Statement Federal Commissioner Schwabe on Ukraine

24 February 2024 | In view of continuing repression against representatives and members of religious and faith communities in the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia, Frank Schwabe, the Federal Government Commissioner for Freedom of Religion or Belief, made the following statement:

“Last week, the body of Stepan Podolchak, a priest of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), was found with signs of violence in a village street in the part of Kherson Oblast that is occupied by Russia. Podolchak had previously been put under pressure repeatedly by the Russian occupying forces to join the Russian Orthodox Church. He refused to be intimidated. Up until he was abducted and killed, he looked after the members of his Ukrainian Orthodox congregation. This shocking incident is an example of the blatant violations of the freedom of religion or belief and other human rights in the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia.”

In times of war in particular, freedom of religion or belief – frequently along with other human rights such as freedom of speech and assembly – comes under massive pressure, not least as a result of the political exploitation of religious institutions. This applies to the entire territory of Ukraine.

“In the face of horrible images from the war and current discussions about support for Ukraine, we must not forget the human rights situation in the territories which Russia has occupied in violation of international law. Freedom of religion or belief is definitely one of these rights. So those responsible must be held accountable, including those responsible for repression and atrocities against members and leaders of religious communities, such as Stepan Podolchak, in the Ukrainian territories under Russian occupation,” said Schwabe.


According to data collected by the Kyiv-based Institute for Religious Freedom, 494 religious sites have been destroyed in Ukraine since the beginning of Russia's war of aggression. And since 2014, the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia had already been seeing violent church seizures, the closing of churches, mosques and other sites of worship, and a drastic crackdown on religious organisations that are not part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which is affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church. There is systematic repression of the free exercise of faith of groups such as Muslim Crimean Tatars, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roman Catholic Christians and Evangelical Christians in the occupied territories.

Further information on the situation regarding freedom of religion or belief in Ukraine, including Ukrainian territories under Russian occupation, has been published in the Federal Government’s Third Report on the Global Status of Freedom of Religion or Belief. At present, the full report is only available in German. The English version will be published in the course of 2024. For an English summary of the report, go to (External link).