“The time will come when the UOC will win all court cases”
The UOJ presents an interview with MP Artem Dmytruk.
– Quite recently, the Primate of the UOC, in a commentary for the UOJ, appealed to the believers of the Church to protect the shrines, including the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. At the same time, there are people among believers who think that the Church is not active enough in defending its rights, that religious processions and even protests should be held. How would you comment on this?
– Now the country is at war. We are defending our territory, we were attacked by the Russian Federation, we have an external enemy. We must not shake up, fuel internal problems. His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry acts very wisely, he does not want to disturb the society and the parishioners once again. He always speaks very carefully, because he understands how difficult the situation is now. We all know that the UOC is the largest Church in Ukraine, with the largest number of parishioners. And now “call the people”… How many thousands of people participated in the last religious procession?
– Hundreds of thousands.
– Hundreds of thousands of people. And all these people can come out to the procession if His Beatitude Onuphry calls. He does everything right. I will say more, it is the law enforcement officers or the SBU who should resolve the ongoing conflicts around the temples of the UOC throughout the country. It's not good for the authorities. It is not profitable to take away churches, burn churches, fight near the Lavra. It doesn't benefit anyone. All this is covered by the Russian media, and this is a huge minus for us. For everyone! Including the SBU and other law enforcement officers. It’s not beneficial but still it is there.
– Several draft laws have been registered in the Verkhovna Rada to date, providing for a complete ban on the UOC. The representative of the President in the parliament, Fyodor Venislavsky, said that the UOC would soon be banned. There were other similar statements by government officials. Why are these bills "not moving" in any way?
– In my opinion, in the opinion of many other MPs, the bills to ban the UOC are unconstitutional, contrary to the Constitution of Ukraine. Our Constitution states in black and white that there is freedom of religion. If we are going to adopt such bills, then we need to amend the Constitution. And then many citizens of Ukraine will decide for themselves whether they want to live in a country with such a Constitution or not. So far, the bills that ban one religion and allow another are irrelevant.
– How many deputies hold the same position?
– Enough. I would not like to say their names because there is no need to now. But there are enough such people in the Verkhovna Rada to halt the adoption of such ill-conceived laws.
The UOC is not banned because there are no votes
– Let's imagine that one of the bills to ban the UOC is put to the vote. Will there be votes, do you think?
– My personal opinion is that there won’t be. If it were that simple, it would have been voted on long ago. The question is elsewhere.
There are some groups that cheat people in a manner like they want to ban the UOC of the Moscow Patriarchate, although in reality there is simply no confession with such a name.
– What is the reason for the silence regarding the situation with the UOC of MPs and politicians who have received church awards for years? Do they lack courage?
– It’s everyone’s business, it’s an individual matter. I believe there are some things that cannot be changed: your place of birth, your parents, your faith. You are baptized in this faith, this is what you hold dear for life. This is the truth and you cannot change this truth. You can't betray. This is my personal opinion, my position. And this, it seems to me, should be the position of every person, politician, or figure. Including the one who was awarded by the Church at one time or another. Each trial is given to us for something. When a full-scale war came to our country, it showed well the essence of so many people around us. Someone ran away, someone disowned someone. You considered someone a close friend, but he turned out to be a traitor. We need to draw the right he conclusions.
– Many world organizations, Local Orthodox Churches have already spoken out in defense of the UOC. How does the leadership of our state feel about this?
– You mean it will somehow affect our power? I'm sure it will, I'm sure! Because we have great hopes for the West that they will help us, as we are striving for a democratic community. Certainly, we need to pay special attention to all this. I’m sure the officials of the Ministry of Culture will try to implement their plan A to the end. But the fact that there are signals and appeals from the international Orthodox community is good. Perhaps this will slow down the process or even stop it at some stage. You can see how unpredictable everything is. Remember they wanted and promised to celebrate Easter throughout the territory of the Lavra? That did not happen. So, the processes somehow slow down.
We are with God and this is our everything! Even if we just gather on the road
– Today, the whole world is watching the events around the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, footage in which “activists” openly mock the parishioners of the Church. How would you comment on them?
– Oleksiy Arestovych rightly said in his time that the war with the Lord would end badly for those who persecute the Church. To my acquaintances, who came out against the Lavra (such people were also in my circle), I said one thing: “Friends, for those who today stand against the Church, against the Lavra, this will bring neither joy nor good.” That's all I'd say.
– Why has our government changed its attitude towards the UOC so drastically? For example, Tkachenko made a U-turn in just a couple of months, while Podoliak – in less than a year. Can you explain all this change?
– There are no explanations. We are only witnesses of what is happening. Witnesses that they used to say one thing, and now they say another thing. After all, not ten years, not five, but months have passed. It's like a click – and you hear a completely different story. Even I, as an MP, as a witness to this, cannot answer why it happened like this. But it is true that the attitude of the authorities towards the UOC has changed a lot lately.
There are people in Odessa who supported me very much, but when I told them that I am a parishioner of the UOC, they said that I was a “traitor”, a “Russian agent”. And you look at them and don’t even understand what they are talking about.
God is with us! We are with God and this is our everything! Even if we don’t have anything, no Lavra, no walls, if we just gather and pray on the road, if our faith is sincere, pure and genuine, then this is sufficient for us.
The OCU does not have this, they are concerned with completely different things.
The UOC will file lawsuits in international courts and win
– How do you feel about the decisions of local authorities to “ban” the UOC, “seize” its land, break lease agreements? After all, many lawyers and even officials have repeatedly stated that such actions are illegal and do not entail any legal consequences.
– When in a region (a city or a village) a territorial community is determined to grab a UOC church, then no legal norms work here today. They come and seize it, we see it. As for the lease agreement, it cannot be terminated unilaterally. This is all clear. But everyone understands perfectly well that in the future, when time passes, when the war is over, when there is order in the country, when we win, the UOC will take legal action not only in Ukrainian courts, but also in international ones. This will be a very bad practice for the Ukrainian state because the UOC is going to win these courts.
– Do you believe that the Ukrainian courts will make a fair decision in these matters?
– Not now. But in the long run, yes. Today we can spawn unlawful decisions both on the part of law enforcement officers and on the part of the courts. All this can bring only instant benefits to specific people: there will be some kind of resonance on the ground, someone will hype on it. But in the future, it will have a very bad effect on the image of the country.
– Yesterday on the territory of the Lower Lavra, many observed a very strange picture. Avraamiy Lotysh, the OCU’s “abbot of the Lavra”, arrived at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. He was brought in a car very similar to the one that took Viktoria Kokhanovska for interrogation. How would you comment on this? It turns out that there is some special favor in the SBU towards the members of the OCU?
– This is a question for the law enforcement system. We are not the court, not the prosecutor's office, not the investigation, not the police to establish whether it was the same car or not. But our state must be separated from the Church, from religion, that's true. As for Viktoria Kokhanovska, it's good that she was not kidnapped “for good”. As far as I know, lawyers are engaged in this case, an investigation is underway, thank God it‘s ended up at least like this.
We are all temporary here
– What would you say to the parishioners of the UOC? What should they do, how should they protect their shrines, themselves, given all these earthly realities?
– Everything that is happening now is not new for every believer, for every Orthodox person. Our only salvation is prayer and obedience. Almost every parishioner of the Church has spiritual mentors. We are all someone's spiritual children. We must listen to our confessors.
As for the protection of our shrines. Of course, we have to protect them. Here I will give a simple analogy from life. Let's say I want to go to some gym, and they tell me: "That's it, we're taking this place because someone said it's bad, and you won't go there anymore." But that's wrong. I have been going there all my life, I want to go further. Moreover, I have every right to do so.
Therefore, shrines need to be protected, but protected within the framework of law, rules, order. We need to pray, come, show that we exist, that there are many of us, that God is with us. It is the most important thing.
And in no case should you despair, always remember that we are all here temporary people. Everything is temporary: power, government, everything is temporary, everything changes. In no case should you react to aggression, to narratives, to all sorts of bad words in your direction. If we do not take them in, then they remain with the person who says these nasty things.
I don’t see any bias towards the UOC in the Parliament
– What do the “servants of the people”, the authorities say about the future of the UOC? Are these issues being discussed behind the scenes? Or is it all done exclusively “for cameras”?
– In my opinion, the parliament does not have any biased attitude towards the UOC in general. I don't see any hype in the parliament that (the Church – Ed.) needs to be "urgently closed" and so on. Look, we have other things to do today. There is the Armed Forces of Ukraine, we need to help them, we need to help the displaced people, we need to work hard, we need to think about international cooperation, about attracting money, about working in the field, about helping locally, we need to go to the front – there is a lot of work. Therefore, today it is bad to think about how to close something that is dear to millions of people.
– What are you doing for the Church as a parliamentarian?
– Today I do exactly what I can do. This is my public position, the position of a people's deputy, there are people behind me. Tens of thousands of people voted for me. And I have to show my public position on certain issues. And I did it. This is important because my position influences public opinion. Further, each MP has such a function as deputy appeals. This is done, I write them, we send them. With regard to legislative activity. We have a legitimate Ukrainian Orthodox Church. What else is there to write? I talk about bills against the Church with my colleagues. I explain to many that it is impossible to vote for laws that prohibit the UOC. There are deputies-parishioners of another Church, who argue with me, who have a different opinion. But there are colleagues who listen and heed my words.
– You reminded that you are sending appeals to various authorities regarding the seizure of churches, other illegal actions against the UOC. Is there any result, feedback?
– These appeals enable us to focus on everything that happens around the UOC. This is called parliamentary monitoring. That is why we make appeals and work for millions of parishioners of the UOC, our voters.