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Religious persecution continues in occupied Donbas

Graves to four Evangelical Christians who were murdered by separatists in Sloviansk in 2014
Religious persecution continues in occupied Donbas
Article by: Maskym Vasin
In his speech at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting at the OSCE, Maksym Vasin, director of the Ukrainian Institute for Religious Freedom, told about religious persecution in occupied Donbas. 

Fundamental human rights in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine are being violated for over 2.5 years now. The Russian-backed separatists have systematically exploited the religious factor, trying to reinforce their imposed governance and eradicate any kind of dissent.

Instead of religious freedoms and pluralism, which are inherent in the remaining territories of Ukraine, in these occupied lands religion is used as grounds for ransacking churches,  persecution of believers, torture and even the murder of priests and civilians. Now among the captured is Prof. Ihor Kozlovskyi, a religious studies scholar, held for over 8 months, charged with the support of religious minorities.

Numerous temples and places of worship remain under control of the Russian-backed separatists, and often are used as military facilities. For example, a complex of buildings of the Donetsk Christian University, the building of the “Word of Life” Bible Institute on Tkachenko Street 100 in Donetsk, several places of worship of the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses.

A year ago Mr. Zakharchenko, who heads the Donetsk separatists, declared that he will “actively fight against sects”. After this, a new wave of religious persecution was experienced by Evangelical Christians, Orthodox of the Kyiv Patriarchate, Greek-Catholics and other religious minorities.

In September of 2015, the separatists organized a rally in the city of Shakhtarsk  which confronted Baptist Christians in front of their House of Worship, with the intent of banishing the “sect” from the Donetsk regions.  More currently, in 2016, a similar rally was organized in front of the Greek-Catholic Church in Donetsk. Even children, elementary pupils and students, carried banners with political slogans and words of hate against religious minorities.

Children holding posters at the rally in 2016. Photo: novosti.dn.ua

We recommend to participating states to expand the mandate of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, to include the investigation of the numerous incidents of religious persecution by Russian-backed militants in the Donbas. Also it is necessary to prepare a special report on the situation with human rights in eastern Ukraine after such monitoring. And the issue of religious freedom should also become a part of negotiations in the Minsk and Normandy formats.

OSCE should defend the fundamental right for freedom of religion for those, who have suffered daily in eastern Ukraine because of Russian aggression.

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