With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we’re asking what is the future for the church in the country – and the signs aren’t positive. In Crimea, a region of South East Ukraine that has been under Russian control since 2014, at least 10 Protestant Christians were fined for exercising their faith in 2021, according to the news service Forum18.
In 2021, 23 administrative prosecutions under the Yarovaya law – also known as an ‘anti-missionary law’ – were documented. These laws were imposed by Russia after it occupied Crimea in 2014.
Four cases involved members of the House of the Potter Protestant Church in Sevastopol, a city on the Black Sea coast. The pastor, Evgenii Kornev, and a church member were fined for leading church services and another church member was fined twice for actively participating in the services. Charges were partly based on evidence gathered from the church’s social media channels.
It’s not the first time the church clashed with authorities. Over the years, some of its members and the pastor have been charged under the law that criminalises ‘Russians conducting missionary activity’ for speaking with people, distributing leaflets and singing at a bus stop.
And they’re not the only church coming under increasing pressure. In February 2022, Russia’s security service raided a small Protestant church in Kerch, a town in eastern Crimea, allegedly to make sure the community was operating in compliance with Russia’s Religion Law. In the end, one church member was accused of, and fined for, handing out leaflets to two women who were not members of the church.
The situation in Crimea is different from what is happening in the eastern Donbas region and the rest of Ukraine, says Rolf Zeegers, an Open Doors’ World Watch Research analyst.
Protestant churches in Donbas have been under increasing pressure since 2014 after rebels, backed by Russia, established self-proclaimed independent republics in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.
“While Russia affirmed the independence of both the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, it has not yet annexed them and therefore the Russia’s Religion Law, including the anti-missionary laws, do not apply here,” Zeegers explains.
“That said, authorities in these republics can make their own religion laws, and reports from last year show that they sometimes go further in their actions against certain denominations than Russia itself.
Human rights and religious freedom violations remain of concern, Zeegers says. “The current regime is nationalist and wants Russia to return as a world power… The USSR was a totalitarian state and Russia has increasingly moved in that direction over the past years. No independent thinkers are allowed and, as in the old USSR, the levels of surveillance and monitoring are high.”
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