Believers ask for the president’s protection



Photo by Volodymyr PRYTULA

By Mykola SEMENA, Simferopol

Simferopol City Council refused to provide a plot of land for building a cathedral of the UOC Kyivan Patriarchate

“The main problem of inter-confessional relations in the Crimea is the absence of state position of local government authorities in compliance with the Constitution of Ukraine and the Law on Freedom of Conscience, which guarantees equal rights to all denominations,” stressed more than 100 representatives of the Ukrainian community in the Crimea in their letter to the President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych.

Representatives of Crimean NGOs, academics, journalists, and artists attempted to draw attention of the president to the fact that the authorities of the Crimea and local self-government of the autonomy ignore issues related to the opening of the Cathedral of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC KP), the allocation of land for construction of temples. In 15 years not a single plot of land has been allocated, not a single positive decision has been made on the appeal for help in securing religious rights of the Ukrainian people living in the region. Thus, on March 4 it was announced that on February 16, 2012 deputies of the Simferopol City Council made a decision against providing a plot of land for construction of the Cathedral of the UOC KP on the basis of that in September 2011 there was a change of the City’s General Plan. The General Plan was changed by the City Council itself in the fall of the last year, that’s when the deputies excluded from it all the land plots that were planned to be used for construction of religious buildings. According to the sources in the city’s executive committee, it affected all religious communities except for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP).

The authors of the letter emphasize that in 2008 thanks to the efforts of the Ukrainian community the Simferopol City Executive Committee adopted a resolution for permitting selection of land for construction of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior of the Crimean Eparchy of the UOC KP on Kyivska Street near the Ukrainian School-Gymnasium, where at that time it was planned to build the Spiritual Center of the Ukrainian community of the Crimea in accordance with the approved master plan of architecture and development of Simferopol. The organizing committee has already prepared technical and project documentation. Considerable amount of money collected by the community and from donation from all over Ukraine was spent on the project of the Cathedral. In February of 2012 the Act of Selection of Land Plot was made and all the documents were agreed with all the instances and authorities in accordance with current legislation. There were no comments or complaints to the submitted documents from the legal side. The deputies only had to allow drafting a land use plan regarding the allocation of the land area of 0.49 hectares.

Central and local authorities of the Crimea did not take any actions to implement the order of the president to solve all organizational issues regarding the construction of the Ukrainian Church in Simferopol, which was issued by Yanukovych after an appeal of the Holy Synod of the UOC KP on December 13, 2010. This was stated in a letter sent to the Patriarch Filaret by the Presidential Administration.

Cynicism of the Simferopol authorities was revealed by the fact that in the same session the deputies refused to give land on the request of the Ukrainian Church, but, according to Andrii Shchekun, chairman of the Public Committee for Defense of the Crimean Ukrainian Orthodox Christians, they allocated six plots of land to the representatives of a different church. Thus, the members of the Public Committee began a petition campaign and are preparing for public protests.

Archbishop of Simferopol and the Crimea of the UOC KP His Eminence Klyment said that the government officials not only cover themselves with the General Plan but also provoke conflict on interethnic and interreligious ground. He said that the vice-mayor of Simferopol motivated the refusal to provide a plot of land for the temple by the fact that there are many cases of unauthorized land occupation by Crimean Tatars and, thus, there is hardly enough space to build homes for people that is why the authorities are forced to deny churches. The official said that, supposedly, the representatives of the Eparchy Administration should make their own arrangements with the Crimean Tatars so that they would return several plots of the “occupied land” and then the believers of the Kyivan Patriarchate would have land for building a church. Archbishop Klyment called such proposals “dangerous” and “unwise.”

One of the leaders of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Refat Chubarov said at the meeting marking the anniversary of Taras Shevchenko in Simferopol on March 9 that as a member of the Crimean Parliament he will exert every effort to settle the conflict situation around the Chathedral of Christ the Savior in Simferopol.

Crimean Ukrainians asked the president to instruct the heads of the state administrations, the heads of councils at all levels to ensure the allocation of land and premises for religious services of parishes of the UOC KP that need them, to take under personal control the issue of allocation of land for construction of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Simferopol.