Statement by UOJ on charges of inciting interfaith hatred

On July 27 the All-Ukrainian Cross Procession of peace, love and prayer for Ukraine, which was held upon the call of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church and upon the blessing of its head, Metropolitan Onuphriy, came to an end.

In his address to the faithful before the Cross Procession, our Primate said, in particular:

"With deep sorrow in our hearts we are all now experiencing a new tragedy – in the East of Ukraine armed conflict continues, the innocent blood of our countrymen is shed. The most that our Church can do is to call for peace and intensify prayers for peace on our Ukrainian land, which we have been doing from the very beginning of the armed confrontation. Yet, despite the peacekeeping mission of the Church, someone is trying to make it hostile to the Ukrainian society...

At present, on a peaceful territory of Ukraine, a sectarian war is breaking out; various provocations are set up, which are directed against the clergy and parishioners in particular, and against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as a whole. At the same time, we know there are cases when the unifying force of the faithful prayer worked wonders.

Therefore, with our blessing, the dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will hold an All-Ukrainian Cross Procession with a prayer for Ukraine, which begins on July 9 in the West of Ukraine – from the Holy Dormition Pochaev Lavra, and on July 3 in the East of Ukraine – from the Holy Dormition Svyatogorsk Lavra. On July 27 – the eve of the celebration of the Baptism of Kievan Rus and the memory of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir – these Processions will meet in Kiev on the St. Vladimir Hill and proceed together to the Holy Dormition Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, where they will perform a festive Divine Service. The Cross Processions will be accompanied by the miraculous icons of the Mother of God "Pochaevskaya", "Svyatogorskaya", and other revered shrines.

This Cross Procession, which starts simultaneously in the West and the East, will be held throughout our state. In fact, it will unite Ukraine, because the Orthodox Church has always been a force to bring together all people of our country."

This is a comprehensive rationale of the need for the Cross Procession (CP) and its peacekeeping nature.

Thanks to God, East and West Procession columns have safely completed a multi-day journey, despite the trials, temptations, threats and provocations undertaken by enemies. Two "wings" of the Cross Procession met on the St. Vladimir Hill in Kiev during the solemn prayer of the Metropolitan, and then proceeded to the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra. The number of believers who participated in the final Procession, according to conservative estimates, amounted to over 80 thousand people.

Realizing how important it is for all people of good will to unite in peace, healthy forces of the society, journalists, experts – not only religious but also secular – with respectful interest followed the historical event and tried to objectively cover it in the media, social networks, at press conferences and public debates.

On the other hand, though, a Procession initiative of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which, just to be reminded, is a part of the family of Orthodox Churches of the world, caused strong rejection and opposition from its enemies, which often took the form of provocations, threats and insults against thousands of peaceful believers who were going to Kiev, on the eve of the feast of the Baptism of Rus and the memory of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir, to unite in prayer for peace. It got so bad that near Borispol some people, who had lost their senses due to hysteria around the CP fomented by certain mass media and pundits – representatives of the alleged expert community – used foul language and threw eggs at the greatest shrines of our land – the miraculous icon of the Virgin and the saints.

Unsuited hatemongers to the canonical Church – from some representatives of the religious organization unrecognized by any Orthodox Church worldwide, to some holders of high government posts and ranks – contributed to the antics and often incited them.

All this time the "Union of Orthodox Journalists" has tightly monitored the developments around the Cross Procession, giving impartial daily reports and highlighting all the details of the journey.

Orthodox media men organized a live TV marathon "Cross Procession - 2016", where in the studio presenter Viacheslav Pikhovshek and his guests – monks and theologians, priests and lay people, experts and journalists – expressed their opinions and discussed the CP.

A very important issue that worried these people and millions of believers all over Ukraine was the safety of the Procession participants, now and then suffering insults, threats and pressure from the anti-Orthodox forces. Besides, it was constant vigilance and patience in order to avoid any provocation on the part of the latter, so as not to give them any reason to accuse the Church and our congregation.

Despite the accusations which were pouring on the event as if coming from the “horn of the plenty” – like “arms distribution in Moscal (i.e. Moscow) churches”, “explosives” in participants’ traveling bags, movement of the “Russian saboteurs towards Kiev to seize power”, “numerous cases of the pilgrims wearing St. George ribbons and DNR flags”, espionage in favor of the northern neighbor – all they proved to be slander, framed-up false stories, hogwash of the yellow press.

Similar incidents in a state where the power actually honors the Constitution, international norms and standards, rights and freedoms, including the right to peaceful religious processions, would compel the law enforcement, responsible for the safety of participants of such processions, to make efforts and ensure this safety and counteraction with provokers and instigators.

However, during the entire Procession up to its arrival in Kiev, we, journalists, when covering the events around it, witnessed something very different, to put it mildly.   

Of course, among the law enforcement representatives there is a number of people who are ready to fulfil their functional duties and orders to provide order and public security, including in the event of peaceful processions, guaranteed by the law. Fortunately, they proved it in practice, defending, for instance, the UOC believers near Borispol against violent attacks of radicals.

Yet, it was quite frequent when in the course of the CP its participants and reporters encountered bizarre situations, mildly speaking, when enforcers felt reluctant to fulfil their duties. In Zhitomir, for instance, it was ATO (!) veterans who had joined the CP, and not the police, who halted anti-Orthodox aggressors. 

One can recall for that end how often the police failed to take any action during the illegal seizure of Orthodox churches, bashing scenes of the priests and parishioners… One can recall that glaring misdeeds and scandalous crimes, including murder of the UOC clergy, have not been investigated and solved yet.

Even more surprising looked the announcements of high rank law enforcement officials that the tension was aggravated by the very participants (!) of the Cross Procession as well as the UOJ journalists who broadcast and covered the developments around the CP, thus partially fulfilling the responsibilities of the force authorities, since provokers and radicals were afraid of publicity and refrained from direct confrontation.

For example, as the CP was drawing closer to Kiev, MIA head Arsen Avakov, on the eve of the arrival of the CP’s two “wings”, announced that “…hoax explosive devices and shell planting along the anticipated itinerary left no doubts that threats and provocations are tangible…”, therefore “by the forces of the MIA National Police and National Guard the Procession along the streets of Kiev was blocked. Safety of citizens is above religious rituals.”

May the MIA Minister’s designation of the Cross Procession of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as a “religious ritual”, the Church which has offered spiritual guidance to our nation for more than one thousand years, be left on his conscience.”

However, in the above statement the “threat and provocation certainty is unambiguously associated with the Cross Procession.”

It is associated despite the fact that during the religious Procession there was spotted not a single “threat or provocation” on the part of its participants – neither with regard to disorderly roughnecks at “checkpoints”, hostile mass media or members of the force agencies, nor with regard to the population of the cities and villages that lay along the pilgrimage routes.

It is ridiculous to think that smashing across the journalist’s TV camera with a slipper by a certain individual who was immediately depicted as “titushka” from the Cross Procession, who had assaulted the media man, is “threats and provocations.” Moreover, there is a video fragment on the Internet where he denies his affiliation to the CP!

How can one characterize a bald-faced lie of some mass media outlets, which affirmed that on 27 July there were purportedly detained participants of the Cross Procession, who had spread out a banner “Donbass – Russian World?” Why was there nobody who bothered to verify the information and establish that these were the people who opposed to the CP and tried to sabotage it by means of posters with insulting signs? Isn't it a provocation, conscious hate mongering towards the UOC believers? Isn’t it a quintessence of all those manipulations, falsehood, lie, and deceit Ukrainians have been stuffed with for the last few weeks? Or – to make matters worse – years? Why do the relevant authorities turn a blind eye to that? Is our country governed by democracy and the rule of law or double standards instead?     

Additionally, how should one perceive the words of Advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs Zorian Shkiriak who stated that the estimated 80 thousand CP participants, who’d walked from the St. Vladimir Hill to the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra – is just a fake? That allegedly there were nearly 11-12 thousand people. We strongly advise to the Advisor to attentively watch our video about the Cross Procession. The column of believers was going from the Hill to the Lavra for more than 2 hours and stretched out for several kilometers! If somebody is not good with arithmetic, we are helpless about it. 11 thousand can occupy 100 by 100 meters, roughly speaking. In this case, the column stretched out for several kilometers!

We would also like to request the MIA head to present all the required evidence – with protocols of inspection, physical evidence, and eyewitnesses’ accounts concerning which precisely “real military shell plantings along the determined itinerary” were found in the course of operative actions, directed by the Minister’s Advisor, MP of Ukraine Anton Gerashchenko. The published video records feature a dog-aided search of the “explosive” and even its robot-aided “neutralization”. However, there is no real proof it actually exists. Since there is no physical evidence – the “planting” fact becomes highly doubtful. Wasn’t it by chance fabricated to intimidate the faithful? And why, as one of the Internet commenters noticed, was it allowed for cars to drive along the “mined territory” (it can be seen from the released video) but forbidden for the column to walk?

The Cross Procession ended successfully, without accidents and excesses. This was exactly the point when the above-mentioned Advisor to the Minister accused the UOJ of “inciting interfaith hatred in Ukraine.”    

Below is what he published on his page in Facebook: “For those who want to clear the issue in question – how, why, and what for the UOC MP decided to arrange such a large-scale event – I recommend to study the background of the public organization “Union of Orthodox Journalists”, which sprang up last autumn and which, since March of the current year, according to its most active member Viacheslav Pikhovshek, has affirmed that “a religious war in Ukraine is highly probable, “ he said.

“My opinion is that it makes sense for the SBU and Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine to monitor the work of this public organization. “Peacekeeper” project has already listed this organization in the plan to scrutinize its role in trying to stir up interreligious hostility in Ukraine.”

What compelled the Advisor to put forward such accusation of the UOJ? Isn’t it a regret that the Cross Procession succeeded despite all twists and turns on the part of its rivals?

But A. Gerashchenko’s words are not just remarks of the offended person. This is a direct threat posed to the UOJ journalists and the freedom of speech they bear. Namely the threat! A lot of Ukrainians know perfectly well what the “Peacekeeper” site, supervised by Mr. Gerashchenko, is all about. Everybody remembers an innocent death of journalist and publicist Oles Buzyna and other people, whose data were published on this particularly “peacekeeping” resource. Now the police official, appealing at the same time to the Security Service of Ukraine, threatens to place new accusatory information on this site – about true peacekeepers, who have made the journey in behalf of peace, love and prayer for Ukraine together with the Cross Procession.

Perhaps, Mr. Avakov’s Advisor forgot how representatives of mass media, press organizations, human rights activists responded to the revealed information about the journalists who had been accredited in the ATO zone? How much the government was frustrated by this fact and did not delay to take actions in order to “lull” the public at large, including the foreign one.  

We remind him about it. Besides, we appeal to Ukrainian and international advocacies, mass media trade unions and those of the Ukrainian Journalists Union, OSCE, UNO, and other organizations with a request to defend our rights to the media freedom. We also reserve the right to appeal to courts – even the international ones – filing lawsuits about slander and violation of the Constitution as well as the Ukrainian laws and norms of the International Law.

We account for every word, every article and every film we have published and released. We are ready to present them as physical evidence with any authority to establish our rightness. None of the available materials contains any instigations to “interdenominational war”. Nor does it contain proofs to “Kremlin” or any other trace in our activity that might confirm unfounded accusations of the Advisor to the MIA Minister and other “exposers”. It is impossible because it could not and cannot be true.

We are ready to defend our honor and dignity since our conscience is clear.

Union of Orthodox Journalists
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