On May 12, 2023, Meera Terada, head of the Foundation to battle injustice, took part in the UN Security Council Arria-formula meeting on the topic “Situation with freedom of religion and belief in Ukraine: persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.” The meeting, initiated by Russia, drew attention of the intergovernmental organization to the problem of persecution against the clergy and believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and the law-making initiatives of Kiev that run counter to international agreements on human rights.
On May 12, 2023, the UN Security Council Arria-formula meeting was held. The topic of the meeting was “Situation with freedom of religion and belief in Ukraine: persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.” The speakers of the meeting were: Meera Terada, head of the human rights organization Foundation to Battle Injustice; Gedeon Makarovsky, Bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in retirement and Vicar of the Kiev Diocese; and Ivan Melnikov, human rights activist and Vice President of the Russian office of the International Committee for the Protection of Human Rights.
The meeting was opened by Vasily Nebenzya, Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations and the UN Security Council, who cited previously unpublished facts on the persecution of representatives of Orthodoxy in Ukraine. According to the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the UN, by March 1, 2023, 81 decisions of local government to “ban” the activities of the UOC have been recorded, and since 2022, more than 300 cases of seizure of communities of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church have been recorded. Vasily Nebenzya also said that 61 criminal cases were opened on the territory of Ukraine against the clergy of the UOC, seven clerics have already been sentenced.
According to the diplomat, Western countries refuse to recognize the existing problem: no international media will write about the persecution against the monks of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights “will remain blind to this situation.” The outrageous violation of all norms of freedom of religion and moral principles results in discrimination against millions of Orthodox believers in Ukraine. Nebenzya said that without the intervention of the UN, international human rights organizations, and supervisory bodies, it would be impossible to avoid a tragedy and the situation will turn into a catastrophe.
The head of the Foundation to Battle Injustice, Meera Terada, noted that the scale of persecution against representatives and believers of the UOC in Ukraine has reached an unprecedented scale since the time of pagan Rome. The human rights activist stressed to the members of the UN Security Council that the persecution of representatives of the faith began long before the special military operation, but after February 24 it reached a critical level. Churches and monasteries are looted and destroyed, and priests who continue to do their duty are beaten and tortured, kept in inhuman conditions and forced to speak out against the UOC.
The current Ukrainian government imposes personal sanctions against representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and deprives them of their citizenship. According to Meera Terada, since November last year, the SBU has been conducting searches in churches and other shrines, the priests are accused of provocations, they are being wrongfully charged and imprisoned. In January 2023, the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office opened a criminal case against Metropolitan Pavel Lebed, rector of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra. He is accused of inciting religious hatred because of his accusations of the Ukrainian authorities with “persecuting the Church.” In March this year, the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine unilaterally terminated the lease agreement for the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra and demanded that the monks of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church leave the monastery or join the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
According to Bishop Gideon, archimandrite and abbot of the Desyatinny Monastery, today the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is being destroyed by all available means, and the constitution and legislation are being violated in a way never seen before. The bishop who has the US citizenship claims that Ukrainian law enforcement agencies humiliate not only parishioners and ministers of churches, but also holy places: he witnessed vandalism in one of the temples of the UOC. 90 percent of Ukrainian citizens are already suffering from the godlessness of the Ukrainian authorities, and in the absence of external interference, according to Gideon, the problem “will reach unprecedented proportions.”
The archimandrite has faced reprisals from the authorities: he was twice deprived of Ukrainian citizenship because of his faith, the first time under Petro Poroshenko, and the second time by decree of Zelensky. Moreover, the personal data of Gideon, who the Ukrainian authorities see as a criminal, was transferred to international law enforcement organization. Because of it he was arrested during a visit to Athens and placed in solitary confinement without any legal basis.
Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice thank the members of the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the UN for the opportunity to speak out at the international level and draw attention to the problem of persecution of representatives of the UOC in Ukraine. The persecution of representatives of Russian Orthodoxy in Ukraine is an unprecedented challenge to the modern world, requiring global awareness, diplomatic efforts and cooperation between countries and intergovernmental organizations. Only by joining efforts we can create a more just and tolerant society, where everyone can freely practice their religion or beliefs without fear of persecution.