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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
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OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Priest killed within two days of Russian detention

On 15 February, the bruised body (possibly with a bullet-wound to the head) of 59-year-old Fr Stepan Podolchak of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was found in the streets of Kalanchak in Russian-occupied Kherson Region. The morgue called his wife to identify him. The occupation forces, who seized him two days earlier, "tortured Fr Stepan to death", says Kherson Bishop Nikodim. Forum 18 asked Kalanchak's Russian police what action they will take following his killing. "For a long time this [community] hasn't existed here and won't," the duty officer replied. "Forget about it."

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: "Disappeared" Greek Catholic priests in Russian Investigation Prisons?

One of two Greek Catholic priests Russian occupation forces seized in November 2022 in the Ukrainian city of Berdyansk appears to have been transferred illegally to Russia. Fr Ivan Levytsky is being held in Russia's Rostov Region, Evhen Zakharov of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group told Forum 18. Fr Bohdan Heleta is being held in Russian-occupied Crimea. Both priests appear to face Russian criminal charges related to weapons and explosives occupation forces claim they found. Relatives and the Church have been denied contact with the priests since November 2022.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: "If they took Russian citizenship, they could return to Donetsk"

In occupied Donetsk Region, Russian officials arrested two Orthodox Church of Ukraine priests, Fr Khristofor Khrimli and Fr Andri Chui, in September 2023. A court fined both for "missionary activity", ordering their deportation from Russia. Officials illegally took them to Russia, and are holding them in a Deportation Centre near Rostov-on-Don. Bailiff Aleksandr Nikolenko told Forum 18 the priests refused deportation via Latvia as they want to live in Donetsk. "If they took Russian citizenship, they could return to Donetsk, but they can't do so as citizens of another state."

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Zaporizhzhia priests still "disappeared", 4 Churches banned

13 months after Russia's National Guard "disappeared" two Greek Catholic priests, Fr Ivan Levytsky and Fr Bohdan Heleta, and 7 months after Russian occupiers "disappeared" Ukrainian Orthodox priest Fr Kostiantyn Maksimov, no information is known on whether they are still alive and, if so, where and why they are being held. Investigation Prisons in Crimea and Donetsk refused to say if they are holding them. In December 2022, the Russian-installed Zaporizhzhia Region governor banned the Greek Catholic Church, Grace Church, Melitopol Christian Church, and Word of Life Church.

CRIMEA: Continuing Russian attempts to crush religious communities

After Russian occupation authorities seized all the Orthodox Church of Ukraine's places of worship in Crimea and its priests fled after at least some received summonses for mobilisation, Metropolitan Kliment says its Crimean Diocese "has effectively ceased to exist". The authorities are targeting independent mosques unaffiliated with the Crimean Muslim Board. The Russian Police's Centre for Countering Extremism and other agencies raid mosques and community members' homes. Most of the 8 known 2023 administrative cases for "illegal" missionary activity targeted independent Muslims. Jehovah's Witnesses are targeted with raids and jailings.

CRIMEA: "They conducted Friday prayers at gunpoint"

The Russian Police's Centre for Countering Extremism raided Alushta's independent Yukhary-Jami mosque on 23 November, as well as the homes of the Imam, Yusuf Ashirov, and two leaders. A court jailed the three men for several days. While the Imam was jailed, Centre for Countering Extremism officers came to Friday prayers to support an Imam from the Crimean Muslim Board (to which the mosque does not belong). Lieutenant Colonel Ruslan Shambazov told the head of the mosque community to get the community to accept the new Board-imposed Imam.

UKRAINE: Three years' jail for Adventist conscientious objector to mobilisation

45-year-old Seventh-day Adventist Dmytro Zelinsky is serving his 3-year jail term for refusing mobilisation on grounds of conscience, and is due to arrive soon in a Kolomyia prison. On 28 August, Ternopil Appeal Court acceded to Prosecutor Roman Harmatiuk's request to overturn his June acquittal. Harmatiuk did not respond to Forum 18 to say why he appealed against the acquittal. Zelinsky is preparing a Supreme Court appeal. Courts have handed conscientious objectors 3 prison sentences (2 of them later overturned), 9 suspended prison terms, and 2 acquittals (which prosecutors are challenging). Seven criminal trials continue.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Detained, fined, ordered "deported"

On 22 September, a court in Russian-occupied Donetsk Region found Fr Khristofor Khrimli and Fr Andri Chui of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine guilty of violating Russian law on missionary activity. The Judge punished each with a fine of 30,000 Russian Roubles and "deportation beyond the bounds of the Russian Federation". Fr Andri has appealed. Russian occupation officials earlier tried to pressure the priests to transfer to the Russian Orthodox Church. Armed men raided two Baptist churches in Zaporizhzhia Region and ordered a third to close.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Russian occupation forces continue to disappear religious leaders

Russian occupation forces continue to disappear and in some cases torture many people in occupied Ukrainian territory, including religious leaders. Greek Catholic priests Fr Ivan Levytsky and Fr Bohdan Heleta were disappeared in November 2022, and Ukrainian Orthodox Church priest Fr Kostiantyn Maksimov in May 2023. Occupation forces repeatedly refused to answer Forum 18's questions about where they are being held, and what their state of health is. Russian-controlled Tokmak Police said it had no information about Fr Kostiantyn. "Even if we had, we wouldn't give it by phone."

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Russian occupation forces close more churches, broadcast disinformation

Russian occupation forces have closed and seized more churches, the latest known being an Orthodox Church of Ukraine church in Basan and a Baptist Union church in Zaporizhzia Region, and the Catholic Church in Skadovsk in Kherson Region. Occupation forces broke the Catholic church's windows and door during a raid, claiming they were looking for explosives and drugs. Artyom Sharlay of the Russian occupiers' Religious Organisations Department claimed to Forum 18 that "law-abiding" religious communities "face no restrictions, but those that break the law are banned".

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.

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.

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