Writing for Transitions Online, Felix Corley suggests that many religious communities in Russian-occupied Crimea–particularly ones with Ukrainian or Western links–are facing quiet repression.
Almost 18 years after it was founded, a small Catholic convent in Crimea’s capital, Simferopol, was forced to close down in November when its three Franciscan nuns had to leave. They were refused the possibility of extending their residence permits in Crimea, the chancellor of the Odessa and Simferopol Catholic diocese, Krzysztof Kontek, told Forum 18 News Service from the Ukrainian city of Odessa on 15 January. The sisters, who are from elsewhere in Ukraine and Poland, had been helping in pastoral work in the city’s Catholic parish. Their enforced departure came a month after the parish’s main priest was similarly forced to leave.
In addition, December saw the enforced departure of the last of Crimea’s 23 imams and Muslim teachers from Turkey, a spokesperson for the Muslim Board told Forum 18 from Simferopol on 20 January.
Officials from the Crimean branch of Russia’s Federal Migration Service said in October that only registered religious communities are able to invite foreign citizens. No religious community in Crimea or Sevastopol (an administratively separate city) has state registration recognized by the Russian authorities.
A Russian law from 31 December extended the deadline for re-registering religious communities (and other entities) in Crimea until 1 March.
Fines for religious books the Russian authorities regard as “extremist” seem to have reduced in recent months, though they did not stop. However, as a moratorium on raids, seizures of literature, and prosecutions in such cases ended, it remains unclear if such raids, fines, and confiscations will resume. Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and librarians have been particular targets.
The moratorium was announced by the head of Crimea’s Russian-backed government, Sergei Aksyonov, in mid-October.