UKRAINE: Orthodox Brotherhood Denied Registration.

by Evgenia Mussuri, Keston News Service, 9 July 2001

Since 1997, the Orthodox Brotherhood of All Saints in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk has battled unsuccessfully to register with the authorities. The Brotherhood's leader, Aleksey Ilyin, told Keston News Service that the authorities have never given any sound explanation for the refusals, but he is certain the reason lies in politics. The head of Donetsk's Department for Religious Affairs, one of the state agencies to have rejected the registration application, told Keston that the 26-year-old Ilyin is `too young' to lead such a group, that the Brotherhood's members do not know any prayers and that it cannot be registered independently of any of the three Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine.

Ilyin wants the brotherhood - which has some 30 members, all of them young - to be an independent source of religious education for young people, with an emphasis on publishing Orthodox books and preaching. The group does not want to affiliate with the existing recognised Orthodox Churches, claming they maintain close ties with Ukraine's State Security Service (SBU, former KGB). They believe the churches pass information about worshippers onto the SBU, violating the secrecy of confession.

In April 1997, Ilyin sought to register his newly-formed brotherhood as a religious organisation with the Donetsk Department for Religious Affairs. However, rather than registering it, the authorities branded it a `dangerous totalitarian sect'.

Ilyin appealed to Donetsk regional court. The court supported the department and rather than recognising the group's religious character, labelled it an illegal social organisation. Ilyin appealed to the Supreme Court in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, which overturned the decision of the regional court and ordered a new hearing. The Donetsk court again refused to register the brotherhood and advised Ilyin to take the matter to the State Committee for Religious Affairs in Kiev. That body also refused to register the group, advising it to go to the Donetsk Department for Religious Affairs.

By August 1998, after having tried every available avenue the government offered, Ilyin took his case to the European Commission of Human Rights, but the complaint was rejected on procedural grounds as the six-month appeal period had lapsed.

Without recognition, the group lacks a legal basis from which to operate and cannot function as its members wish. They can only gather in private flats and talk; they cannot gather outside to preach, own any property or register any publication. Ukrainian laws consider the activity of any unregistered organisation, including meetings, preaching and the distribution of literature, to be violations of the law. Organisers are subject to fines.

Ilyin describes the registration refusal as institutional discrimination on the basis of religious belief. `The state does not want to register us because we are not a part of any church,' he told Keston from Donetsk on 6 July. `I was approached several times by the local authorities and informally told that if I wanted registration to be approved, I should become part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.'

Ilyin said he had been forced to change his telephone number because of constant calls he received from strangers and claimed his phone line had been illegally tapped. Other members were also under pressure, causing some to leave the group. `When we started the brotherhood, we were still studying,' Ilyin said. `At that time the university was in charge of assigning its students to work. Some of us could not get employment as a result of being part of the brotherhood and were forced to move elsewhere.'

`It is obvious that if we are independent from any church, we will be uncontrollable by the state,' he declared. `The authorities probably see some danger in this.' Ilyin also believes the Orthodox Church has influenced the authorities not to grant his group legal status, but admits he lacks evidence. The authorities seem unlikely to budge. `This case has gone through all the relevant institutions and courts,' Gennady Kostenko, who heads Donetsk's Department for Religious Affairs, told Keston from Donetsk on 6 July. `The decisions of all of them were legally sound.' Asked why he rejected the registration application, Kostenko responded: `I only acted in accordance with the law. The court decision proves that. There are both religious canons and legal regulations for an Orthodox Brotherhood which state that any brotherhood should be subordinate to the Orthodox Church. But he [Ilyin] wants to be on his own. That can't be.' Kostenko said that Ilyin should have asked any Orthodox Church leader for a blessing for his brotherhood first.

`The whole situation around this brotherhood is simply ridiculous. At the time they started it they were just a group of students. They do not even know such basic prayers as the Lord's Prayer.' (END)