Natalia Sirenko: “Reintegration of the Crimea into Ukraine will definitely restore International Order”

This week marks the 6th anniversary of the illegal annexation of the Crimea and a year since Ukraine became entitled to the autocephaly of the unified Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Cyprus Daily News had an to interview Natalia Sirenko, the Charge d`Affaires of Ukraine in the Republic of Cyprus.

It`s been already a year since the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople signed the Tomos that officially recognized and established the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. May you please clarify, what does this mean for Ukraine?

Every culture has its milestones in the history of a nation. These landmark steps fundamentally effect its further direction and development. A crucial turning point for Ukraine was Christianization of the Kyivan Rus by Volodymyr Velykyi in 988.

Ukrainians including their predecessors withstood quite thorny and tormented chain of historical changes. There is a fundamental prerequisite for the principle of «self-determination» to be trigger by Ukrainian society. Moreover, the mere idea is indispensable from Ukraine as a state, consequently subject of international law. Ever since its foundation, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has always been under the jurisdiction of the His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The unprecedented Russian aggression surely united Ukrainian civil society. The Unification council of the Eastern Orthodox churches of Ukraine, which took place on December 5, 2018 in Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv laid down some pillars for the restitution of the United Ukrainian Orthodox Church. To be precise on January 5, 2019, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew signed the Tomos that officially established the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

The next day, on Christmas Eve, the residence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople held the holy Liturgy with the involvement of Patriarch Bartholomew, the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphaniy. That Liturgy go down in history as the day when  the Tomos of autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church was granted and a Eucharistic collective prayer of two Primates and Archbishops marked this event.

The Holy and Sacred Synod signed the documents on January 9, which de-jure completed the process of receiving autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). The enthronization of Epiphaniy successfully took place on February 3, 2019.

What is the reaction of the Russian Orthodox Church on this news?

Undoubtedly, the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to grant independence to Ukrainian Orthodox Church and subsequent execution were accompanied by public harsh criticism from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Since that moment, to put it mildly, the open confrontation started on the spiritual battlefield. The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) firstly tried to disregard by isolation the Patriarchate of Constantinople. However, not a single congregation  in the world supported the wish of the Russian Orthodox Church to break the canonical relations with Constantinople. Ekklisía tis Elládos (the Church of Greece) recognized the autocephaly of the PCU in October 2019. Later in November 2019 it was also recognized by Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

As for now the Russian Orthodox Church aims to retain the OCU under the supreme ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. Everyone who recognizes the PCU immediately becomes a subject to termination of canonical communion on the behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church.

“It is impossible to deprive Ukrainians of their right to profess any religion especially under conditions of external interference.”

  Who supported Moscow in their decision?

An undeniable fact gives an understanding that the Russian Orthodox Church is involved in Moscow’s foreign policy. In order to demonstrate the ability of the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate to consolidate their allies remaining in world Orthodoxy a peculiar “message” was sent to the Ecumenical Patriarch. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople was challenged with a meeting of the heads of the local Orthodox Churches held on February 26, 2020 in the capital of Jordan, Amman.

This meeting showed the authentic level of support for Moscow on the international Orthodox arena. Composition of the gathering was the following: only the heads of four local churches arrived in Amman and two churches sent their representatives. It is reported that 9 churches refused to participate, namely: the Ecumenical, Alexandria, Antioch, Georgian and Bulgarian Orthodox Churches. The Churches of Cyprus, Greece, Albania and Ukraine gave their refusal too. The meeting signalized that the level of support for the Russian Orthodox Church has significantly dropped.

How the right to freely profess and practice religion is ensured on the occupied territories of Ukraine?

Since February 2014 Russia has been pursuing sophisticated policy with a final goal to establish control over the Crimean peninsula,  literally meaning its territory and residents.

Violation of human rights on the temporarily occupied territories by Russia — the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol became an integral part modern world.

Being pressed for a long time The Religious Administration of Muslims of Crimea (RAMC) became controlled by the Russian Federation in Crimea. All religious communities, including Protestants, Jews, Kyiv Patriarchate, Greek Catholics, Jews, as well as Muslims who refused to obey became victims of various forms of pressure and repression.

Freedom of any religion is limited by the occupation authority in Crimea in two ways. Firstly, through the enaction of Russian legislation and its implementation. Accordingly they all became subjects to compulsory re-registration of religious communities and churches. This method is a powerful leverage for legislative pressure on religious freedoms in the Crimea.

Secondly, the occupying authorities violate freedom of religion in the Crimea through unlawful persecution of citizens by means of searches, intimidation of prayers and leaders of religious communities. There is also a lack of a thorough investigation of acts of vandalism or attacks on religious premises or leaders.

The “anti-extremist” and “counter-terrorism” legislation is a daily agenda of the Russian Federation, which serves an instrument for the criminal prosecution of Crimean Tatars.

Sine 2015, at least 63 people in the annexed Crimea have been prosecuted on made-up grounds. The vast majority of them are Crimean Tatars. This is stated in the official report done by the recognized international organization — Human Rights Watch at the end of 2019.

 — What is the response of the world community to violations of international law conducted by Russia?

Sure, all violations are collected by international and non-governmental organizations. Certain decisions are made on the basis of available data.

In December 2019, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on human rights violations in the occupied Crimea. The document condemns crackdown on activists in Crimea, particularly, representatives of the public movement “Crimean Solidarity”. There is also ongoing practice of recruiting men to serve in the Russian army. The UN calls for to stop persecution and urges to release detained people on the basis of their dissenting opinions. The other crucial term is to release of all unlawfully detained nationals of Ukraine and ensure their passage to Motherland.

Relying on the data collected by human rights activists, in 2019 on the peninsula there were 86 cases of searches, 157 cases of imprisonment and 194 interrogations, polls, so-called “tete-a-tete”; 335 cases of arrest; 33 cases of imprisonment under the title of political prisoners of Crimea; 252 cases of extension of detention. 578 cases of violation of the rights of the population to a fair trial; 90 cases on the grounds of highest level of physical and mental suffering; 69 cases of ètape. At least 90 people are being persecuted in the Crimea for political and religious reasons. Their number is constantly increasing.

“Six years is a reasonable period for Ukrainians and the entire world community to make certain conclusions. The occupation and the illegal attempt of annexation undermined the corner stones of the entire system of international law. The world security system was jeopardized. Reintegration of the Crimea into Ukraine will definitely restore International Order.”

As long as Russia occupies the Crimea, the issue of Crimea should be discussed at all international venues. The international political and economic pressure on Russia should become even more effective and intense. In the case of Russia, sanctions are the only leverage to settle the armed conflict by peaceful, political and diplomatic methods.

You know! The issue of Crimea is not limited to the regime of occupation, assassinations, arrests, repressions of Ukrainian citizens and patriots. This is forcible deprivation of the native territory of Ukrainian Crimeans. Let us not forget about this and believe in our strengths and the power of international democracy.

Great is the victory that is gained with justice and national dignity.