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Mr. Chairman,

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is my pleasure to be here today at the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom and I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the challenges and prospects that we face in this field in Ukraine, as well as at the regional and global levels.

For centuries, freedom of religion and faith has been a basic value for Ukrainians. Regretfully, at Soviet time the communist regime suppressed these freedoms. However, after gaining the independence Ukrainian State has been protecting and advancing this fundamental human right.

Last year the historical justice was partially restored – an autocephaly was granted to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. This decision has finally liberated our Church from Moscow’s religious burden.

Unfortunately, the religious freedom in Ukraine is targeted by Russia again. Since 2014, Russia has been waging a hybrid war against our country. It appears even more cynical if we take into consideration that hundreds of years ago the Christianity spread to what is now Russia from Ukraine.

Freedom of religion and belief is under severe attack in territories of Ukraine illegally occupied by the Russian Federation, namely, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the city of Sevastopol and certain territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. These violations are well documented in the latest State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, as well as in the last “Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine” by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The believers in the occupied territories are currently deprived of religious pluralism, the participation of religious organizations in public life and the provision of religious rights. In last years, Crimean Tatar Muslims have become the most oppressed and persecuted religious community in Crimea. Despite multiple obstacles, they have managed to preserve their faith and cultural identity.

We urge Russia to put an end to the repressive policies of its occupation administrations in Crimea and parts of Donbas and abide by the international commitments regarding the freedom of religion or belief.

We support the recommendation of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that the State Department designate Russia as a Country of Particular Concern.

Time and again Ukraine has proven that defending religious freedom is one of the top priorities for our country. Nobody can restrict the freedom of belief. This important right has to be fostered, protected and promulgated every single day, all over the world.

Thank you for your attention.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future