Letter from the UCSJ President; The Religious Freedom Roundtable in Kyiv

Two days in modern Kyiv

On April 15 – 16, 2019 Roger Lerner, Anastasia Aseeva and I were on a UCSJ mission to help in initiating a religious freedom round table in Ukraine. Just a month ago we had met with the leadership of the human rights NGOs of Ukraine at the International Religious Freedom Round Table in Washington, DC and tentatively entered into an agreement to fund a religious freedom round table in Ukraine. Quickly it was arranged that the Round Table would include the leadership of the Religious NGOs of Ukraine, the civil society NGOs, and academia.

By the time we arrived in Kyiv on the morning of April 15, 2019, it had all been arranged. Forty different leaders of the religious establishment of Ukraine, ministers, clergy, imams, rabbis were sitting around the table. Please find below the list of participants and the Ukrainian Religious Freedom Round Table Principles of Activity.

Participants of the first Religious Freedom Round-Table in Kyiv, Ukraine. April 16, 2019

Participants of the first Religious Freedom Round-Table in Kyiv, Ukraine. April 16, 2019

In a three-hour open meeting on April 16, 2019 there developed statements setting forth facts which would form the basis of a Resolution on freedom of religion in the territories occupied by the Russians in the Ukrainian territories of Crimea and Donbass. Testimony was given of terrorism, torture, and significant discrimination against the Tatars of Crimea, the Catholic Church, Jewish synagogues, and other religious groups. The Round Table was able to develop an agreed-upon Resolution which is also included below. The Resolution was not to be made public until after the Presidential election news had run its course.

Most importantly, the participants felt that the Round Table was a success and wished to start regular meetings of the Round Table. The UCSJ was the only US participant at the meeting. Our role was to act as a starter of the process. There were some religious leaders who did not make the meeting because of prior commitments. But there were unanimous statements that the purposes of the Round Table were fulfilled. Future Round Table meetings would include discussions about inter-religious difficulties, problems regarding saving of religious historic sites from commercialization by municipalities, and other human rights concerns.

UCSJ President chairing the Round-Table in Kyiv, Ukraine.  April 16, 2019

UCSJ President chairing the Round-Table in Kyiv, Ukraine. April 16, 2019

After the meeting, we met with different individuals to discuss their views. One of the delegates, Igor Hrib, was a member of the Chaplains Corps of the Ukrainian army. He was looking for US support to apply pressure on the Russian government that had kidnapped his 18-year-old son who was meeting his fiancé in Belarus. The boy was convicted of terrorism and sentenced to six years in a Russian prison to embarrass the Chaplains Corps of Ukraine. We told Igor Hrib we would try to find a means to help him in the US.

We had meeting with Vyacheslav Likhachev, UCSJ long-term expert on issues of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, who was attending the Round Table which was quite revealing. His recent reports on anti-Semitism in Ukraine in 2017-2018 had shown that individual acts of violent anti-Semitism had dropped to zero in the last two years. That did not mean that there was no longer anti-Semitism in the country, but this was a significant difference from the common belief that anti-Semitism was very high in the country. This was confirmed by the voters of the country who elected a Jewish President by 73% of the vote in the following Sunday (April 21, 2019), in a country that already had a Jewish Prime Minister. None of the Jewish leaders we met on the trip felt that election meant that the Ukraine government would be more or less anti-Semitic.

At the end of the afternoon of April 16, 2019 we visited Josef Zissels, Head of the VAAD of Ukraine, who is working to build a Holocaust Museum in Kyiv and a museum to remember the Bukovina Jews in Chernovtsy. This was followed by a trip to the new Progressive synagogue of Kyiv with Rabbi Alex Duchovny, who proudly went over the activities of their new building.

with Rabbi Alex Dukhovny

with Rabbi Alex Dukhovny

At the end of each day, we met with the organizers of the Round Table to assess the program and the results. Needless to say, we all were pleased with our accomplishments. Please follow our website www.ucsj.org for more developments on the Religious Freedom Round Table in Ukraine.

Larry Lerner, UCSJ President


Round Table on Religious Freedom in Ukraine

1. The Round Table on Religious Freedom in Ukraine is an informal platform for establishing a permanent, continuous dialogue and interaction between representatives of different denominations and human rights and other non-governmental organizations that share the value of religious freedom for sustainable development of society, with the involvement of representatives of specialized bodies of state and local power

2. The purpose of the Round Table is the establishment of religious freedom and peace-building, the prevention of radical ideologies and extremism, and the strengthening of sustainable peace and security, which is achieved by identifying and focusing on matters of common interest and on which different denominations have an agreement.

3. Based on this common goal, the Round Table participants are conducting a discussion on the principles of mutual respect and equality, seeking opportunities for interaction in favor of universal public good and justice, based on respect for human dignity.

4. The round table is intended to serve as a model of civic responsibility and self-organization, where each denomination has the equal opportunity to participate in the process of discussion: to speak, to prepare thematic public initiatives and to invite other participants to support them.

5. The practical result of the Round Table will be the building of long-term relationships between denominations and other representatives of civil society, the development of mutual understanding, respect and trust, the emergence of practical initiatives for joint implementation by participants of the Round Table as citizens of one country, despite deep-seated theological or political differences between them. .

6. The round table holds discussions on social issues and coordinates multicultural dialogue and interaction continuously. With the consent of the Roundtable participants, the Coordinator performs the functions of the moderator and planning measures, organizational support is assigned to the Executive Secretary.

7. The round table is composed not of the members but of the participants who support these Principles and are interested in achieving the stated goal of the Round Table and thematic tasks through dialogue and interaction.

8. The principle of voluntary participation stipulates that each participant of the Round-table decides on the support of initiatives or draft proposals that are published by them (and only on their behalf), as well as on their own initiative, to unite in a coalition on specific issues or to form thematic working groups to achieve the goals and objectives of the Round Table.

9. Each participant has the opportunity to sponsor meetings of the Round Table, covering organizational expenses (printing of work materials, welcome coffee / tea, etc.), and make suggestions on the agenda of the next meetings.

10. For the practical implementation of the proposals and recommendations made by the participants, the Round Table may organize as necessary a meeting at the highest political level and involve high-level representatives of the central and local authorities in participating in the ongoing dialogue and exchange of information, while not relying entirely on the state structures to achieve their tasks.

11. Participants in the Round Table may co-operate at the international level by establishing direct, direct contact with international institutions and other states in order to protect religious freedom in Ukraine and in the world.

Resolution on freedom of religion

in Ukrainian territories of Crimea and Donbass, occupied by Russian Federation

The occupation of Crimea has led to numerous violations of religious freedom. Forcibly introduced Russian legislation is widely used to prosecute religious communities and individual believers. There are numerous cases of punishment for "reading the Bible and prayers," "distributing leaflets with an invitation to the house of prayer," "religious songs," and other acts that are equated with missionaries conducted outside the established places. Under the pretext of seeking extremist materials, representatives of power structures in the Crimea are constantly conducting searches in libraries, prayer houses, educational institutions of Muslims (madrassas, mosques), as well as lawyers, journalists and community activists. At least 16 cases of attempted arson, robbery, desecration of mosques were recorded, while only one of them managed to find the guilty person. In mosques, cameras are set up to observe Muslims in total.

The number of criminal cases for belonging to religious organizations recognized in the Russian Federation as terrorist or extremist is growing, although they freely exercise their activity in Ukraine. The so-called antiextremist laws of Russia are contrary to international standards and are used for unjustified accusations and persecutions of believers and religious communities. Only during the last arrests on March 27, 2019, 24 Crimean Tatars were imprisoned on charges of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir. The arrests of believers belonging to Jehovah's Witnesses, whose activity is prohibited in Russia, began to arrest, and their number in the Crimea is about 8,000.

In all trials of these years, there is no evidence of the preparation or commission of terrorist acts. Amnesty International has recognized one of the most prominent figures of fabricated affairs of Emir-Usain Kuku as a prisoner of conscience.

In a critical situation, there are churches and religious organizations that associate with Ukraine. Through the physical seizures or decisions of the occupation courts, they were deprived of property rights to religious buildings. So, before the occupation, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (now the Orthodox Church of Ukraine) had about 50 religious organizations in the Crimea. As of March 2019, their number has decreased to 9. Now the occupation authorities are trying to deprive the CPC of the premises of the Cathedral and the administration of the diocese in Simferopol.

Even worse, the situation with the observance of freedom of religion in the part occupied by the Russian Federation of Donetsk and Lugansk regions (Donbass) in the east of Ukraine. Since the beginning of the war, illegal armed groups, created with the direct participation of the Russian Federation, proclaimed the Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate as the main religion of the region and began the persecution of other religious denominations.

Dozens of temples, prayer houses and places of worship have been captured and are still under the control of armed formations. The practice of abduction, torture and extrajudicial executions of clerics and believers of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (and formerly the UOC of the Kiev Patriarchate), the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and several evangelical protestant churches has been widespread.

As a result of the conscious policy of terror on the part of the occupation authorities that copy the judicial arbitrary and repressive laws of Russia, most clergy, together with their families, left the region. Somewhere, like the times of the Soviet regime, believers of certain denominations are compelled to clandestine in order to have the opportunity for joint prayers, the study of the foundations of creed and the completion of religious ceremonies.

The new challenge was the demand of the occupation authorities of Donetsk and Lugansk about the obligatory re-registration of religious organizations, the non-fulfillment of which entails criminal liability. Prior to that, a total ban on the activities of religious groups was introduced, which includes all communities of believers who do not belong to the circle of "traditional confessions," the list of which is not defined. It is compelled to state that the occupation authorities in the Crimea do not recognize the freedom of religion, but consider it as a collective category, depending on the level of loyalty to the Russian authorities. At the same time, most religious communities in the occupied territories of Donbas simply ceased to exist, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion is absent as a phenomenon.

Taking into account the foregoing, the participants of the Round Table on Religious Freedom in Ukraine state the necessity of full de-occupation of the Ukrainian territories of Crimea and Donbass as a pledge of ending gross violations of religious freedom, and also appeals to international organizations, UN member states, the World Council of Churches and other interreligious institutions with the following appeal:

1. To appeal to the Russian Federation with the requirement of de-occupation of the Ukrainian territories of the Crimea and the Donbas and the cessation of their offensive on the freedom of religion, as well as to immediately release all citizens of Ukraine, prisoners on the grounds of their religious beliefs, which is a direct violation of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights;

2. To initiate the preparation of a public report on the state of freedom of thought, conscience and religion in the occupied Ukrainian territories of the Crimea and the Donbas in order to present it at specially organized hearings in the UN, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the EU and the USA;

3. To appoint a special representative of the EU on the occupied Ukrainian territories of Crimea and Donbass to carry out continuous monitoring of the situation with violation of human rights and periodic public reporting to the Council on the state of affairs.

In order to cooperate in resolving this and other issues, the participants of the meeting on April 16, 2019 in Kiev decided to establish a Round Table on Religious Freedom in Ukraine for dialogue on a regular basis between representatives of various denominations and human rights, non-governmental organizations, which share the value of religious freedom, with involvement in it scientists, experts and representatives of state and local government bodies.


Religious Freedom Round-Table in Kyiv, Ukraine

April 16, 2019

The resolution was supported on April 16, 2019 in Kiev by participants of the Round Table on Religious Freedom in Ukraine.

Round Table on Religious Freedom Participants


1. Orthodox Church of Ukraine

Archbishop Evstratiy, Deputy Head of the External Affairs

Archbishop Kliment, Head of Orthodox mission to assist victims of human rights and prisoners, Archbishop of Simpheropol & Crimea

2. Ukrainian Orthodox Church

Sergiy Bortnik, Plenipotentiary for External Affiars

3. Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church

Father Oleksa Petriv, Head of External Affairs in Ukraine

4 . Roman Catholic Church

Andriy Chmilenko, Coordinator of Christian Service

5. All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians – Baptists

Igor Bandura, First Deputy Head

6. Ukrainian Church of Christian Evangelical Belief

Anatoliy Kozachok, First deputy of Senior Bishop

7. Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Ukraine

Hussameddin Al-Khalavani, Head of External Affairs

8. The Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of the Crimea

Aider Rustemov, Mufti

9. Spiritual Directorate of Muslims «UMMA»

Said Ismagilov, Mufti

Sheikh Renat Khabibutdinov, Imam of the Al-Amal Mosque in Donetsk

10. Seventh-day Adventist Churches

Maksim Krupsky, Head of Internal Affiars and Religious Freedom

11. Ukrainian Christian Evangelical Church

Leonid Padun, Senior Bishop

12. Ukrainian Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church

Markos, Bishop

Olena (Oganesyan), Deputy Head of Bishop Council

13. Association of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine

Gennady Beloretsky, Legal Advisor of the Chief Rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine

Pavlo Feldblum, Head of council

14. Ukrainian Lutheran Church

Vyacheslav Gorpinchuk, Bishop

Igor Rudzik, Secretary

15. Ukrainian Bible Society

Grigory Komendant, President

Anatoliy Raichinets, Deputy Secretary General

16. German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine

Sergei Mashevskiy, Bishop

17. Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints (Mormons)

Edwin C. Kumfermen, President of the Ukrainian Kievan Moldovan Mission

18. The Conservative Judaism community "Masoret" of Kyiv

Reuven Stamov, Chief Rabbi of Conservative Judaism in Ukraine

19. All-Ukrainian Congress of Jewish Religious Communities

Moshe Reuven Asman, Chief Rabbi of Kyiv and Ukraine (Hasidim Khabad Lyubavich)

20. Religious Union of Communities of Progressive Judaism of Ukraine

Alexander Dukhovny, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine and Kiev

21. Jewish community of Donbass

Pinhas Vishedsky, Chief Rabbi of Donbass

22. Association of Missionary Churches of Evangelical Christians of Ukraine

Victor Tantsura, Chairman of the Board

23. Center of Independent Charismatic Christian Churches of Ukraine (Full Gospel)

Anatoliy Gavrilyuk, Senior Bishop

24. Spiritual Directorate of Christians of the Evangelical Faith "Ukrainian Missionary Church"

Vasil Bilyk, Administrator

25. Brotherhood (association) of Independent Churches and Missions of Evangelical Christians –Baptists of Ukraine

Andrey Zakharov, Head of Western region, Pastor

26. Free Church of Ukraine

Michailo Bagnyuk, lawyer, lecturer

27. Union Church of God of Ukraine

Pavlo Golub, Dneporpetrovsk Region Bishop, Deputy of National Bishop

28. Center of Christian Evangelical Churches of Ukraine "Victory"

Henry Madava, Senior Pastor

29. Church "Good News" Slavyansk

Peter Dudnik, Pastor, Volunteer-Chaplain

30. Missionary Union of Evangelical Communities of Ukraine

Father Pavlo Shvarts, Head

Civil Society Organizations

1. Center for Civil Liberties

Oleksandra Matviychuk, Chair

2. Religious Freedom Institute

Aleksander Zaets, Chair

Maksim Vasin, Executive Director

3. Institute of Geopolitical Dimension

Pavel Gorodets, Executive Director

Vyacheslav Sirotenko, Member of Board

4. Mission Eurasia

Denis Gorenkov, Director

Konstantin Teryatnikov, Director of Educational Program

5. VAAD of Ukraine (Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine)

Josef Zissels, Executive co-President

6. Ukrainian Jewish Committee

Eduard Dolinsky, Director

7. Group for monitoring the rights of national minorities

Vyacheslav Likhachev, Head

8. Eleos-Ukraine Public Organization

Sergey Dmitriev, Leader, Priest-Chaplain

9. International Charitable Foundation "Caritas Ukraine"

Andrey Nagornyak, Vice-President

10. Association of Christian Rehabilitation Centers

Rustam Fatullayev, President, Priest, Chaplain

11. Movement "Strong Communities"

Valentin Krasnoperov, Coordinator

12. Association of Christian Lawyers of Ukraine

Andrey Gnedez, Board Member

13. Crimea SOS

Olga Kurishko, Lawyer

14. Crimean Human Rights Group

Olga Skripnik, Head

15. Human Rights Center "Smena"

Tatiana Pechonchik, Head of Board

16. Regional Center for Human Rights

Sergei Zayets, Expert, Lawyer

17. Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union

Alexander Pavlichenko, Executive Director

18. Ukrainian Human Rights Institute

Bogdan Kriklivenko, Co-Founder

19. East Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives

Vadim Sabinin, Analyst

20. Relatives of political prisoners of the Kremlin

Igor Grib, Co-Founder

21. Association of Christian Lawyers "Hushai"

Natalia Doroshenko, Head, Lawyer

Eugene Golovkov, Head of Board, Lawyer

22. Center for Public Health Advocacy Julia Soloha, head

23. Ukrainian Center for Nonviolent Communication and Reconciliation "Space of Dignity"

Alena Ganzyak-Kaskiv, Head

Carl Presner, Chief Trainer, Project Manager


1. Ukrainian Association of Religious Studies

Ludmilla Filipovich, Vice-president of UAR, Doctor of Philosophical Sciences, Professor

2. Institute of Philosophy G. Skovoroda, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

Igor Kozlovsky, Candidate of Philosophy, Senior Researcher

3. Association of Ukrainian Lawyers

Vasil Kostitsky, President, Doctor of Law, Academician

Anastasia Sukhodolska

4.National Pedagogical University named after MP Drahomanov

Vitaliy Khromets, Deputy Director of the Center for Religious Studies, Director of the Public Organization Nestorivsky Center

5. Religious Information Service of Ukraine

Тaras Antoshevsky, Director

6. State and Church Institute

Ustim Khavarsky, head

7. National University of Kiev-Mohilyan Academy

Olena Bogdan, Sociologist PHD


Larry Lerner, President

Anastasia Aseeva, Executive Director

Rabbi Roger Lerner

61 entity and 73 persons as of official list of participants. More detailed information after finalizing of attendance lists (around 85 people were present).

Roger LernerComment