UKRAINE: The war, religious beliefs and conscientious objection: the case of Protestants (3)

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By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, with a Ukrainian lawyer

The legislation of Ukraine protects the right to conscientious objection to military service for members of ten categories of religious minorities the beliefs and teachings of which forbid them from using or carrying weapons, killing people and/or being under the authority of the military. Among them, a number of Protestant denominations:

  • Evangelical Christians
  • Evangelical Christian Baptists
  • Charismatic Christian Churches (and similar Churches according to the registered statutes)
  • Christians of the Evangelical Faith (and similar Churches according to the registered statutes)
  • Christians of the Evangelical Faith

Noteworthy is that alternative (non-military) service is introduced only in place of regular military service, which is not subject to conscription during martial law (Article 1(1) of Law No. 1975-XII; Article 1(4) of Law No. 2232-XII).

In the cases below, the courts have issued prison terms of 3-4 years with release from actual serving of the sentence with a probationary period of 1 to 3 years IF he does not commit a new criminal offence during this time and fulfils the obligation to periodically appear at the authorized probation institution, notify the probation institution of a change in his/her place of residence, work or study. The full judgements in Ukrainian analyzed below are available in automatic translation by clicking on Guilty Verdict.

Some cases of (alleged) Protestants

The case of Artem Kravtsov, an Evangelical Christian Baptist

19.10.2023 – Case No. 479/767/22 – Kryve Ozero, Kryvoozerskyi District Court of Mykolaiv Oblast. Guilty verdict. The punishment is 4 years in prison with release from actual serving of the sentence with a probationary period of 3 years.

According to the evidence available in the case, the accused has the rank of junior lieutenant. According to the certificate of the military medical commission dated 13 April 2022, he was declared fit for military service.

On 10 September 2022, he received a summons about the need to report on 12 September 2022 at a specified address to be sent to the National Academy of Ground Forces. The accused failed to abide by the summons.

At the court hearing, the accused pleaded not guilty to committing the criminal offense incriminated to him: evasion of conscription for mobilization. He explained that since April 2019, when he received water baptism, he has been a member of a Protestant Evangelical community. He explained that his religious beliefs did not allow him to use weapons. He repeatedly mentioned this in the military registration and enlistment office and brought to the attention of the officials of the military commissariat that the fulfillment of military duty contradicts his religious beliefs.

He provided a certificate from the Church to confirm his words. He asked the court to take into account the fact that as his father is in the service of the Armed Forces of Ukraine he is in fact the only trustee for his wife, mother and young children. He noted that in order to survive in a village (Ternovaty) where he has no work, his family is forced to keep a large subsidiary farm which he takes care of personally, as for health reasons his mother and his wife cannot do hard work. In October 2022, he got a second child.

His father confirmed his statement, stressing that since the life of their family without male support is impossible.

The verdict was not appealed.

Case of Gennady Tonyuk, an Evangelical Christian Baptist

03.02.2023 – Case No. 344/7022/22 – Ivano-Frankivsk, Ivano-Frankivsk City Court of Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast – Guilty verdict . Punishment – 3 years of imprisonment with release from actual serving of a sentence with probationary period of 3 years.

On 8 April 2022, the accused, born in 1984, got a summons to report on 15 April at the local recruiting station in order to be called up for mobilization to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. He was warned about being prosecuted for failure to report within the specified period. A few days earlier, he had undergone a military medical examination and had been declared fit for military service.

The accused failed to abide by the summons but submitted an application for replacement of military duty by an alternative service, stressing that due to his religious beliefs he could not use weapons or engage in combat. However, he then did not provide any document confirming his religious membership to one of the 10 state-recognized religious associations protected by the law on this issue.

During the trial, it appeared that in the case file there was evidence he had been a parishioner of the Church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists since 19 May 2022: a certificate dated 22 May 2022 issued by the Presbyter of the Central Church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists in Ivano-Frankivsk. Due to religious beliefs, he cannot take part in hostilities.

The court drew attention to the fact that the accused only became a parishioner of the Evangelical Baptist Church about a month after getting his mobilization order.

Therefore, the court considered that the guilt of the accused in committing the criminal offense incriminated to him had been confirmed and qualified his actions under Article 336 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine as evasion of conscription for military service during mobilization.

The verdict was appealed by the prosecutors.

On 27 April 2023, the Court of Appeal upheld the Guilty Verdict without change. The panel of judges of the Court of Appeal agreed with the conclusions of the Court of First Instance that the accused at the time of receiving the summons and evasion of military duty (15.04.2022) did not have the right to alternative service, since he was not a member of a religious organization.

The case of Dmitry Kucherov

21.06.2022 – Case No. 398/1551/22 – Oleksandriya, Oleksandriia City District Court of Kirovohrad Oblast. Guilty Verdict. The punishment is 3 years of imprisonment with release from the actual serving of the sentence with probation for a period of 1 year.

At the court hearing, the accused fully admitted his guilt in committing this criminal offense of evasion of conscription, added that he was a Christian, a member of the Church of God of Ukraine “Source of Life”. Consequently, he refused to be drafted because he did not want to fight with weapons in his hands.

The guilty verdict was not appealed.

Further reading about FORB in Ukraine on HRWF website