TERNOPOL OBLAST, UKRAINE: February 6, 2019
On Sunday, February 3, 2019, proponents of the “Orthodox Church in Ukraine” caused a disturbance at Preobrazhensky Church in the town of Gnezdichno, Zbarazhsky region, Ternopol oblast, in Ukraine. Protopriest Stefan Balan, rector of the parish of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, suffered particular harm at the hands of heavy-set men wearing red and black insignias and policemen. The UOC’s Informational-Educational Department reports this event.
That morning, before divine services, a group of so-called “activists” gathered at the church; they caused a provocation and interrupted Divine Liturgy being celebrated by the faithful of the UOC.
The planned lawless actions were known of beforehand: “We alerted the town administration and the police that a conflict is being plotted, asked that they take action. They responded that they cannot get involved in religious affairs. They assembled their deputies on Friday but made no decision. Maybe they were afraid, I don’t know,” said Fr Stefan. “And so a fight erupted.”
Representatives of the UOC, warned that there was a plan to seize their church, assembled at its staircase. A town official soon appeared. “A representative of the town council spoke, and it is worth noting that he was on the side of the schismatics. These people were so aggressive that they didn't even listen to him and began berating him. He got scared, threw down the keys to the church and left,” said the priest. He believes that this official intended to hand the keys to the agents of the “OCU,” but was shocked at their behavior towards him and fled the church property.
The police then arrived and took the side of the provocateurs. “A special division of police soon arrived and began to attack us… I was beaten, my parishioners were shoved around. Then some men came in camouflage uniforms with red and black insignias and began to throw us all to the ground. I was grabbed by the head and they broke my finger. We called for an ambulance. The medics treated my head, chest and hand for injuries,” said the president of the religious association, who suffered the most injuries of anyone.
On January 13, it is worth noting, activists called a town meeting at which a portion of the attendees voted to move to the newly-formed OCU. The religious community, however, decided to remain in the bosom of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. As the parish rector reported, the two sides decided to peacefully coexist, and the representatives of the OCU promised that there would be no confiscation of churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The local school director was not satisfied, however, and he prodded the activists to start a conflict, said Fr Stefan. “The school director is applying great pressure on the teachers, he’s gathering signatures. Those who attend my services are threatened with termination… He has taken this extreme position for many years, and terrorizes everyone in the school. People call me, crying, 'Father, we’re sorry, we can’t do anything to help.'”
The chief of the local police took the side of the new religious organization. It is possible, says Fr Stefan, that orders came from higher-ups. “It appears that there are orders from above, that they’re being pressured. That is why I alerted the President of the Ternopol Oblast State Administration, Mr. S. Barnu, and I went to the Religious Affairs Department and saw the general. They all respond with understanding, but persist in their actions.”
Preoprazhensky Church in Gnezdichno has since been sealed. As a result, Fr Stefan and the parishioners of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church performed a moleben before the church entrance.
Press Service of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate/Patriarchia.ru