“We pray for all politicians in Ukraine, who are to guarantee the right to freedom of worship and our economic and property security.”
Interview with the executive secretary of the All-Ukraine Union of the Association of Evangelical Baptists (AUU AEB), Pastor Valerii ANTONIUK
Correspondent: It is known that the All-Ukraine Union of the Association of Evangelical Baptists has had problems for quite a long time regarding the building where its central office is located. Tell about these problems.
Pastor Antoniuk: Yes, true, our union of churches has a problem which has remained unresolved for nearly two years now. Legal proceedings were initiated against us for illegal seizure of this building in Kyiv, at 3-B Lva Tolstoho Street. The Chancellery of the All-Ukraine Union of the Association of Evangelical Baptists is located here. In essence, on 9 November 2005, Deputy Public Prosecutor General of Ukraine V. Shokin brought action 24-259 for seizure of the building at 3-B Lva Tolstoho Street in the Holosiivskyi District of Kyiv by way of abuse of official status according to part 2 of article 191 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. Pre-trial investigation in this case was entrusted to the Main Investigation Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine.
But historically, before World War II, the Kyivan church owned a building at 53-A Khmelnytskoho Street. The Chancellery of the Senior Presbyter and an Evangelical Baptist church were located there. The building was confiscated in the ‘30s, and the community gathered at various places then. After the war, in 1946, an order was issued to return the building and it was returned. We have respective documents of the ‘20s and ‘40s certifying that it was our property. In 1949, the building was confiscated again and the Ministry of Agriculture was located there. Later, in the ‘80s, our faithful made a petition for allotment of a building for the office. Our union is large: we have more than 3000 churches in Ukraine as of today. In 1983, we were offered this building in place of a part of the building at Bohdana Khmelnytskoho Street. It was actually half-ruined and was the communal property of the city. Under Andropov, the Soviet regime transferred to us the building at 3-B Tolstoho Street.
We repaired it ourselves and extended it a little. Already in 1983, we concluded a number of agreements on payment of utilities bills , and so on. Before 2002, we rented the building, even though it was on the balance-sheet of the Housing Use Committee [ZhEK], but we have all the necessary agreements on quite a lawful basis. We made all payments on time. The building was restored by the church, and there are dozens of witnesses who worked here with their own hands.
—Did the AUU AEB have the necessary permission for the restoration?
—Of course, we made petitions for obtaining permission for the reconstruction. In 2002–2003, the mentioned building became the property of the All-Ukraine Union of the Association of Evangelical Baptists according to decision №254/1688 of the Kyiv City Council “About further use of non-residential building 3 at Lva Tolstoho Street” of 07.02.2002 and Certificate of the Right of Ownership of the series NB № 010006784 of 17.02.2003 issued by the Main Department of Communal Property of the city of Kyiv.
We were to execute documents for land rent and some other formalities. We started the process of gathering respective permissions and agreements and prepared nearly all the documents by 2005. No one could even imagine that legal proceedings would be initiated. Interestingly, in the beginning it was about an abuse, but in the course of investigation, other causes were brought forth saying that construction norms were allegedly violated in 1983. It is not a crime, we extended the basement within the limits of the building which we used.
The Office of the Public Prosecutor General keeps changing the accusation in the course of the investigation. As of today, the investigation continues, representatives of the KMDA are again summoned to interrogations… We understand that business structures of Kyiv have some interest here as they would like to become owners of this building in the very center of Kyiv. They can locate a business center here. All our applications to the Office of the Public Prosecutor General, the court, and court of appeals remain unsatisfied. The only answer is “Investigation continues.” But it has continued for nearly two years now. Addresses from deputies of Parliament and the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, signed by all heads of denominations, Orthodox, Catholics, Greek Catholics, Lutherans, all Protestant churches, were sent in our defense. We also approached the head of Parliament, the prime minister, the president of Ukraine. We were supported by the State Committee on Matters of Religions. Unfortunately, the investigation officer in this case was replaced again and the assistant public prosecutor general, who initiated the proceedings, has been dismissed.
In addition, the resonance about this matter is made even stronger by the fact that the Main Investigation Department of the MIA [Ministry of Internal Affairs] of Ukraine continues to look for pretexts to continue the legal proceedings. For instance, on 21 March 2007 an investigation officer of the Main Investigation Department of the MIA of Ukraine passed a resolution to confiscate from the AUU ECB documents associated with the reconstruction of the building of the main office of the union in 1983. We are convinced that these documents have no relation to the mentioned criminal proceedings initiated specifically regarding the fact of seizure of the building by way of abuse of official status, which fact, according to the investigation authority, took place in 1983.
Our church addresses the international community, we want as many people as possible to know about the situation. The situation regarding our building resembles a raiding practice which is a wide-spread phenomenon in Ukraine. We pray, we tell various institutions about it, but at the same time, we see that it is a more arrogant act than even in Soviet times. The Soviet regime transferred the building to us. We could not even think that in the time of democracy, freedom, a time of the proclamation of the norms of freedom of conscience and worship, such problems can arise! Unfortunately, it is very hard to oppose it. This fact is extremely alarming!
—Did your union obtain all necessary documents of the right of ownership of the building?
—We have all the documents and necessary consents, many of which were received in Soviet times, beginning with the decision of Kyiv City Administration, which I already mentioned. We obtained the document of right of ownership of this building. The originals were confiscated by the investigation people already as in 2005. We have respective copies left. The only thing we did not manage to finish was to execute the rent of the land lot. Prior to signing the respective act, the property survey file was confiscated, and so we did not complete the matter. The area of the lot is 6.4 hundreds. In our opinion, someone ordered our building and lot. The union of EB is not prepared to give our property to anyone, we will struggle in a legal way and defend the interests of our church. This building is our center of coordination of ministry between local churches. Therefore, tens and hundreds of thousands of members of churches are concerned about this problem.
We see what is going on in the state today, we see enterprises being seized. We pray and hope that statesmen will realize that one cannot build relations with the church today in that way! Unfortunately, this is a common problem for all Christians, especially in Kyiv where prices for buildings and land are the highest in Ukraine. The Office of the Public Prosecutor General is currently preparing documents to transfer to the court which is to make the final decision. After this happens and the court makes a decision to be fulfilled, it will be very difficult for us to defend our interests. The testimonies of our witnesses, ministers who participated in the restoration of the building, are not taken into account in these proceedings in the course of consideration of the matter. Society has to understand that democracy is not permissiveness, in which everyone does what they wish, what is convenient for them. State structures do not care about non-profit religious organizations. Instead of returning things, they try to take back what was transferred to us earlier.
Resistance to authority was never typical of us, “any authority is from God,” we never fought, but if the authorities count on this, if this is being exploited, we will react and defend our interests. We do not cooperate with political parties but we pray for all politicians in Ukraine, who are to guarantee the right to freedom of worship and our economic and property security. The incident about the building owned by our union is unprecedented in essence, it is threatening, a similar situation may occur somewhere else. It is also threatening to other religious organizations.
It appears that the pre-trial investigation authorities seek to find any pretext to continue the legal proceedings, according to the materials of which the leadership of our church is suspected of a crime. This may be seen as infringement on the spiritual values and moral principles of Ukrainian society, for not a single proof of the blame of the leadership of our union was found during the whole time of the investigation.
Part 3 of article 5 of the law of Ukraine “On freedom of worship and religious organizations” stipulates that “The state defends the rights and lawful interests of religious organizations.”
But we believe that God will not permit events unacceptable for a democratic country to happen in Ukraine. Spiritual issues are to determine the image of the nation. Not everything is bought with money. Therefore, we hope that the people who wish to do us harm will understand that it is not worth it. We serve God and want to continue, it is so important today.
—Pastor, may the Lord see the problems of your union at this Easter time and help to solve them so that his church uses her time and energy not for walking court corridors but for preaching his word!
Interview conducted by RISU correspondent Vasyl KORSHAK. Kyiv, 4 April 2007
On 6 April 2007, in the Parliament of Ukraine the deputy’s inquiry of Volodymyr Stretovych to Public Prosecutor General of Ukraine O. Medvedko regarding the violation of property rights of believers of the All-Ukraine Union of the Association of Evangelical Baptists was announced.
Interview conducted by RISU correspondent Vasyl KORSHAK in Kyiv on 4 April 2007.