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Ukraine: Statement by Roman Catholic theologians from Germany in support of Archpriest Mykolai Danylevych

02. Mai 2024

On April 24, 2024, Emeritus Professor Dr. Thomas Bremer and Professor Dr. Regina Elsner from the Faculty of Theology of the University of Münster (Germany) sent a “Statement in support of Fr. Mykolai Danylevych on his criminal persecution”, the Information and Education Department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reports with reference to the website of the UOC Department for External Church Relations.

Statement in support of Fr. Mykolai Danylevych on his criminal persecution

On April 12, 2024, the private house of Fr. Mykolai Danylevych, a well-known priest and vice chairman of the office for external affairs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, was searched by the SBU. In a press statement, the SBU accused him of discrimination on a religious basis (Art 161 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine) and of justification of the Russian aggression (Art 436-2).

As academic researchers in the field of Christianity in Eastern Europe, we have both always stood and stand in firm solidarity with Ukraine in this Russian war against the country. We condemned and theologically exposed the Russian ideology behind and the religious legitimation of this war by the Russian Orthodox Church in many academic and popular publications. We use every possible opportunity to raise awareness for Ukraine’s resistance and bravery in this war. We have known Fr. Mykolai for many years in the context of our academic and ecumenical work, including joint working groups with European partner organizations on the questions of peaceful religious coexistence in Ukraine and fieldwork on the religious landscape in Ukraine. We know his public statements in social media, including his personal Telegram account, and we have researched the statements he made on Telegram which—among others—have attracted the attention of the SBU. From our academic perspective, none of his texts justifies accusations of discrimination, of legitimation of the Russian aggression, or of faith-based hate speech. Especially in the two “incriminating” passages, Fr. Mykolai stresses the need for united efforts to defend the country against the Russian aggressor and to avoid any inner-Ukrainian split. He criticizes takeovers of UOC parishes, which have indeed happened multiple times since the beginning of the full-scale invasion by Russia, and which endanger the needed consolidation of Ukrainian society. His texts do not contain any inciting of violence or hatred, any degradation of the dignity of others, or any violation of personal rights. In fact, Fr. Mykolai’s wording is milder than the usual accusations which representatives of both Orthodox Churches in Ukraine regrettably make against each other. In particular, there is no dismissal of the canonicity of the OCU and no misspelling or intentional misnaming of the OCU, which could be classified as disrespect or denial of the integrity of this religious community.

We are aware of the official visit of a delegation of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) to Ukraine, which met with several religious communities including the UOC with Fr. Mykolai as its official representative, to learn about the situation of religious communities in the context of Russia’s aggression. In those meetings, Fr. Mykolai also drew attention to the problematic draft law No. 8371, which plans a ban of the UOC and which has been criticized by international organizations and experts. Fr. Mykolai participated in the preparation of the joint statement of the CEC and the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, issued on April 14, 2024. It calls for a just and lasting peace in Ukraine, unambiguously condemns the Russian military and ideological aggression, and calls for unwavering solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

Fr. Mykolai is also responsible for the pastoral care of Ukrainian Orthodox refugees in Western Europe, and he participates in establishing of parish structures of the UOC in European countries. From our work as consultants to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Germany and our engagement in other ecumenical networks, we have learned that these parishes are an important spiritual and humanitarian anchor for many refugees. They are to a large degree publicly open and in contact with humanitarian and ecclesial institutions in Germany and they do not pose any security risk to Ukrainian refugees and European societies. On the contrary, these parishes enrich the religious landscape in Europe and provide a safe space for Ukrainian Orthodox believers who do not want to attend other Orthodox parishes, above all not those belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate. It seems that the real reason for the recent accusations against Fr. Mykolai are his statements on draft law 8371 in conversation with foreign church representatives and his vital engagement in the new Ukrainian ecclesial presence in Europe. This seems to be confirmed by the fact that the two Telegram statements now under suspicion were made in March and August 2022 and it is hard to believe that the SBU needed two years to understand the allegedly pernicious character of these statements.

Thus, there is neither basis nor evidence for the allegation of the SBU that the parishes in Western countries “distribute the propagandistic narratives of the Russian Federation”, or for the statement that Fr. Mykolai “tried … to discredit our country on the international level”. Quite the opposite: in fact, from our knowledge of the ecumenical and humanitarian situation in Germany, where the largest community of UOC parishes exists at present, Fr. Mykolai and these parishes have solicited support for Ukraine in Germany and many Western countries. The parishes of the UOC in Germany are important actors in mobilizing the German society to support Ukraine in spiritual, humanitarian, economic, and military ways. They inform the public about the reality of the Russian aggression and the severe consequences for the people of Ukraine. In contrast, unfortunately the public stigmatization of the UOC as a “Russian agent” by Ukrainian political actors—illustrated by such actions as those of the SBU—discredits Ukrainian interests abroad and harms efforts to strengthen international solidarity. (Quelle:, 25. April 2024)