The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief
23 May 2023
OCCUPIED UKRAINE: First known "discreditation" case in Russian-annexed territory
In the first known case in parts of Ukraine Russia illegally claimed to have annexed in 2022, Fr Feognost (Timofei Pushkov) is facing prosecution under Russia's Administrative Code for "discrediting" Russia's armed forces. Russia's FSB security service appear to have notified colleagues in Luhansk about Fr Feognost's YouTube video discussing how his views on patriotism based on Christian principles differed from those of three other Orthodox priests. Markivka District Court will hear the case on 30 May. Judge Roman Shulga was unavailable when Forum 18 called the court.
18 May 2023
OCCUPIED UKRAINE: "Disappeared" clergy still "disappeared" after six months
On 16 November 2022, troops of Russia's National Guard seized two Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests, Fr Ivan Levytsky and Fr Bohdan Heleta, in Berdyansk. Six months later, there is no information about where they are, their state of health – or if they are still alive. Asked why they had been seized, the Russian Berdyansk Police responded: "That's all rubbish. Ask [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky's special services – they're responsible." An Orthodox Church of Ukraine parish's Easter service was banned because the priest refused to transfer to the Moscow Patriarchate.
23 March 2023
OCCUPIED UKRAINE: After 4 months, are "disappeared" Greek Catholic priests still alive?
Four months after Russia's Rosgvardiya in Berdyansk seized two Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests, Fr Ivan Levytsky and Fr Bohdan Heleta, their diocese has no information on them or even if they are still alive. The Russian Military Command in Melitopol refused to discuss their enforced disappearance. "This is not a question for us," the duty officer told Forum 18. Orthodox Church of Ukraine priest Platon Danyshchuk was held from late January to early February. Russia's Kherson Region police raided the fourth empty Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall, seizing religious literature.
17 March 2023
CRIMEA: Five further criminal investigations, two on wanted list
With 12 Crimean Jehovah's Witnesses serving jail terms of at least six years and two serving suspended jail terms, investigators are pursuing criminal cases against a further five. Two more who have left Crimea are on Russia's wanted list and Russia may illegally have sought Interpol Red Notices for them, as it has done for others. Yuliya Burenina of the National Central Bureau for Interpol of Russia's Interior Ministry refused to explain why Russia has sought Red Notices for individuals wanted for exercising their freedom of religion or belief.
14 March 2023
CRIMEA: Now 12 jailed Crimean prisoners of conscience
Aleksandr Litvinyuk is not due to complete his jail term and post-prison restrictions until the mid-2030s, by which time he would be over 75. Armyansk Prosecutor's Office refused to put Forum 18 through to Prosecutor Minigul Saddykova, who led the prosecution case in court. Litvinyuk is among 12 Jehovah's Witnesses from Russian-occupied Crimea now jailed for at least six years to punish their exercise of freedom of religion or belief. Two more are serving suspended sentences including Darya Kuzio, wife of one of the prisoners.
3 February 2023
OCCUPIED UKRAINE: "Disappeared" clergy, seized places of worship, library purge
Russian occupation authorities continue to violate freedom of religion and belief in the Ukrainian territory they currently control. In late 2022 two Greek Catholic priests and a Protestant pastor were the latest known religious leaders seized by occupation authorities. The pastor was freed in January, but it is unknown where the priests are or even if they are still alive. [UPDATE: Russian military seized Orthodox priest Platon Danyshchuk on 26 January.] Raids on and seizures of places of worship continued in January, and a purge of "extremist" books from educational libraries was ordered in Luhansk.
21 December 2022
OCCUPIED UKRAINE: One Berdyansk pastor and two priests in Russian detention
Armed Russian soldiers seized Pastor Serhiy Karpenko of Berdyansk's Vefil Church on 12 December. Russia's National Guard seized Berdyansk's two Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests on 16 November. No news has been heard of any since. "Keep demanding the urgent release of our priests because of the threat to their life and health," says the Donetsk Exarchate. Forum 18 asked the Russian-installed Berdyansk police what it is doing to locate the three and find those who seized them. "We only give answers in response to an official request," it responded.
30 November 2022
OCCUPIED UKRAINE: "There is no one to replace the arrested priests"
Russia's National Guard seized two priests in Russian-occupied Berdyansk on 16 November. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Donetsk Exarchate denies Russian claims that Fr Ivan Levytsky and Fr Bohdan Heleta stored explosives in the church and had "extremist" literature. Fr Bohdan needs regular medicine. "Being under arrest and being tortured pose a very serious threat to his life." On 26 November, the tortured and shot bodies of Pentecostal deacon Anatoly Prokopchuk and his son were found, four days after the Russian military seized them.
14 November 2022
CRIMEA: Two "extremism" criminal trials, more raids, criminal investigations
Russian occupation forces have raided more Jehovah's Witness homes in occupied Crimea. Timed to coincide with the raids, investigators launched criminal cases on "extremism" charges against three Jehovah's Witnesses. One - Sergei Parfenovich – has been in pre-trial detention in Simferopol since late September. Two others, Sergei Zhigalov and Viktor Kudinov, are banned from specific activity including "visiting collective meetings of people following the Jehovah's Witness faith"."Believing in God is not punishable, but they continued the activity of a banned organisation," Investigator Maksim Ukrainsky told Forum 18.
11 November 2022
CRIMEA: Three 6-year jail terms, with 7-year post-jail bans
On 6 October, a Sevastopol court in Russian-occupied Crimea jailed three Jehovah's Witnesses for six years each on "extremism" charges, followed by a seven-year ban on specific activities. Prosecutor Valery Yazev, who led the case in court, refused to answer Forum 18's questions. The three are appealing, and if this fails are likely to be – against international law - transferred to labour camps in Russia. There are currently 7 Crimean prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief.
20 October 2022
OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Religious leaders seized, tortured; churches, mosques closed; no news of seized Baptist couple
Following Russia's renewed invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russian and Russian-backed officials and soldiers have in newly-occupied areas seized and tortured religious leaders, searched and sealed places of worship to prevent their use for worship, confiscated equipment and literature, and demanded documents. On 21 September masked Russian soldiers seized Mariupol Baptist pastor Leonid Ponomaryov and his wife Tatyana, and the occupation authorities are still refusing to tell local Baptists what has happened to them. [UPDATE: Ponomaryovs freed 21 October.]
6 October 2022
OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Masked soldiers seize Mariupol pastor and wife
Church members and relatives have been unable to find out who is holding Council of Churches Baptist Pastor Leonid Ponomaryov and his wife Tatyana, where and why. Armed and masked men in military uniform seized them on 21 September from their home in Russian-occupied Mariupol. Neighbours "distinctly heard groans and cries" as the masked men took them away "in an unknown direction", local Baptists said. Military personnel searched and sealed Ponomaryov's Baptist Church. Russian officials had initially claimed the couple had been involved in "extremist activity".