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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

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OCCUPIED UKRAINE: After year in detention, Orthodox priest's "espionage" trial imminent

After a year in Russian detention, the "espionage" criminal trial of Ukrainian Orthodox priest Kostiantyn Maksimov is due to begin on 6 June. If convicted, the 41-year-old faces prison of 10 to 12 years. He is being held in Investigation Prison No. 2 in Simferopol. A Protestant in her fifties also faces criminal trial in occupied Zaporizhzhia Region. Eighteen months after Russian occupiers disappeared two Greek Catholic priests - Ivan Levytsky and Bohdan Heleta – they appear to be in a labour camp in Horlivka.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Protestant woman on trial for Melitopol prayer meeting?

In early 2024, Russian occupation forces arrested a Protestant in her fifties for participating in a July 2023 prayer meeting in the occupied Ukrainian city of Melitopol. Prosecutors handed her criminal case to Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia Regional Court. In the same court is the criminal case against Ukrainian Orthodox Church priest Kostiantyn Maksimov for alleged "espionage". On 27 April, Krasnodon's Russian-controlled court fined Pastor Vladimir Rytikov 5,000 Russian Roubles on charges of "illegal missionary activity" for leading his unregistered Baptist congregation. "This is half my [monthly] pension," he noted.

UKRAINE: Two new conscientious objector jail terms

In late March a Lviv Region court sentenced Protestant conscientious objector Serhy Stadnitsky to a 3-year jail term for refusing mobilisation on grounds of conscience. "I don't want to kill people," he told Forum 18, adding that "of course" he would be willing to perform alternative civilian service. Two days later, a Sumy Region court handed a Jehovah's Witness a similar sentence. Both are due to go to prison if their appeals fail. The one known prisoner, Dmytro Zelinsky, awaits a Supreme Court appeal on 13 June.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Deported priests now in Ukraine

In February and March, Russia illegally deported two Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) priests - Fr Khristofor Khrimli and Fr Andri Chui – to Georgia. Both priests were arrested and fined by occupation forces in September 2023, and then illegally taken to Russia. Elsewhere in occupied Ukraine, after an armed raid on the Sunday morning worship meeting of Krasnodon's Council of Churches Baptist congregation, Baptist Pastor and Soviet-era prisoner of conscience Vladimir Rytikov faces illegal Russian charges of "conducting missionary activity".

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: "Espionage" trial for disappeared Ukrainian Orthodox priest

The Russian occupation forces in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia Region disappeared Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) priest Fr Kostiantyn Maksimov in May 2023. On 29 March 2024, more than 10 months later, the occupation forces' Zaporizhzhia Region Prosecutor's Office said a criminal case against him for alleged "espionage" had been handed to court. If convicted, the 40-year-old priest faces a prison term of 10 to 12 years. "This is terrible!" another UOC priest, Fr Vladimir Saviisky, who knew Fr Kostiantyn, told Forum 18. "But this was to be expected."

UKRAINE: Latest draft Law targets Ukrainian Orthodox Church for Russian links

On 5 March, the parliamentary Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy stated that a draft Law targeting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) for Russian links is ready for second reading, no date for which has been set. Without careful consideration and redrafting to remove the numerous human rights problems in the current draft, the Law would not implement Ukraine's legally-binding international obligations to respect and protect the freedoms of religion or belief, expression, and association.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Priest killed within two days of Russian detention

On 15 February, the bruised body (possibly with a bullet-wound to the head) of 59-year-old Fr Stepan Podolchak of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was found in the streets of Kalanchak in Russian-occupied Kherson Region. The morgue called his wife to identify him. The occupation forces, who seized him two days earlier, "tortured Fr Stepan to death", says Kherson Bishop Nikodim. Forum 18 asked Kalanchak's Russian police what action they will take following his killing. "For a long time this [community] hasn't existed here and won't," the duty officer replied. "Forget about it."

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: "Disappeared" Greek Catholic priests in Russian Investigation Prisons?

One of two Greek Catholic priests Russian occupation forces seized in November 2022 in the Ukrainian city of Berdyansk appears to have been transferred illegally to Russia. Fr Ivan Levytsky is being held in Russia's Rostov Region, Evhen Zakharov of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group told Forum 18. Fr Bohdan Heleta is being held in Russian-occupied Crimea. Both priests appear to face Russian criminal charges related to weapons and explosives occupation forces claim they found. Relatives and the Church have been denied contact with the priests since November 2022.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: "If they took Russian citizenship, they could return to Donetsk"

In occupied Donetsk Region, Russian officials arrested two Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) priests, Fr Khristofor Khrimli and Fr Andri Chui, in September 2023. A court fined both for "missionary activity", ordering their deportation from Russia. Officials illegally took them to Russia, and are holding them in a Deportation Centre near Rostov-on-Don. Bailiff Aleksandr Nikolenko told Forum 18 the priests refused deportation via Latvia as they want to live in Donetsk. "If they took Russian citizenship, they could return to Donetsk, but they can't do so as citizens of another state."

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Zaporizhzhia priests still "disappeared", 4 churches banned

13 months after Russia's National Guard "disappeared" two Greek Catholic priests, Fr Ivan Levytsky and Fr Bohdan Heleta, and 7 months after Russian occupiers "disappeared" Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) priest Fr Kostiantyn Maksimov, no information is known on whether they are still alive and, if so, where and why they are being held. Investigation Prisons in Crimea and Donetsk refused to say if they are holding them. In December 2022, the Russian-installed Zaporizhzhia Region governor banned the Greek Catholic Church, Grace Church, Melitopol Christian Church, and Word of Life Church.

CRIMEA: Continuing Russian attempts to crush religious communities

After Russian occupation authorities seized all the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU)'s places of worship in Crimea and its priests fled after at least some received summonses for mobilisation, Metropolitan Kliment says its Crimean Diocese "has effectively ceased to exist". The authorities are targeting independent mosques unaffiliated with the Crimean Muslim Board. The Russian Police's Centre for Countering Extremism and other agencies raid mosques and community members' homes. Most of the 8 known 2023 administrative cases for "illegal" missionary activity targeted independent Muslims. Jehovah's Witnesses are targeted with raids and jailings.

CRIMEA: "They conducted Friday prayers at gunpoint"

The Russian Police's Centre for Countering Extremism raided Alushta's independent Yukhary-Jami mosque on 23 November, as well as the homes of the Imam, Yusuf Ashirov, and two leaders. A court jailed the three men for several days. While the Imam was jailed, Centre for Countering Extremism officers came to Friday prayers to support an Imam from the Crimean Muslim Board (to which the mosque does not belong). Lieutenant Colonel Ruslan Shambazov told the head of the mosque community to get the community to accept the new Board-imposed Imam.

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