral of Saint Volodymyr and Olha must be renewed. Even then, the Archbishop was approached by total strangers who offered him $200,000 US to leave the building.
Despite many statements and evidence of harassment on religious grounds presented by human rights organizations, Russian authorities deny everything and claim that believers of all religions faiths are treated equally in Crimea.