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24 March, 1999
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On Restitution of Former Property of Religious and Ethnic Communities in Ukraine
The question of restoring former property is a pressing one not only for religious communities of the national minorities, who live in Ukraine. The problem is very important for all denominations which are active in Ukraine and comprise over 21 thousand religious communities, of which only 64 percent are provided with houses of worship. Many churches also lack the necessary administrative quarters, monasteries and other church infrastructure.
That is exactly why the restitution to the religious institutions of Ukraine of the former buildings and church properties is one of the priorities of our state-church policy.
In order to fulfill the Decree and Directive of the President of Ukraine on the return to the faithful of former church edifices and other forms of property, issued in March, 1992, three thousand three hundred temples and over eight thousand objects of church and worship paraphernalia were given over to the believers.
In accordance with the schedule on return of cult edifices, approved on recommendation of the President of Ukraine by the Cabinet of Ministers on May 31, 1996, by the end of 1997, one hundred five temples were given back to the churches and other denominations.
Mindful of the legal vacuum, created with the expiration of the time limits of the above mentioned decree and directive, the State Committee on Religious sent propositions to the Administration of the President of Ukraine and the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine concerning the creation of conditions for the realization of the constitutional rights of the citizens to religious liberty and improvement of legal mechanism to ensure a gradual return (or transfer) to the religious organizations not only of the former cult edifices, being used currently not according to their original purpose, but of all the church properties, requisitioned from the Church.
The Decree No. 290-p, issued by the Cabinet of Ministers on May 7, 1998, instructed regional state administrations to present an inventory of such objects and propose terms for returning them to the faithful. Based on this information, a schedule was prepared for the return to the religious organizations additional 120 former cult buildings in the regions, while regional leaders received from the government appropriate instructions. According to this schedule, 33 churches shall be returned to the communities of ethnic minorities in the years 1999-2000.
Pursuant to the fulfillment of the Executive Order of the President of Ukraine No. 123/97-pn, issued on March 14, 1997, the State Committee on Religions, together with other ministries and departments, the Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, regional, Kyiv and Sevastopol cities state administrations, explored separately the state of conservation and of honoring the temples of Judaism and memorials of Jewish Culture in Ukraine.
It has been determined that more than 120 former Jewish synagogues, 169 cemeteries and 12 memorials or memorial sites connected with prominent persons of Jewish faith have survived on the territory of Ukraine. The Government has deeded to, or made available for use by various religious communities nearly half of the synagogues, 53 to be exact. Thirteen of these are recognized as national historic sites and are protected by the Government. Fourteen synagogues will be returned to Jewish religious organizations in accordance with the above mentioned schedule. Of that number, a synagogue in the city of Sumy has been handed over after a pharmaceutical plant was relocated, as was a synagogue in the city of Bilhorod-Dniprovsky, previously occupied by a children's sports school. To date, there are no claims on 44 of the former Jewish religious buildings.
As the result of the tragic events of the Second World War that saw the Jewish population dispersed, a number of synagogues became inactive, their appearance altered or converted to other uses, so they cannot be vacated in the near future. Examples of these are three former houses of worship that have been converted into dwellings and a factory cafeteria in Kyiv, the bus terminal in Lutsk built on the foundation of a former synagogue, and the like. But in principle, the issue has been resolved. The Government's position remains unchanged: all that once was unjustly taken away from religious communities, should be returned.
Within parameters, spelled out in the Executive Order of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine Number 290 of May 7, 1998, the State Committee of Ukraine for Religious Affairs assists in acquiring religious and prayer facilities not only the religious organizations of Jewish faith, but all other religious and national communities active in Ukraine. As of January 1, 1999, the Government has deeded or leased more than 80 religious buildings to religious or national minority communities. Among the buildings that will be returned to the faithful in 1999-2000 are 17 Muslim mosques, 2 Lutheran churches, the cathedral of the Armenian Gregorian Church, and others.
Regarding the issue about the nearly 2,000 sites that once belonged to Jewish religious associations, the State Committee of Ukraine for Religious Affairs considers it valid, and supports all efforts by the faithful - of all confessions in Ukraine - not to allow privatization by anyone of religious buildings and property that are either not occupied or occupied for other than religious purposes. In the absence of legislation for restitution of property, there is a regulation that forbids the inclusion of religious and other buildings once belonging to religious organizations in the assets of entities converting to corporations or private companies. This is the directive of the State Property Fund of Ukraine Number 602 of May 20, 1996. In accordance with this document, where such sites had been included in the assets of joint stock companies or associations, efforts must be made to exclude these sites.