From a сlub to armed terror: how conflict develops in Ptichya

Ptichya. December 2015

Pressure on the UOC begins to acquire signs of terrorism.

It all began on November 2, 2014, from a "referendum" of the village community, traditional in many cases of church raiding. Based on its decision, supporters of the Kiev Patriarchate with the assistance of radicals from the "Right Sector" seized for the first time the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in late December 2014, cutting locks with a grinder and putting youths armed with clubs to stand guard around the perimeter.

The community of the UOC was then able to defend the church and transferred the conflict into a civilized legal dispute – by its consent the church was sealed till the court's decision. On September 2, 2015, the Economic Court of the Kiev region decided in favor of the community of the UOC. Disagreeing with this decision, supporters of the UOC KP filed in an appeal, which, of course, was their legal right. However, they violated the current court decision, again illegally occupying the temple on November 15 of the same year. In protest, the believers of the UOC blocked the route Kiev-Chop.

The local government intervened in the conflict, in fact, playing along with the invaders. On November 17, 2015, the village council adopted an illegal decision on the alternate services, which only aggravated the conflict and fueled the legal nihilism of supporters of the Kiev Patriarchate.

"According to the law, civil servants must hold a clear position of neutrality. They should not give advantage to either community. But in this case, when there is a property right, the authorities force the community to give the temple to a legal entity that has never been the owner," commented the decision the lawyer of the Rovno eparchy of the UOC Katerina Ivaniuk.

On December 2, 2015, the Kiev Economic Court of Appeal rejected the claim of the community of the Kiev Patriarchate, confirming the title right of the UOC community to the church. The conflict was meant to end with a peaceful agreement based on the court decision, but ended up with the first religious pogrom in the history of Ukraine.

First Religious Pogrom in Ukraine

On December 18, 2015, having the court decision, the believers of the UOC attempted to enter their temple. However, representatives of the UOC KP and the "Right Sector" immediately launched an aggressive offense – gas cartridges, sticks, clubs, fists, fire extinguishers, firecrackers and even pieces of soil were used. It should be noted that the police did not react to the actions of the radicals, acting in fact on their side. The community of the UOC managed to enter the temple through the side entrance and displace the offenders.

After that, the community of the UOC underwent unprecedented pressure and intimidation from the authorities and radicals. The police blocked believers in the church, thus obstructing food or medical supplies, and also calling parishioners all kinds of names. In turn, supporters of the Kiev Patriarchate cut the power line.

Due to the prolonged blockade of water and food supplies to the village church, one of the parishioners of the UOC who was inside lost consciousness. For a long time, Filaret followers refused to allow representatives of the UOC to take the woman out to hospitalize her. When she was finally taken away, supporters of the Kiev Patriarchate accompanied the car with applause and unflattering shouts: "It's good that this one is dying, let the one that is in the temple die, too."

The head of the Dubnо RSA Yuri Parfeniuk approached the believers locked in the church, called them "non-humans" and started threatening them: "You are non-humans. The only way out is to agree to the alternate service, if the community of the UOC KP agrees to it."

In addition, according to the rector of the church of the UOC in Ptichya Protopriest Nikolai Sisoniuk, the head of the "Right Sector" of the Rovno region Roman Koval threatened to seize all the temples of the Dubno district if the UOC community refused leave the church.

The head of the "Right Sector" of the Rovno region Roman Koval threatened to seize all the temples of the UOC in the Dubno district

On the night of 20 December in the village of Ptichya, Rovno region, there was the first religious pogrom in the history of independent Ukraine. Radicals beat glass in the homes of those who were in the temple and threw "Molotov cocktails" in their yards, despite the fact that there were elderly people and children in the houses.

On January 9, during Christmas holidays, supporters of the Kiev Patriarchate attacked the pilgrims of the UOC and beat them. One of the parishioners was hospitalized.

On January 16, 2016, at the request of the investigator, the Rovno City Court arrested the church, despite the protest of the UOC community and the absence of grounds for such a decision. The human rights activist of the Rovno eparchy of the UOC, commenting on this resolution, noted that the court did not give legitimate reasons for the arrest of the church building. "In order to arrest it, it must be acquired illegally, that is stolen by someone, and then confiscated by the investigation," the lawyer said.

Since that moment, one-on-one lawsuits have continued, which the UOC community has consistently won. In its favor, a total of 8 court decisions have been made.

Community of the UOC KP Rejected Compromise

It should be noted that the representatives of the UOC community repeatedly suggested representatives of the Kiev Patriarchate a peaceful solution to the problem by agreeing to lease a church house on the territory of the church and offering financial assistance in the construction of a new one! Such a proposal in particular was voiced by Protopriest Anatoly Bogdanov, Acting Dean of the Dubnо Deanery of the UOC. The same was suggested by the district authorities, namely by the first deputy head of the Rovno Regional State Administration Yuri Privarsky. However, Filaret followers did not want to reach a compromise.

However, on April 14, 2016, the activists of the UOC KP promised not to block the temple and not obstruct the believers in the UOC to be on their watch. The clergy of the Rovno eparchy of the UOC also proposed to sign a joint agreement with representatives of the UOC KP, which would give written consent from both sides not to seize the temple by force, but officials refused!

At the same time, the Kiev Patriarchate continued to use the church house on the territory of the church, despite the fact that on April 6, 2016 the Rovno City Court attached it. The bailiff who arrived to seal the building was denied access to the building by the schismatics.

On January 2, 2017, another attempt was made to seize the temple. About 70 men in balaclavas tried to break to the church with a grinder. However, the believers of the UOC prevented this.

The Beginning of the Armed Terror?

The first signs of terrorist activity can be attributed to early December 2016. In addition to throwing Molotov cocktails in the courtyards of the parishioners of the UOC, the latter were exposed to open intimidation and pressure. In particular, the radicals came to the wife of the priest John Savchuk, who was at that time in Ptichya’s temple, and in the presence of three children threatened her, demanding "that she should call and take home her priest". "We called the police, but the officers who arrived only stood and laughed along with those who threatened," recalls Protopriest Victor Zemlianoy. In January 2016, unidentified people threw stones at Father John's house.

On April 2, 2018, the court finally withdrew the arrest from the church, which was owned by the community of the UOC, thus drawing a line under the case. However, the judge had hardly announced the decision when the radicals began organizing a new seizure of the temple, putting out a call in the messenger Viber. And they did not even hide the fact that they were planning a "seizure", writing: "There must be a seizure". At the same time, believers of the UOC, citizens of Ukraine, were called "Moskals".

On the night of 3 April, in the Holy Week, an armed group of people, among whom, according to eyewitnesses, there were former fighters of battalions Aidar and Azov, forced the believers of the UOC to leave their church under the gun.

The conflict broke out with renewed vigor. We note that according to eyewitnesses, including representatives of the authorities, a representative of the Kiev Patriarchate, again made a strong statement. "We do not care how long the temple will be closed: eight months or eight years. This is our church. The Kiev Patriarchate has not build here, and it is not going to build," said Igor Zagrebelny, the dean of the Dubno district of KP.

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