Last Updated 9 November 2021

Ukraine became a fully independent sovereign state in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. By area i tis the largest country entirely within Europe, and has a population of around 41 million.1 The majority of Ukrainians consider themselves believers (61.7%), 2.5% are atheists, the number of non-believers slightly exceeds 4%, 8.2% are indifferent to religion.2 here are numerous denominations represented in Ukraine, with Christianity, Islam, and Judaism co-existing. The most widespread religion is Orthodox Christianity. At the current moment, there are six Christian Churches in Ukraine: the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (12% of the population), the Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (26.5%), the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church (1.1%), Greek-Catholic Church (7.8%), Catholic (1.1%) and Protestant churches. Many Ukrainians (24%) identify as Orthodox Christians not affiliated with any particular church (also not practicing).3 Based on the last data the number of Eastern Orthodox Christians has significantly grown over the pandemic period from 48 to 58%.4

In November 2013, Euromaidan, a series of demonstrations and civil protests demanding closer European integration, began in Kiev. The unrest fed into a conflict with Russia, the eventual annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia, and long-lasting conflict in the East.

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

Constitutionally, Ukraine protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Article 35 states, “The Church and religious organisations in Ukraine are separated from the State, and the school — from the Church. No religion shall be recognised by the State as mandatory”.5

For 75 years the Soviet authorities promoted atheism, courses on which were taught at schools. Furthermore, religion was proclaimed “the opium of the people” and banned; people were persecuted for any demonstration of religious faith.6 As with several other ex-Soviet states, religion has re-surged following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Recent opinion polls have produced convincing results demonstrating that the Church is one of the social institutions that enjoys the greatest trust by Ukrainians. Thus, according to an opinion poll by the Razumkov Centre (2021), 68% of respondents trust the Army, 64% – volunteers, 63.5% – the church. The number of people trusting the President is almost 2.5 times lower (24.8%), trust in the Government and in the Parliament is even smaller (25% and 28% respectively).7

The 1991 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations (the Religious Law)8 states that all religions enjoy equal legal status (Article 5), and, in contrast to other post-Soviet Orthodox-majority states, there are no officially recognised or unofficially endorsed “traditional religions” in Ukraine. The registration of religious organisations is simple and not obligatory for arranging religious activities (Article 8). Further, the Religious Law emphasises that the state shall not interfere in internal religious affairs and prohibits religions from being involved in political life (Article 5) with the objective being to “restore full-fledged dialogue between representatives of various social, ethnic, cultural, and religious groups to foster the creation of a tolerant society and provide for freedom of conscience and worship.”

Education and children’s rights

The law limits teaching of religion as part of the public school curriculum. In public education, the state permits voluntary religious education classes. Sometimes religious leaders and priests (usually Orthodox or Greek Catholics) are invited to public schools to give lectures and blessings, and to conduct religious services (especially in Western Ukraine, which is more traditional). Several incidents have been reported in the media where these events became de facto compulsory for the students.

There is ongoing debate on a part of the curriculum known as “Ethics of Faith” – a spiritual education course for secondary school pupils in the 5th and 6th grades – introduced by the Ukrainian government in 2014 in order to enable children to “create closer relationships with God.”9

“Christian Ethics” courses have been studied as part of school curriculum in Ukraine for a long time, since the late 1990s, and are defined by the standards of public education adopted in 2004 and 2012. A new public standard will be adopted in 2022.
Based on official data, today in Ukraine about 13% of children study Christian ethics. Those studying the subject are unevenly distributed across the regions, but it is reportedly most frequently studied in Lviv, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk regions.10

On 26 March 2021 during a briefing on the 100 days of the Head of the Ministry of Education and Science, Serhiy Shkarlet stated that Christian ethics courses will not be mandatory in schools. In a comment to LIGA.Life, Yuriy Kononenko, Head of the Main Department of General Secondary and Preschool Education of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, stressed that “Fundamentals of Christian Ethics” is an optional course.11

As an alternative, public schools offer a course called  “Ethics”, “Learning to Live Together”, “Culture of Good Neighborliness” or similar as an elective for high school pupils, which is aimed at promotion of humanistic ideology based on the priority of human values, and shaping a humanist culture among the modern youth.12 In September 2020, the government made human rights a compulsory element in the school curriculum for pupils aged 11 to 15, effective from 2022.13

According to the Law of Ukraine On Higher Education (2014) religious institutions obtained the right to be licensed by the Ministry of Education, and their diplomas are recognized as equal to diplomas from other higher educational institutions of the country. In 2015 Ukrainian religions obtained the right to create general educational institutions, including kindergartens, secondary schools, and universities.14See Article 16 of the 2001 Law on Pre-School Education, Article 11 of the Law on General Secondary Education, Article 14 of the 2014 Law on Higher Education.

According to current official data, there are 16 religiously affiliated (Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Jewish) private secondary schools in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Catholic University, affiliated with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, is one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in the country.

Family, community and society

Mainstream Ukrainian religious associations actively participate in public debates on human rights issues. As in many other post-Soviet countries, they promote the non-recognition of same-sex marriages, the strengthening of state support for traditional families, the banning of abortions, the rejection of fluid gender identities, and the broad right to conscientious objection for public servants, medical employees, businessmen, etc., with respect to anti-discrimination measures implemented by the state.15


The annexation of Crimea by Russian Federation in early 2014 led to a rise of violent activities and human right violations, restrictions on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association, religion or

According to Freedom House’s report on Freedom in the World on Crimea (2021), Territorial courts issued the first prison sentences against Jehovah’s Witnesses for their religious activity in March, when a church member received a six-year sentence for attempting to form a congregation. In September, a prison sentence lodged against another adherent was upheld in a separate case”.17

Almost all religious communities in Crimea have faced attacks, restrictions or other challenges apart from the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.

  • All the religious organisations were obliged to re-register under new, very tough rules, which significantly reduced representation. Only around 1% of communities which had state registration under Ukrainian law have succeeded in gaining the compulsory and costly Russian re-registration. Those which did not obtain the new registration status lost their right to open bank accounts, own property, invite foreign guests, and publish
  • The Ukrainian Orthodox Patriarchate in Crimea have endured mob and arson attacks. By late 2014, clergy without Russian citizenship, including Greek and Roman Catholics as well as Kyiv Patriarchate clergy, were forced into exile. The home of the Kyiv Patriarchate’s Bishop of Simferopol and Crimea was burned
  • All Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations (22) were de-registered by the Russian Supreme Court in 2017. In March 2020, authorities began issuing prison sentences to adherents for their activity. That month, a Jehovah’s Witness received a six-year sentence for attempting to organize a congregation.
  • Mosques associated with Crimean Tatars have been denied permission to register, and Muslims have faced legal discrimination. At least 10 Crimean Tatars received prison sentences for their alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir membership in 2020.20
  • A December 2020 report from the Crimean Human Rights Group, a local non-governmental organization (NGO), separately counted the detention of 69 individuals accused of membership in “extremist” Muslim organizations in the previous month.
  • Occupation authorities have confiscated numerous properties in Crimea from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).
  • In July 2020, authorities ordered the demolition of a smaller OCU structure in Yevpatoria21

Occupied territories of the East

Religion has been used as a ground for persecution, torture and even murder of clergy and believers in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s; The conflict in the East has significantly increased tensions between branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Since 2018 separatists are trying to completely “ban” unwanted religious organizations, especially protestants, announcing the process of so-called “re-registration”, similar to the one, applied in Crimea. Premises are confiscated from communities, pastors are detained and beaten.

“They are using this religious terror to strengthen their illegal power. In order to eradicate any dissent and, thus, try to make the population of the occupied territories so ideologically homogeneous that there are no attempts at disobedience,” says Maksym Vasin, Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Freedom.23

LGBTI+ rights

Homophobia is widespread in Ukraine, according to a survey by the sociological group “Rating” published in August, which said 47% of respondents had a negative view of the LGBTI+ community.24

The LGBTI+ community continue to face discrimination, physical violence and abuse by Ukrainian society. Amnesty International reported several violent activities against LGBTI+ people in Ukraine. There has, however, been some progress: since 2012, when a pride march was cancelled due to threats, more than 7,000 people – including members of the army and government officials -attended the Equality March in 2021.26

In 2015, Parliament passed legislation to ban discrimination in the workplace, but it still does not allow for same-sex marriage or adoption of children. Despite the legislation, incidences of discrimination reportedly remain high.

In August 2020, a group of counter-protesters advocating “traditional values” reportedly attacked participants celebrating LGBTI+ rights in Odesa Pride, threw objects at them, sprayed teargas and injured two policemen. The police arrested 16 people on hooliganism charges, but did not charge them with hate crimes.27 The failure to prosecute them under hate crimes legislation followed a parliamentary committee decision of June that year not to advance for further consideration draft legislation increasing accountability for hate crimes, including those based on gender identity and sexual orientation, despite the fact that incidences carried out by members of far-right groups remain high.28

According to Amnesty International, three separate initiatives to ban hate crime on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity were discussed by parliament. These initiatives provoked criticism from religious and other groups, and none were put to a vote.29

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

According to Freedom House,30

“The constitution guarantees freedoms of speech and expression, and libel is not a criminal offense. The media landscape features considerable pluralism, and open criticism of the government and investigation of powerful figures. However, business magnates own and influence many outlets, using them as tools to advance their agendas.”

While media is pluralistic and largely free, harassment of outlets in connection with their editorial policies, and intimidation and violence against journalists has been regularly reported.31 There are also reports that the police fail to uphold the rights of journalists.32

In January 2020, the government introduced a legislative proposal against dissemination of “disinformation” that would have jeopardized freedom of expression and media independence. The proposal did not advance in parliament.33

In July, a journalist’s private information was hacked and published online after a media outlet she co-founded published investigative reports alleging ties between far-right groups and Ukraine’s media outlets.34

A number of Russian news outlets and their journalists are prohibited from entering the country. Various language laws impose upon news outlets requirements that certain content be in the Ukrainian language.35

In Crimea

In September 2021, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a report on human rights in Crimea, noting ongoing arbitrary arrests and searches, torture of detainees, interference with the work of journalists, due process violations, and other serious abuses.36

Based on the report of Freedom House Freedom in the World on Crimea (2021),37 during 2020 “Crimean authorities initiated strict assembly restrictions in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but those restrictions were selectively applied, with a June military parade celebrating the Soviet Union’s involvement in World War II proceeding with reportedly little modification. Territorial authorities were accused of underreporting COVID-19 deaths by health-care workers in September.

A penal code provision prescribes imprisonment for public calls for action against Russia’s territorial integrity, which has been interpreted to ban statements against the annexation, including in the media or any personal statements.38

Journalists in Crimea risk harassment, arrest, and imprisonment for carrying out their work based on principles of freedom of expression. We can call a few emblematic cases of Crimean Tatar citizen persecutions:

  • journalist Nariman Memedeminov, who was handed a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence in 2019 over YouTube videos he posted in 2013 about the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islamist movement that seeks to establish a caliphate but does not advocate violence to achieve it; the group operates legally in Ukraine but is designated as a terrorist group in Russia.39 His investigations covered abuses against Crimean Tatars. Memedeminov was released from a Russian prison in September 2020.40
  • In December 2020, a territorial court handed Lenur Islyamov, owner of Crimean Tatar television station ATR, a 19-year prison sentence in absentia on charges including “sabotage.”41

Since 2015 Russian media and telecommunications regulator Roskomnadzor effectively reduced the number of media outlets in Crimea by more than 90%.42 The occupation authorities have cut Crimea off from access to Ukrainian television; Crimean internet service providers must operate under draconian Russian media laws. In practice it also includes blocking a number of Ukrainian news sites, radio signals (by transmitting Russian programming on the same frequencies) or continued interference with journalistic work by Russian law enforcement agents.43

The individual rights to express personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution have been violated by the FSB on a regular basis. They reportedly encourage residents “to inform on individuals who express opposition to the annexation, and a climate of fear and intimidation seriously inhibits private discussion of political matters”. The authorities are also reported to be monitoring social media.44


2, 3, 6
10, 11
13, 29, 31
14 See Article 16 of the 2001 Law on Pre-School Education, Article 11 of the Law on General Secondary Education, Article 14 of the 2014 Law on Higher Education.
17, 20, 21, 37, 38, 43, 44
27, 28
30, 32, 35
33, 34

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