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Ukraine - Religion

The country has an area of 233,000 square miles and a population of 45.7 million. The Government estimated there are 33,000 religious organizations representing 55 denominations in the country.

According to official government sources, Orthodox Christian organizations make up 52 percent of the country's religious groups.

  1. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate, abbreviated as UOC-MP) is the largest group, with significant presence in all regions of the country except for the Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, and Ternopil oblasts (regions). The UOC-MP is officially registered as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Church of Ukraine is an autonomous Orthodox church whose primate is confirmed by the Church of Russia. Its autonomy is currently not recognized in international Orthodox gatherings. Only the UOC-MP is currently in full communion with the Church of Russia and the remainder of the mainstream Orthodox Church.
  2. The second largest Orthodox group is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP), with most followers located in western and some central oblasts. The UOC-MP does not recognize the UOC-KP.
  3. The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) is the smallest of the three Orthodox churches, with approximately 70 percent of its adherents in the western part of the country.

A survey by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) included several questions about Ukrainian citizens’ religious affiliation (Jaroslaw Martyniuk, “The Orthodox Church in Ukraine in numbers,” The Ukrainian Weekly, 17 August 2018). Carried out in all the oblasts of Ukraine except for the Russian-occupied Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (where interviews were conducted only in the Ukrainian-controlled areas) and the occupied Crimea between 18 May and 5 June 2018, it comprised 2,025 interviews.

Among other questions, the survey asked respondents about their attitude toward religion, their level of religiosity, which of a list of religious groups they belonged to or felt closest to, and their opinion on President Petro Poroshenko’s April 2018 initiative for a single Ukrainian autocephalous Orthodox Church.

About 43 percent of the respondents identified with either of the two independent Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, the UOC-Kyivan Patriarchate (41.4 percent) or the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) (1.6 percent). Only 17 percent identified with the UOC-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP). This confirms other surveys that have shown roughly three times as much support for the UOC-KP as for the UOC-MP during the past twenty years. Another 2.5 percent identified with the Russian Orthodox Church. Those who identified with the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) numbered 7.5 percent, while Roman (Latin-Rite) Catholics numbered 0.2 percent. According to Jaroslaw Martyniuk, similar surveys in Ukraine and Russia show that Ukrainians have been more active and religious than Russians.

The Ukrainian Church under the canonical jurisdiction of Moscow has about 9.5 million faithful; the two other Orthodox churches with 14.5 million faithful combined, developed after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Adherents of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) constitute the country's largest non-Orthodox religious group and the largest one in the western part of the country. UGCC members number approximately 4 million, with 93.5 percent located in the western regions. While members of the three Orthodox churches comprise a majority of believers in the western part of the country overall, the Greek Catholic communities constitute a majority in three of the eight western oblasts: Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Ternopil.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Kyiv Patriarch Filaret (Denysenko) broke ties with Moscow in 1992, took the helm of the new church in 1995, and was excommunicated by Moscow two years later. The other is the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, established in 1920-21 through the controversial consecration of bishops by priests and a unilateral declaration of autocephaly. Excluded from communion with a patriarchal Church and worldwide Orthodoxy, both churches were isolated and operated in a kind of twilight zone.

On 11 October 2018, when, to the horror of the Moscow Patriarchate, Patriarch Bartholomew and his synod stood up to Patriarch Kirill and recognised these estimated ten million Orthodox Christians as legitimate. On the ground, it was business as usual for the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox believers, who never gave a hoot about Moscow's canonical histrionics. But the symbolism of this step and the way it set the stage for autocephaly marks a historic shift inside Ukraine and far beyond its borders.

The two churches now have canonical recognition, a regularisation of their status as Orthodox institutions. Their next goal is full-fledged autocephaly, and Patriarch Bartholomew spelled out the path: once they unite to form one church, their request will be granted.

Some Muslim leaders estimate there are 2 million Muslims in the country, although estimates by the Government and independent think tanks put the number at 500,000. The majority are Crimean Tatars, numbering an estimated 300,000 and constituting the third-largest ethnic group in Crimea. The Crimean Tatars have their own governing council (Crimean Tatar Mejlis) and language (Crimean Tatar). Crimea's majority ethnic Russian population is predominantly affiliated with the UOC-MP.

The Roman Catholic Church, with approximately one million adherents, is traditionally associated with citizens of Polish ancestry, who live mainly in the central and western regions.

According to the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions, 30 percent of the country's religious communities are Protestant. The Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine (the Baptist Union) is the largest Protestant group, claiming more than 300,000 members and more than 2,700 churches.

Other communities include Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Lutherans, Jews, Anglicans, Calvinists, Methodists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Presbyterians, Buddhists, and adherents of Krishna Consciousness.

Based on a 2001 census, the State Committee of Statistics estimated there are 103,600 persons of ethnic Jewish origin in the country. Some Jewish community leaders, however, estimate that 170,000 citizens were born to a Jewish mother and as many as 370,000 are eligible to immigrate to Israel because of their Jewish heritage.

A 2007 survey by the independent think tank Razumkov Center found that 40 percent of respondents consider themselves believers not belonging to any denomination, while 37 percent consider themselves believers of a particular religious organization. Of the latter group, 33 percent affiliated themselves with the UOC-KP, 31 percent with the UOC-MP, 18 percent with the UGCC, and 2.5 percent with the UAOC. Less than 5 percent of those surveyed declared themselves Roman Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, or Jews.

According to the 2007 survey, of those who considered themselves believers of a particular religious group, 34 percent said they attend religious services one to two times per year; 23 percent once in several months; 14 percent one to three times per month; 9 percent once per week; 2 percent several times per week; 6 percent once in several years; and 9 percent almost never. The survey also showed that almost 90 percent of religiously active citizens are Christians, the majority Orthodox, and that religious practice is generally strongest in the western part of the country.

According to an opinion poll conducted jointly by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology and the Sociology Institute of the National Academy of Sciences in October 2008, the level of public trust in religious institutions is higher than in Parliament, the business sector, and the educational and judicial systems.

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