UKRAINE: Why Are Yalta's Greek Catholics Still Waiting for Land?

by Anna Vassilyeva, Keston News Service, 26 June 2001

Ten years after the Greek Catholic parish of St Nicholas was established in the Crimean seaside city of Yalta, the community is still waiting for the city authorities to allocate a plot of land to build a church. In mid-June the community again submitted a complete set of documents to the republican committee for the preservation of historical monuments and is awaiting a decision. The 250-strong community, which was registered in 1993, has to take turns with the Roman Catholics to conduct services in the city's only Catholic church.

Despite a decision of the Yalta executive committee as far back as 1999 permitting planning and survey work (of which Keston has a copy), the case has stalled over allocation of a site, for which the committee for the preservation of historical monuments has failed to grant approval for the second year running.

Natalya Matulyak, who chairs Yalta's Greek Catholic community, told Keston News Service on 22 June that the community has had to wait more than six years for a plot of land and permission to build its own church, which it desperately needs. `Several times, when we had already got permission from all the necessary agencies, the city authorities suddenly changed their previous decision about the plot of land which they themselves had allocated,' she said. The fourth proposal - adopted in April 1999 and which the community favoured - allowed the Greek Catholics to draw up plans and surveys for a church on Darsan hill in Yalta, with the agreement of all the city's official agencies. However, the proposal failed at the land allocation stage. The then chairman of the committee for the preservation of historical monuments I. Baranov (now deceased), who signed the executive committee's resolution allowing planning and survey work to go ahead, withdrew his signature, in effect nullifying all the preceding resolutions (see KNS 9 May 2000).

The Committee's written rejection of 18 June 1999 (of which Keston has a copy) declares that the 0.1-hectare site `is situated in a protected area of landscape on Darsan hill' and therefore `in accordance with the requirements of a protected area of landscape, no excavation or construction work is permitted'. Baranov then `withdrew his consent' for the allocation of the land which he himself had previously given.

The city's chief architect believed the rejection by the Committee was illegal. In a statement of 25 November 1999, Yu. Ivanchenko said the proposal to build the church was `entirely within the competence of the presiding chief architect of Yalta city', while the city development plan provides for a park called Chapayevskaya gorka to be developed on the site and consequently for the performance of construction and excavation work, which the community has not been allowed to do.

Asked how the Greek Catholics' application was proceeding in the wake of their fresh application this month, Anatoly Litvinenko, the new chairman of the committee for the preservation of historical monuments, said `no decision has yet been taken'. He told Keston by telephone on 22 June that, so far as he knew, they had already been refused once, but that he was not aware of the reasons for that refusal because it had occurred during another chairman's term of office.

After promising that he and his colleagues `would look into it', Litvinenko told Keston on 26 June that the issue was still being considered and that the following day he would visit the site. But he maintained that since the proposed plot is situated in a conservation area where no construction is allowed, it was very unlikely that the Greek Catholics would receive a positive answer. When Keston quoted the chief architect's arguments that the development plan provided for the construction of buildings and a park at the site, Litvinenko replied that the chief architect had to justify his actions before the procuracy and `that is why he wrote that'.

Litvinenko added that the city council had now proposed a new plot of land, but was unable to explain why the community was being offered a fifth plot after four failed offers.

Father Igor Gavrilov, Yalta's Greek Catholic priest, told Keston on 22 June that there were around 70 regular parishioners, but that there were many more Greek Catholics in the city. `Many of them do not come to the church because it does not conform to the customary decor of a Greek Catholic church.' (END)