New religious law and persecution in eastern Ukraine

May 2, 2018

War continues to ravage eastern Ukraine, where conflict erupted in April 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the violent actions of pro-Russian separatists. Along with forcing millions of people from their homes, the ongoing conflict has also resulted in the harsh persecution of Protestant pastors and churches throughout the territories that are occupied by pro-Russian separatist groups. One such group is the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR), which is located in Ukraine’s Luhansk region and declared independence in May 2014.

While the international community does not recognize the LNR as a legitimate state, this group’s totalitarian power is growing. During the last four years, the LNR has committed countless acts of religious persecution against Protestant pastors and churches in the Luhansk region, including abduction, torture, and property confiscation. In fact, on March 27, 2018, the LNR raided the House of Prayer, a church in Stahanov, taking everything and leaving the church completely empty.[1]

For the last four years, Mission Eurasia has drawn the attention of the international community to the systematic religious freedom violations committed by the LNR in eastern Ukraine. Now, these violations are considered a central part of the LNR’s legal framework.

According to a new law passed on February 2, 2018,[2] the LNR is permitted to discriminate against any and all non-Orthodox religious communities.[3] This law violates universal human rights, severely limits religious freedom, and threatens eastern Ukraine’s existing network of religious communities and organizations.

While the law itself is a new development, the LNR has been violating religious freedom rights in Ukraine’s Luhansk region since the spring of 2014. Rather than protecting the rights of pre-existing religious communities, the LNR follows Russia’s harsh religion laws. Therefore, in line with Russia’s strict religious freedom legislation, all religious communities and organizations in Luhansk, other than those associated with the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (Russian Orthodox Church has preferential status), must now prove their loyalty and re-register with the LNR.

The following points laid out in the LNR’s new religion law are particularly concerning for churches in Luhansk:

The Baptist Union of Ukraine asserts that even if churches in Luhansk try to re-register with the LNR, they will not be able to meet all of the requirements laid out in the new religion law. In response, Mission Eurasia and our partner churches in Luhansk urge the global Christian community to prayerfully support our brothers and sisters who are suffering in the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine. We also implore international government leaders and human rights organizations to pressure the LNR to repeal the new law and restore religious freedom so that all religious communities in Luhansk and throughout Ukraine can worship freely.

At present, the pastors of many churches in the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine are refusing to participate in the re-registration process required by the LNR’s new religion law. These courageous leaders need our support as they stand firm in the face of escalating religious persecution.

Mykhailo Cherenkov

Mykhailo Cherenkov is the vice president for strategy and education at the Association for Spiritual Renewal, Mission Eurasia’s (formerly Russian Ministries) national affiliate in Ukraine, as well as a professor at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. He is the co-author (with Joshua T. Searle) of the book A Future … Read More