Last Updated 11 July 2017

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 45 million, mostly defining as Christian, and the majority of these as Eastern Orthodox Christians.

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

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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”.

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

According to the law, the objective of domestic religious policy is 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.

However, in 2014 at the discretion of the All-Ukraine Council of Churches and religious organisations the new Ukrainian government introduced a religious education course in secondary schools for pupils of the 5th and 6th grades.

“We have introduced this separate course for children in order to enable them to create closer relationships with God. It is important that such a course preaches the word of God and teaches who God is, how to behave, how to pray together, how to treat your homeland and carry out the word of God.”
— then-Prime Minister, A.Yatsenyuk

The course on “Ethics of Faith” is now a part of the curriculum.

On the other hand, public schools offer a course called “Human and the World” 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.

The All-Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organisations (AUCCRO) has urged the government to provide state accreditation of religious schools, which teach theological education. According to the new 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.

Family, community and society


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 belief.

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

In March 2014, Rabbi Mikhail Kapustin of Simferopol was forced to flee Crimea after denouncing Russian actions. His synagogue was defaced by a swastika, and the following month vandals defaced Sevastopol’s monument to 4,200 Jews murdered by the Nazis in July 1942.

Christian churches and leaders not affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate have also faced abuse and violence. Those within 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 down.

Throughout 2015 individuals and religious minorities faced raids, detentions and prosecutions, fines, religious literature seizures, government surveillance, expulsions of invited foreign religious leaders, unilateral cancellation of property rental contracts and obstructions to regaining places of worship confiscated in the Soviet period through “anti-extremism” laws. Among those who suffered first were, Muslim Crimean Tatar homes, mosques, schools, and Kingdom Halls of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Members of these religious organisations were detained and fined for possessing their religious literature.

In order to preserve legal status, Russian authorities ordered religious organisations in Crimea to re-register. Only around 1 percent 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 literature.

Occupied territories of the East

Religion is 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 Republic. The conflict in the East has significantly increased tensions between branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Numerous temples and places of worship in the Donbas were confiscated and retained under control of the separatists: Jehovah’s Witness, Evangelical, and Pentecostal houses of worship and schools, a complex of buildings of the Donetsk Christian University, a building of the “Word of Life”, Bible Institute (100 Tkachenko str., Donetsk). These premises are also often used as military facilities. <>

In April 2014 the pro-Russian separatists ordered Jewish people who are residing in the East of Ukraine to register. For this purpose they were asked to provide a list of property they own and to pay registration fee.

In June 2014, pro-Russian militants tortured to death five Protestants in Slovyansk. In July, DPR militants seized and abused a Greek Catholic priest, whom they held captive for twelve days, and a Roman Catholic priest whom they held for eleven days. In August 2014, they took prisoner two Protestant pastors, beating one of them severely. In October 2014, they held captive a Seventh-day Adventist pastor for twenty days and subjected him to similar abuse.

In 2015 Mr. Zakharchenko, leader of the Donetsk separatists, declared that he would “actively fight against sects”. Then, a new wave of religious persecution was experienced by Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Christians of the Kyiv Patriarchate, Greek Catholics and other religious minorities. In September 2015 the separatists organised a rally in the city of Shakhtarsk, which confronted Baptist Christians in front of their house of worship, with the intent of banishing the all “sects” from the Donbas region. In 2016, a similar rally against “sects” was organised in front of the Greek-Catholic temple in Donetsk. Children and school pupils were engaged to carry banners with political and hate speech slogans against religious minorities.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

“Godlessness” accusations

In a back-and-forth argument between leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, religious leaders on both sides used “godlessness” as a derogatory accusation.

While the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) has not condemned the occupation of Crimea as such, the UOC-MP leader, the Metropolitan Onufriy, did state opposition to the war in the east of Ukraine. In response, on 24 May 2015, Patriarch Kirill reportedly told a Sunday service in Moscow that “godlessness” was becoming the state ideology of Ukraine, and that the Russian Orthodox Church prays daily for “the militant godlessness to recede and no longer manifest itself through the (Ukrainian) state government.”

Leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) responded by saying that such statements were “part of the Kremlin’s propaganda against Ukraine” and Archbishop Yevstratiy said, “This is very strange to hear, especially since the leadership of his [Patriarch Kirill’s] own state is engaged in open lies and blatant, deliberate aggression. Why doesn’t he call on the [Russian] leadership to stop actions that are obviously un-Christian? … His own president is exhibiting significantly more signs of a godless person through his actions than do the leaders of Ukraine. … But if they sincerely pray to God then of course God knows better who is an unbeliever, who is a believer, whom to convert, whom to bless, and whom to punish.”

LGBT rights

The LGBT community continue to face discrimination, physical violence and abuse by Ukrainian society. Amnesty International reported several violent activities against LGBT people in Ukraine. A Pride march, planned for May 2012 was cancelled by the organisers because they received several threats from different groups.

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