Many religious groups, including many Christian denominations, are now considered illegal in occupied regions of eastern Ukraine.
Authorities in Donetsk People’s Republic allowed a March 1 registration deadline to pass without approving applications from any non-Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate) organizations, according to missions organization Mission Eurasia. Officials in Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) did the same in October 2018.
Because only registered organizations are legally recognized, unregistered groups that gather for religious services are at great risk. Mission Eurasia estimated that more than 550 Protestant organizations as well as hundreds of other churches or groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, Muslims, and Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate) in Donetsk, are threatened.
“This new law prevents publicly sharing your faith,” Mission Eurasia president Sergey Rakhuba said. “You cannot serve a soup kitchen. You cannot spread or receive humanitarian aid. There is no place to complain. There is no one to stand for them.”
Rakhuba attributed this growing hostility toward non-Orthodox groups to the influence of Russia, which restricted religious acts in 2016.
World Watch Monitor reported that in Luhansk last year authorities raided, fined, and seized property from churches. Even before making the religious groups illegal, LPR militants disrupted church gatherings and looted properties. Forum 18 also reported that militants in Donetsk seized houses of worship, including a mosque and a Baptist church, last year.
The increased persecution and pressure against non-Orthodox Christians has driven many churches underground since war broke out in 2014. —Julia A. Seymour