Robert Amsterdam: The Wrong Enemy


Save the UOC Editor

The following opinion editorial was published by Robert Amsterdam, lawyer for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

Since 2014 power in Ukraine has shifted to the right, in fact the full-scale war has accelerated a narrative of religious and language cleansing. With the destruction of Russian language rights which occurred in 2017, and the deification of the nationalist OUN that operated in partnership with the Nazis, the vilification of my client the UOC (Ukrainian Orthodox Church) has accelerated. This full-blown attack has culminated in Bill 8371. The Bill to ban the Church and destroy religious freedom in Ukraine.

Bill 8371 has been tightened to ensure that thousand-year-old Ukrainian Orthodox Church cannot but be destroyed by its passage. The latest iteration of the Bill would appear to imply that after the government has stolen the physical assets of the Church it may become impossible for believers to even congregate together in prayer, in a backyard or a garage (a practice that is ongoing in certain areas where the Church is already banned by the local authorities.)

I take nothing away from the incredible courage and resilience demonstrated by the Ukrainian people in the epic struggle for survival. I do however caution that the destruction of rule of law, the Ukrainian Constitution, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, enforcement of the European Convention and elections does not constitute a model of successful mobilisation, in fact this reduces the tools of the civil society to hate and exclusion. Hence, Bill 8371.

Whether it is accession to NATO or the EU, the preposterous claim that the attack on the Church is somehow a national security matter runs up against the reality on the ground. Firstly, our Church has denounced the war frenzy of Russia and disassociated itself completely from administrative controls or even relationships with Moscow. Secondly, in all of the phony prosecutions and recent jailings of hierarchs of the Church display no evidence of actual communication with Russian agents. Thirdly, Ukraine faces a fifth column, indeed that places the life of President Zelensky regularly in danger. That fifth column is constituted by its own security services that are hopelessly penetrated by the FSB. Fourthly, of all clerics killed by Russian fire, 50% of them are members of our Church.

Clerics are jailed because they allegedly violate either Sections 161 or 111 of the Criminal Code, which relate to high treason or inciting religious hatred. Again, no evidence. In a case of spying allegations based on a sermon of a senior cleric, I went so far as to publish and translate the sermon which demonstrated the palpable fraud connected to his church. The man placed with the responsibility to destroy our Church is an individual named Victor Yelenskyi. He has been on a mission of destruction for some time and has a history of following orders. During the Soviet period he published a book denouncing the allegations of anti-Semitisim against the Soviet Union. Today, he appears to be managing along with the secret police, the jailing of the hierarchy of the Church so that once Bill 8371 is passed the Church leadership will be unable to resist this criminal assets seizure and destruction of human rights.

Up to today, over 1,500 churches have been transferred to the new state church that was formed In January 2019 and which is to the embarrassment of the Ukrainian Government and the US Government not widely thought as legitimate in the Orthodox world. This Bill to ban Yelenskyi believes will leave the orthodox world with no option but to give in to the secular power and defeat canon law in favour of political opportunism.

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