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Human Rights in Ukraine
Flag of Ukraine Ukraine
Population: 47,732,079 (July 2004 est.)
Capital: Kiev (Kyyiv)
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Ukraine Human Rights Report
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Freedom of Religion

The Constitution and the law provide for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. Religious groups of all beliefs flourished. However, some local officials at times impeded attempts by minority and nontraditional religions to register and buy or lease property.

The Constitution and the law provide for the separation of church and state. There is no state religion. The largest church in the country, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC)-Moscow Patriarchate, predominated in the South and East with 10,310 registered communities, 360 of which were registered during the year. The UOC-Kiev Patriarchate was the second largest of the Orthodox Churches in the country, with 3,186 communities, 167 of which were newly registered during the year. It was strong in the central regions. The smaller Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC), which has 1,107 communities, including 21 newly registered parishes during the year, was also strong in the central regions. The Greek Catholic Church, with 3,326 parishes of which 31 were registered during the year, predominated in the West, but sought renewed presence in Kiev. These churches exerted significant political influence at the local and regional levels. Each of these churches, within its respective sphere of influence, reportedly pressured local officials to restrict the activities of the others.

The law requires all religious organizations and non-secular institutions of education offering religious diplomas to register with the State Committee on Religious Affairs (SCRA). Registration is necessary to own property or carry out many economic activities, such as publishing religious materials and opening bank accounts. The UOC-Kiev Patriarchate reported delays in the registration of its parishes. Some minority religious organizations reported that, particularly at the local or regional levels, officials of the SCRA delayed registration of their organizations for extended periods. However, there were fewer such reports during the year.

Representatives of the Progressive Jewish Communities claimed that local authorities and Chabad Lubavitch officials made statements against their community in the local press while the group was organizing communities in Dnipropetrovsk. The Progressive Jewish Community claimed not only that the Dnipropetrovsk Chabad Community opposed the registration of any Jewish community but itself in the region, but also that, under pressure from Chabad Lubavitch, it was denied registration in Dnipropetrovsk. The Progressive Community dropped its registration bid in 2002.

Representatives of the Muslim community noted that they have been unable to register a community in Kharkiv for the past 11 years. Local police often subjected Muslims to document checks.

Representatives of minority Christian communities expressed concern over instances of discrimination against their adherents, although such incidents appeared to be isolated. Evangelical churches, like many other religious communities, experienced difficulties in obtaining land plots.

Disputes continued among competing Orthodox Christian administrative bodies. The SCRA, although supportive of a unified, independent Orthodox Church for the country, has maintained neutrality in its relations with the various Orthodox churches. The UOC-Kiev Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church complained of harassment by local authorities in the predominantly Russian-speaking southern and eastern regions of the country. The UOC-Moscow Patriarchate complained that local governments ignored the appropriation of its churches by Greek Catholics in the western region.

The SCRA served as the Government's point of contact between the various organizational entities that provided logistical support and permits during the international conference of Jehovah's Witnesses, which drew considerably more than 100,000 faithful to the capital and regional cities. Approximately 20,000 Jewish pilgrims visited the Nachman tomb, 10,000 during Rosh Hashanah. Both events took place without incident.

Representatives of the UAOC cited instances of difficulties in providing religious services to soldiers and of the need to obtain approval from prison chaplains of the Moscow Patriarchate for prison ministry activities.

The Government generally permitted religious organizations to establish places of worship and to train clergy. The Government continued to facilitate the building of houses of worship by allocation of land plots for new construction and through restitution of religious buildings to their rightful owners. The Government provided funds to reconstruct houses of worship, including a mosque in Sakalinye.

Members of numerous religious communities encountered difficulties in dealing with the Kiev municipal administration to obtain land permits and building permits; however, problems were not limited to religious groups. A synagogue, which was used as a sports center during Soviet times, was restored and reopened in Kharkiv.

Under the law, all religions, faiths, and religious organizations are equal. The clergy, religious preachers, teachers, and other representatives of foreign organizations who are foreign citizens and are in the country temporarily, can preach religious faiths and perform religious rites or other canonical activity only in the religious organizations on whose invitation those individuals arrived and with official agreement of the state agency that registered the relevant religious organization. In practice, the Government has not used the law to limit greatly the activity of religious organizations.

The law restricts the activities of "nonnative," foreign-based, religious organizations ("native religions" are defined as Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and Jewish), and narrowly defines the permissible activities of members of the clergy, preachers, teachers, and other non-citizen representatives of foreign-based religious organizations; however, in practice there were no reports that the Government used the law to limit the activity of nonnative religious organizations. There were no reports that foreign religious workers encountered difficulties obtaining visas.

Sectarian religious instruction is prohibited in the public school curriculum. Schools run by religious communities can and do include religious education as an extracurricular activity. Government and UOC-Kiev Patriarchate attempts to introduce training in "basic Christian ethics" into the public schools has resulted in schools now having the right to include this subject in the curriculum at their own discretion. While the country's Jewish leaders also support the teaching of ethics and civics in school, they insist on a nonsectarian approach to this training.

A large number of high-level government officials continued to take part in the commemoration of the massacre at Babyn Yar in Kiev, the site of one of the most serious crimes of the Holocaust directed against Jews and thousands of individuals from other minority groups. The Government commemorates it each September. Discussions continued among various Jewish community members about erecting an appropriate memorial, and possibly a heritage center, to commemorate the killings. The Government was generally supportive of these initiatives.

Outstanding claims for restitution remained among all of the major religious communities. The Government continued to return properties expropriated during the Soviet era to religious groups; however, not all groups regarded the pace of restitution as satisfactory, and all major religious communities continued to have outstanding restitution claims. During the year, religious communities received ownership of 358 premises (i.e. buildings or sections of buildings) converted into places of worship and another 524 religious buildings that were not designated for worship, such as former religious schools, hospitals, and clerical residences, totaling 2,388 and 1,313, respectively, since independence.

Intra-communal competition for particular properties complicated the restitution issue, both for some Christian and for some Jewish communities. Some groups asserted that restitution generally was progressing satisfactorily, although more could be done, while others that did not receive property reported a lack of progress. The slow pace of restitution was a reflection, among other things, of the country's difficult economic situation, which severely limited funds available for the relocation of the occupants of seized religious property. In September 2002, the Cabinet approved an action plan, drawn up at the instruction of President Kuchma, designed to return religious buildings to the religious organizations that formerly owned them. The Rada subsequently adopted the first reading of amendments to the Land Code that will allow religious organizations permanent use of designated property.

Friction involving various religious groups remained evident, particularly among the leadership of some religious organizations. A dispute between nationalists and Jews over the erection of crosses in Jewish cemeteries in Sambir, and Kiev, remained unresolved, despite efforts by Jewish and Greek Catholic leaders to resolve it. A local court ordered a halt in the construction of an apartment building at the site of an old Jewish cemetery in Volodymyr Volynsky. However, according to the Secretary of the Volodymyr-Volynsky Municipal Council, apartment construction was completed during the year and 90 percent of the units were occupied.

One Christian religious group complained that the UOC-Moscow Patriarchate made calls to local government officials in an attempt to derail land allotments for local religious building establishments. The same group alleged that the UOC-Moscow Patriarchate ordered the reprint of criticism of the group originally published in a Moscow newspaper.

Acts of anti-Semitism continued to be infrequent; however, some ultranationalist groups and newspapers continued to publish and distribute anti-Semitic tracts. The procuracy warned certain publications against publishing anti-Semitic material. Construction of a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church cathedral in the capital and the planned transfer of the leader's residence to Kiev provoked the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate to speak out against the Greek Catholic's expansionist plans eastward.

In Kharkiv, the UAOC reported that unidentified perpetrators smashed its windows with a bat on February 15. Police suspected that the bat was thrown during a fight or by a passer-by. Church officials did not insist on further investigation of the incident.

Evangelical Christian missionaries reported some instances of societal discrimination against members of their churches, such as public criticism for betraying native religions, although there were no reports of harassment.

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