Monday 14 February 2000

by Anna Vassilyeva, Keston News Service

Plans to rebuild the biggest church in Crimea, the Orthodox Alexander Nevsky
cathedral in central Simferopol, are moving forward, but face stiff opposition
from war veterans, ecologists - and the Orthodox Church's lack of money.

On 9 January a prayer service (moleben), led by Archbishop LAZAR of
Simferopol and all Crimea, was held on Victory Square, near the building of
the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea. A capsule
was interred in the place where the cathedral is planned to be rebuilt and a cross
erected on the spot.

Political leaders, who have rushed to give their support to the project, were also
present. In his speech at the ceremony the Chairman of the Supreme Council,
LEONID GRACH, noted: `I am absolutely convinced that in the very near
future there will be in this place a spiritual and patriotic complex, a shrine,
which is called to unite all of us, to arouse us to good, justice and reason. This
will be a place which will enable us to revitalize our Slavic spirit. We respect
all confessions, all nationalities, but it is indisputable that it is essential for us
now to raise our Slavic spirit, and unite the Slavs.'

However, the start of the service was marred by protests from opponents of the
project. Some veterans of the Second World War, angry at the proposal to
relocate a tank-monument and destroy the square, launched a noisy protest.
`Respect the war veterans,' declared one of their banners attached to the
podium of the tank, a memorial to the liberators of Simferopol.

Originally built by imperial decree in the latter half of the nineteenth century,
the five-cupola cathedral was the dominant religious site in the city. Around it
were the diocesan headquarters, a court-house and other official buildings. The
location and design of the cathedral were changed twice before it was finally
constructed and consecrated.

The cathedral was blown up in September 1930. During the war a building
occupied by the German military command was located near the former site of
the cathedral. After the war, the tank-monument was erected where the
destroyed cathedral had stood and the square was renamed Victory Square.

The idea of reconstructing the cathedral was first raised in 1994. Since then
there has been lively debate in the Crimean press over whether there is a need
for the cathedral. While believers supported the idea of the cathedral's
restoration, veterans and participants of the Second World War insisted that the
tank be kept where it is (the reconstruction of the cathedral would mean the
tank would have to be moved). In 1994 the first draft project was drawn up and
the Alexander Nevsky fellowship was registered.

A preliminary agreement to rebuild the cathedral was reached a year ago
between the Chairman of the Supreme Council, Leonid Grach, and Archbishop
Lazar in the presence of the senior Ukrainian Orthodox hierarch, Metropolitan
VOLODYMYR of Kiev and all Ukraine. A compromise decision to preserve
the monument near the planned cathedral complex was reached on 26
November 1999 after a discussion in the Supreme Council attended by
veterans. The first stage of the construction is planned to be completed in 2005.

The source and availability of funds remain unclear. The local newspaper
Krymskiye Izvestiya claimed on 11 January that `the cathedral is going to be
built on diocesan funds', but this may prove difficult given that the cost of the
basic project has been estimated at 12 million US dollars. Diocesan
representatives have made ambiguous statements. According to the January
issue of the diocesan paper Tavrida Pravoslavnaya, Archbishop Lazar declared
that `the construction of the cathedral is a national cause' and gave assurances
`that not a penny will be spent on it from the budget'. However, asked on 3
February about who would pay for the construction, the chief editor of Tavrida
Pravoslavnaya LYUDMILA YASSELSKAYA was evasive. `It will not happen
tomorrow. The Lord will help.'

One of the opponents of the cathedral's reconstruction on the original site is
retired colonel YURI OSIPENKO, chairman of the Simferopol organisation of
war invalids and a deputy of the Executive Committee of Simferopol city
council: `I stick to communist positions. We respect believers. There were both
believers and Komsomol members among the soldiers and officers,' he
declared on 8 February. `However, I believe the tank should remain in its place.
This very tank was liberating Simferopol.'

Also opposing the reconstruction is the Simferopol branch of the association
�Ecology and the World�, which believes a referendum ought to be held on
whether the cathedral should be rebuilt. One of its representatives, ANDREI
ARTOV, complains that `for the last eight years the volume of traffic [in the
city] has doubled, and the area of green space has decreased and is still
decreasing.' The association's appeal was supported by the Crimean branch of
the Ukrainian Students' Union, whose leader ANDREI KLIMENKO signed a
declaration expressing `a resolute protest against the intentions of the
authorities of the Simferopol and Crimean Diocese and the Crimean

Architects also expressed concern. The acting chairman of the Crimean
Architects' Union, ALEKSANDR GUTSALENKO, believes that the cathedral
would be out of place in the square in the current urban environment. He
maintains it will not fit into the city ensemble as a whole and will be dwarfed
by the neighbouring Supreme Council building. He also reckons it is very
likely that after the square has been cleared the construction project will drag
on for a long time because of the lack of money, thus leaving the square an
unsightly mess. He noted that some architects had proposed an alternative
solution: not to build the cathedral, but only a small chapel, in the square and
choose another place for the cathedral, such as on the Petrov highlands.

According to current Ukrainian legislation, issues related to religious buildings
are decided at the level of governmental regional administrations, in
Simferopol by the city administration, elsewhere in the Crimea by the council
of ministers of the autonomous Republic of the Crimea. A decision on the
Alexander Nevsky cathedral therefore lies with the city council, which has not
yet done so, although as a special site the cathedral is also the responsibility of
the Crimean Council of Ministers.

Religious properties have been returned to believers of a number of faiths in
Ukraine over the past ten years. Buildings have been returned successfully, but
difficulties remain, as evidenced by the considerable number that have yet to be
returned. Religious groups have been obliged to find practically all the
expenses to restore and maintain these buildings themselves. The plan to
rebuild the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral leaves many questions open, including
whether the city authorities which supervise that part of the city will approve
the project, whether the diocese possesses or can find the required funds and
whether the Orthodox diocese will be forced to fulfil its plans on another site.

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