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 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. No news has been heard since January of "disappeared" Orthodox Church of Ukraine priest Platon Danyshchuk. 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.
27 February 2023
UKRAINE: Conscientious objector now jailed
Ivano-Frankivsk Police took 46-year-old Christian conscientious objector Vitaly Alekseenko into custody on 23 February to begin serving his one-year jail term for refusing the call-up to the military at a time of war. His requests to perform an alternative civilian service were ignored and he has appealed to the Supreme Court. The Defence Ministry insists that alternative service does not exist during wartime. He is the first conscientious objector jailed since Russia's renewed 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Courts have given at least six others suspended prison terms.
15 February 2023
UKRAINE: Conscientious objector told "to be ready to be taken to prison"
Ivano-Frankivsk police told Christian conscientious objector Vitaly Alekseenko "to be ready to be taken to prison" on 20 February. He lost his appeal against his one-year jail term on 16 January. "The court gave me the decision to take him to prison. It's my job to carry this out," the police officer told Forum 18. His would be the first wartime conscientious objector jailing. "Unfortunately, the right to alternative service does not extend to martial law," said Viktor Yelensky of the State Service for Ethnic Policies and Freedom of Conscience.
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.
2 February 2023
UKRAINE: Draft law better than others, freedom of religion or belief concerns remain
The Ukrainian government has produced a draft law prohibiting the operation of religious organisations affiliated with "centres of influence of religious organisations or associations with ruling centres" in Russia, but imposing an obligation on the state to prove any affiliation in court. The draft law in its present form raises freedom of religion or belief concerns. If adopted and implemented it may significantly change the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is historically and ecclesiastically linked to the Moscow Patriarchate.
17 January 2023
UKRAINE: First known wartime conscientious objector jailing
46-year-old Christian Vitaly Alekseenko expects to be taken to begin his one-year jail term on 19 January. On 16 January, Ivano-Frankivsk Appeal Court rejected his appeal against his conviction for refusing call up to the military on conscientious grounds. His is the fifth known Ukrainian court conviction since Russia renewed its invasion – the other four men received suspended sentences. "I told the court I agree that I have broken the law of Ukraine," Alekseenko told Forum 18, "but I am not guilty under the law of God." [UPDATE: Written verdict now due 24 January.]
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.