Ukrainian Catholics Fear ‘New Oppression’

A Ukrainian Catholic priest in Crimea said church members are alarmed and frightened by the Russian military occupation and fear their communities might be outlawed again if Russian rule becomes permanent. The Rev. Mykhailo Milchakovskyi, a pastor in Kerch, Ukraine, described the atmosphere as tense because many residents of the town located in the eastern part of Crimea were unsure of their future. “No one knows what will happen. Many people are trying to sell their homes and move to other parts of Ukraine,” Father Milchakovskyi said on March 12. “Our church has no legal status in the Russian Federation, so it’s uncertain which laws will be applied if Crimea is annexed. We fear our churches will be confiscated and our clergy arrested,” the priest said, amid growing tensions over a referendum on March 16 that will decide whether the autonomous territory should join Russia. He feared Russian rule would inflict a “new oppression” on Ukrainian Catholics, whose five communities traditionally make up about 10 percent of the Crimean Peninsula’s two million inhabitants. “Many have already stopped coming to church after being branded nationalists and fascists by local provocateurs,” Father Milchakovskyi said.

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