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
2 June 2023
UKRAINE: Conscientious objector freed, new trial ordered
Ukraine's Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Christian conscientious objector Vitaly Alekseenko – the first jailed conscientious objector since Russia's renewed invasion - and ordered his release from prison. However, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial in the original court, and his requests to perform an alternative civilian service have been ignored. A Supreme Court case lodged by Christian conscientious objector Andrii Vyshnevetsky – still forcibly held in the army – continues. He argues that failure to determine a procedure for dismissal from military service on the basis of conscientious objection is illegal.
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 is due to 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.
9 May 2023
UKRAINE: Army rejects conscientious objector alternative service transfer
Christian conscientious objector Andrii Vyshnevetsky has been refused transfer to alternative civilian service, despite from his mobilisation onwards asking for this. On 22 May the Supreme Court will hear his case that the President must lay down a procedure to allow individual conscientious objection to military service. Viktor Yelensky, head of the State Service for Ethnic Policy and Freedom of Conscience, told Forum 18 he has been pushing for all conscientious objectors to be allowed to do alternative civilian service, but "my efforts have been rejected".
5 May 2023
UKRAINE: Second conscientious objector jail sentence
Mykhailo Yavorsky, a 39-year-old Christian, is appealing against a one-year jail term handed down on 6 April for refusing mobilisation on grounds of conscience. If he loses his planned appeal he will be sent to prison. "I would not carry weapons and would not put on a uniform, as I can't kill a person," Yavorsky told Forum 18. "They offered me no alternative service." He is the second known conscientious objector sentenced to jail in Ukraine since Russia's renewed invasion, despite asking to do alternative civilian service.
6 April 2023
UKRAINE: Kyiv Pechersk Lavra conflict, draft law, impact on freedom of religion or belief
The government revoked the 10-year-old 2013 agreement for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate) to rent the state-owned Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Monastery of the Caves), claiming some constructions had been built on the site illegally. The UOC did not fully comply with the 29 March deadline to leave. The Lavra's UOC abbot faces a criminal case and a court placed him under house arrest. The government backs a rival Orthodox jurisdiction. "In Ukraine, there will be only the Orthodox Church of Ukraine," a presidential aide declared.
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.
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.