Calls To "Fight" LGBT People By Ukrainian Cleric Emblematic Of Church's Proximity To Far Right
Yaroslav Kulyk is a fixture at anti-LGBT protests in Kyiv, and has called for “patriots” to “fight”, “crush” participants of Kyiv Pride. Kulyk addressed crowds next to far-right figures, calling one far-right organizer his “leader”. Kulyk is also a priest in the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), regularly conducting services in some of Ukraine’s most well-known historic cathedrals, often seen with the hierarchs of the Church.
The case of 27-year-old Yaroslav Kulyk is an extreme example, yet it is also emblematic of how anti-LGBT activism and rhetoric has put members of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine on the side of the far right fringe, thus further boosting the profile and perceived legitimacy of these groups, which in reality hold relatively little popular support throughout the country.
OCU Priest Accuses “Global Capital” Of Backing Gays In Attack On Ukrainian Traditions
“There’s an attack underway on the family as a social institution (…) the Global Capital is heavily invested. It’s imperative that every believer joins the fight. What else can Christians do other than pray, preach, and fight?”
In a video address shared online by anti-LGBT groups, a young bearded man in priestly vestments described this “attack”, and further called on “Christians and Patriots” to join a “prayer vigil” against “enemies.” The man, the aforementioned 27-year-old priest Yaroslav Kulyk, introduces himself as “Father Yaroslav” of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
“Father Yaroslav” continued in his conspiratorial line of thought in his video invitation to a “prayer vigil,” saying that, “Our fight is sacred and sacral. It’s the fight of the Grace of the Holy Spirit against the Global Capital. It’s the fight of a single nation against the global government. It’s the fight of Christians against forces of the Devil.”
The video carries more weight in its proximity to Ukraine’s most influential religious organization due to the fact that it was filmed in literal proximity to the headquarters of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The backdrop of the video shows the courtyard of Kyiv’s famed Saint Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery.
The Prayer Vigil Kulyk touted is actually a far-right rally meant as a counter to Kyiv Pride, Ukraine’s premier LGBT event. Kyiv Pride has long been targeted by anti-LGBT groups, religious organizations, and the country’s far right.
This year’s LGBT march is scheduled for June 23rd, while the counter-event, dubbed the “Vigil in Defense of Children and Families,” is set to be a two-day event spanning June 22nd and June 23rd. Last year, this event was used by anti-LGBT protesters to prevent Pride participants from gathering to begin marching, but police broke up the disruptive counter-protest. The anti-LGBT protesters then accused the police of using excessive force.
This counter-event will reportedly be manned by three of Ukraine’s most notorious and reportedly violent far-right groups: Karpatska Sich (Карпатська Січ), Tradition and Order (Традиція і Порядок), and Brotherhood (Братство).
These three larger groups will be joined by a collection of smaller anti-LGBT, far-right, and Christian conservative organizations, including: Katechon (Катехон), National Resistance (Національний спротив), Unknown Patriot (Невідомий патріот), Sisterhood of Saint Olga (Сестринство Святої Ольги), and the Interconfessional Chaplain Church (Міжконфесійна капеланська Церква).
The diversity of these of anti-LGBT protest groups reflects how religious-conservative and violent groups overlap in their anti-equality activism, dovetailing into their respective efforts to curb LGBT rights. Per the recent report “The State of LGBT in Ukraine” by the Ukrainian NGO Our World, religious-conservative circles in Ukraine have focused on pressuring the government to abandon LGBT rights reforms and “effectively impose discrimination of LGBT”, whereas far right groups have attempted “to physically block any LGBT events, and used violence without hesitation”.
Both Far-Right And Religious-Conservative Groups Are Father Yaroslav’s Audience And Allies
“Father Yaroslav,” as Bellingcat has established, is in fact the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) priest Yaroslav Kulyk, an abbot of a small Chapel tucked among Kyiv’s residential high-rises on the far-flung Eastern bank of the Dnipro, at Zarichna 1-A.
His social media presence suggests that he is a well-connected figure in the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. At 27 years of age, Kulyk can be seen in numerous photos next to hierarchs of the OCU and leading sermons in Ukraine’s best-known cathedrals.
Outside of his priestly duties, Kulyk has established himself as an ally of Ukraine’s anti-LGBT groups, and a fixture at anti-LGBT protests and gatherings.
In recent months, Kulyk — dressed always in priestly attire — has been a visible part of anti-equality protests held in Kyiv, including events targeting feminist and LGBT populations. Kulyk is part of Ukraine’s far-right scene, more specifically a new brand of “traditionalist” and “Christian right” groupings seeking to attach themselves to the prestige of religious organizations and faith in general in Ukraine.
“Crush Them Without Mercy”: How The Prestige Of The OCU Is Weaponized Against LGBT People
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU, or Православна Церква України in Ukrainian), which Kulyk belongs to, is arguably emblematic of Ukraine’s very independence and its opposition to Russia’s influence.
Its creation on January 5, 2019, after a formal break with the Russian church, was heavily backed by Ukraine’s now-former president Poroshenko in what was seen by observers as part of his (ultimately failed) re-election bid.
The leader of this newly-independent church is 40-year-old Metropolitan Epifaniy, who on January 6, as RFERL reports, received tomos — a document establishing the independence of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church from Russia.
While securing independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) from Moscow was reportedly welcomed by the majority of Ukrainians, what has followed is an ongoing public spat between Epifaniy and influential Patriarch Filaret, the 90-year-old leader of the OCU’s predecessor the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate.
Filaret claimed he should lead the new church, the OCU, and, per UNIAN, he has sought to officially resume the activities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate. Both Epifaniy and Filaret have allies amongst Ukraine’s nationalist, far right groups.
The prestige carried by Kulyk’s OCU is part of the priest’s appeal to Ukraine’s far right. As Bellingcat learned, Kulyk has been a key speaker at self-described interdenominational “traditionalist”, “Christian Right” sermons dubbed Ecclesia that bring together some of Ukraine’s most notorious and up-and-coming far right and anti-LGBT groups: Brotherhood (Братство), Katechon (Катехон), Tradition and Order (Традиція і Порядок), Order (Орден) and others.
Tradition and Order, for example, was linked to instances of violence and intimidation in a joint letter by international human rights watchdogs in June 2018. The letter also noted “a significant increase in physical attacks, threats, and intimidation against LGBTI activists, women’s rights activists, and other human rights defenders and journalists.”
Kulyk addressed far-right, anti-LGBT Ecclesia gatherings on numerous occasions, including some where he found himself next to Ukraine’s seminal ultra-nationalist ideologue Dmytro Korchynsky. Korchynsky once stated that his group Brotherhood worked to “have an Orthodox Taliban” in Ukraine.
Days after the release of his video invitation to the “prayer watch” aimed against Kyiv Pride parade, Kulyk consecrated the flag of “Order” , the self-described “conservative wing” of the far right National Corps party.
In a recent State Department human rights report, the National Corps was described as a “nationalist hate group.”
Kulyk himself is no stranger to extreme statements, and has explicitly called for violence against LGBT populations in Ukraine, and pushed apparent anti-Semitic tropes.
For instance, in a June 11, 2016 YouTube video titled “An address to Participants of the March for Equality 2016″, Kulyk, apparently already an Orthodox cleric at the time, called on ”real patriots” and “real defenders of our national identity and our holy faith” to “crush” Kyiv pride participants.
“Go in the streets of Kyiv and crush them without mercy, and God’s force will be with you, and God will be helping you,” Kulyk proclaimed.
Later in the video he addressed Ukraine’s LGBT community: “I’ll spend tomorrow praying (…) for strong nationalists to annihilate you, drive you asunder.” In the same video, Kulyk described the June 2016 “March for Equality” as an event pushed by “Zionists and the global elite”, along with “imbecile West-imposed politicians.”
While that video address garnered fewer than 100 views since its publication 3 years ago, it offers a glimpse into extreme ideas that tie Kulyk to violent segments of the Ukrainian far right.
In the years since his explicit calls to “crush” the LGBT population of Ukraine, Kulyk’s role in the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has apparently only grown while his stance regarding the LGBT community has remained unchanged.
“Our fight against LGBT is not a fight against ‘people that are born this way’, it is not a fight against an ideology either. It is [a fight] against the agents of non-existence, forces of darkness, actors of counter-initiation, against the Prince of this world,” Kulyk stated in an April 2019 Facebook post “on Satanic symbolism of gay marches.”
Days before Kyiv Pride, the priest wrote in a since-deleted post Facebook that he could host up to six people who would come to Ukraine’s capital Kyiv “to join the fight against gays” as part of the “Vigil in Defense of Children and Families.” On the day before Kyiv Pride, June 22, Kulyk apparently plans a dedicated service in his own chapel in Kyiv “to bless all defenders of the tradition planning to stand up in Defense of Christ’s Truth.”
“We can’t win without God’s Grace.” Kulyk wrote on Facebook.
Head Of Ukraine’s Church Denies Sowing Animosity But Rubs Shoulders With The Far Right
Online, Kulyk has called the leader of an anti-LGBT group Katechon Yuriy Noevyi “our leader” and expressed admiration for aforementioned ultra-nationalist ideologue Korchynsky. Kulyk’s YouTube channel features his musings on conspiracy theories, esoterism, Atlantis, and suchlike topics, though view counts for most videos are only in the dozens.
Yet, Kulyk’s bizarre and extremist ideas have apparently found a home with Ukraine’s anti-LGBT groups and have not slowed Kulyk from moving up the ranks in the Church where contacts with far right are seemingly not outside of the norm.
In one video, Kulyk is seen conducting a service in Kyiv’s historic St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral, another video shows him being promoted in an ornate ceremony, and Kulyk’s social media show him routinely rubbing shoulders with the OCU’s top hierarchs.
In October 2018, the anti-LGBT Katechon group wrote on their Facebook page: “We were told that it’s not Christians’ business to oppose LGBT parades, and they should build churches [instead]. However, father Yarolsav will tell you, that the latter doesn’t preclude the latter, and that there can be no restrictions to service to God.”
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine told Bellingcat in an email that Kulyk was not authorized to “present the official position of the Church or its leader.”
The message went on to say that “The Church condemns and deems totally unacceptable any illegal expressions of violence regarding citizens that do not support traditional Christian views on family and public morals.” The OCU also noted its belief that “traditional family values” are “the only right values from the point of view of orthodox teaching.”
Meanwhile, according to a Facebook post by Kulyk, it was the current head of the OCU Epifaniy who, in 2018, bestowed his blessing upon Kulyk to serve as a priest in ecclesiastical rite of Chirotony. “On my way home I felt an incredible elation (…) I’m positive I’ve chosen the right path,” Kulyk summed up his rite experience, adding a photo of Epifaniy laying hands on the kneeling Kulyk’s head.
The OCU’s condemnation of “illegal expression of violence” against LGBT groups in its statement to Bellingcat contrasts with the image of apparent proximity, if not an outright alliance, between the church and anti-LGBT extremists, as publicly conveyed by the extremists themselves.
Online, leaders of aforementioned anti-LGBT groups — Order, Katechon, and Tradition and Order — have published photos showing them next to the leader of the OCU, Metropolitan Epifaniy.
Said groups are also empowered by Epifaniy’s own recent characterizations of LGBT life as “sin,” and as “obtruded by the West.”
“We as a Church don’t accept things that are sometimes obtruded upon us from the West. We are based solely on holy canons, and the holy scripture that definitively says that if there’s a sin, it should be corrected, and that one should strive to be better and repent before God. The Church will never accept something that is sin as normal phenomenon that must be proposed in our society. We love all, as humans, and don’t sow animosity, we don’t hate anyone, we love people”, Epifaniy stated in May 2019. He also clarified that he, in fact, believed that LGBT ideas are “Western propaganda.”
A dismissal of LGBT ideas as an artificial import of Western influence was also voiced by Epifaniy’s predecessor-turned-competitor Patriarch Filaret in June 2018.
“We had gay prides [in Ukraine], even twice. And how many participants did they see? A hundred, or two? Even that number included a lot of foreigners (…) Ukrainian people don’t support that,” Filaret told Pravda.com.ua.
There are, in fact, mixed reports on Ukraine’s public attitudes toward LGBT populations, suggesting that while Ukraine’s public is far from progressive towards the LGBT community, it does not hold ideas that align with those of of the far right, especially when compared to Ukraine’s neighbors.
For instance, per a recent survey by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiative Foundation, 47% of Ukrainians say they are intolerant of LGBT people, but the same report says that only 21% decidedly support limiting the rights of LGBT people.
Ukraine ranks 36th (out of 49), right behind Italy, on ILGA Europe Rainbow Index. That’s ahead not only of Russia (46th), but also several EU members such as Poland, Bulgaria, and Latvia.
Meanwhile, a 2017 ILGA World report notes that 37% of Ukrainians “strongly agree” and 19% “somewhat agree” that “equal rights and protections should be applied to everyone, including people who are romantically or sexually attracted to people of the same sex,” and that only 14% “strongly disagree.”
Ukraine’s far right have attempted to claim a role in the creation of the OCU and in defending it from the rival Moscow Patriarchate. Such claims were made by Tradition and Order, and C14, which is described as “nationalist hate group” in a recent human rights report by the U.S. Department of State.
For example, C14 claimed earlier in 2019 that it had specifically played an important role in ushering independence of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church and defending it from the Moscow Patriarchate.
“When nobody believed there would be an Independent Church (…). When we were threatened by pro-Moscow bandits, and thugs were hired [against us] (…) We staged several dozens of operations (…) and it created momentum,” Serhiy Mazur, leader of C14, wrote in January 2019 when claiming credit for a role in the autocephaly of the OCU.
In a since-deleted Instagram post, C14 signaled its readiness to help the OCU take over parishes influenced by the Moscow Patriarchate, and added a photo of own members who were apparently armed.
The OCU did not answer Bellingcat’s request to comment on its relationship with C14 and Tradition and Order.
Another C14 leader, Yevhen Karas, together with other members of C14 was implicitly acknowledged by another Orthodox Church power figure, Patriarch Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate (Українська Православна Церква Київський Патріархат) — as previously mentioned, it is a historical predecessor of Epifaniy’s Orthodox Church of Ukraine and its current rival.
In April 2019, Filaret presented the Municipal Guard of Kyiv (manned and led by C14 members) with his Church’s medal “For Sacrifice and Love for Ukraine” (“За жертовність і любов до України”). C14 leaders Yevhen Karas and Serhiy Bondar are seen sitting next to Filaret in the photos posted on the official site of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate.
Meanwhile, in what could be meant to signal closeness to Epifaniy’s OCU, Tradition and Order has recently published exclusive interviews with a leader of that church.
On The Eve Of Kyiv Pride, Anti-LGBT Groups Join Religious Leaders At “Pro-Family” Rally And March
Far-right anti-LGBT groups were seen in proximity to religious leaders at high-profile public events dedicated to a shared “pro-family” agenda.
Members of Katechon, Tradition and Order, and Order marched in reportedly a thousands-strong “pro-family values” march in Kyiv on June 8 of this year. Metropolitan Epifaniy himself was at the head of the march, as well as leaders of other religious organizations and former officials.
While the far-right groups made for a relatively minor presence in the march, predominantly manned by members of larger religious organizations, the noticeable presence of the flags of Tradition and Order, Order, and Katechon could be interpreted as signaling acceptance of these groups by march and rally organizers and leaders.
Notably, Tradition and Order flags are seen in several images posted by OCU on its official site, including flags in close proximity to Epifaniy and Oleksandr Turchynov, former Secretary of the National Defence and Security Council of Ukraine.
The OCU told Bellingcat in an email that Epifaniy was a mere participant of the “pro-family” march and rally and the participation of anti-LGBT groups was not coordinated with him. At the same time, the OCU did not answer Bellingcat’s question regarding its, and Epifaniy’s, contacts and photographs with anti-LGBT organizations and their leaders.
Bellingcat reached out to organizers of the June 8th event — the interdenominational organization All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations — for commentary on the participation of anti-LGBT groups, but did not receive a response.
“Distinguished Guests” Of The Church Compared Being Anti-LGBT To Fighting Russian Aggression
In yet another recent development suggesting the OCU is not bothered by contacts with anti-LGBT far-right groups, Epifaniy recently met with leaders of Ukraine’s more influential far-right, nationalist forces, the All-Ukrainian Union Svoboda, and National Corps.
These parties, joined by another far-right organization, Right Sector, recently united in a bid to enter the Ukrainian parliament (Rada) in July elections. A recent Freedom House report “Far-right Extremism as a Threat to Ukrainian Democracy” designated all three organizations as “extremist nationwide,” and noted that extremist groups are “a real physical threat to left-wing, feminist, liberal, and LGBT activists, human rights defenders, as well as ethnic and religious minorities.”
During the meeting that could be interpreted as an endorsement of the far-right’s parliamentary bid by Epifaniy, far-right leaders noted their support for the OCU.
“The distinguished guests have stated full support for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and expressed hope for further fruitful cooperation for the good of Ukraine,” reads the OCU’s statements regarding Epifaniy’s meeting with far-right leaders.
While Epifaniy in his own statements regarding the LGBT community nebulously said the “sin” of LGBT should be “corrected”, his “distinguished guests’” and their allies’ rhetoric is more explicit.
In December 2018, Sokil held a protest in front of Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers demanding that Ukraine “stop promotion of LGBT ideas at the state level.” Media reports linked Sokil to attempted attacks against and disruption of LGBT events.
Prior to violent attacks on Kyiv Pride in 2015, Dmytro Yarosh — who sent regards to Epifaniy via the leader of Svoboda — wrote on Facebook that “nationalists won’t allow a handful of beggars for grant money [грантожери] joined by several hundred of ‘useful idiots’ to impose their ideology on millions of Ukrainian citizens.” Yarosh led Right Sector in the past and is part of the far-right’s joint election ballot.
Right Sector is vehemently opposed to LGBT and feminist ideas in Ukraine.
“Feminists and LGBT are trying to destroy Christian and moral values of the Ukrainian people and challenge the Ukrainian traditional family,” the organization wrote in March when promising to counter March 8, 2019 feminist rallies, describing them as “[witches’] sabbath.”
Earlier this year, Right Sector noted that the presence of their “fighters” stopped LGBT organizers from attending an important court hearing over a lawsuit regarding LGBT rights. In May, Right Sector pleaded with Ukraine’s newly-elected president Volodymyr Zelenskiy that the “imposition of gender ideology can’t be allowed.”
Marking Zelenskiy’s inauguration, Right Sector released a statement: “Influence of globalist organizations — that impose gender and LGBT ideology — is increasing in the spheres of education, information, and society in general. The government either ignores that obtrusion or joins it. The government has to defend the family as an institution, stimulate birth rate.”
Parts of anti-LGBT rhetoric as voiced by Yarosh, Right Sector, and even Epifaniy were recognizable in a statement issued on the eve of Kyiv Pride 2018 by National Corps.
That party, arguably Ukraine’s most discussed far-right force, accused LGBT individuals of “imposing their own norms, [which are] foreign to Ukrainian society” and called on “all concerned Ukrainian citizens” to thwart “the destruction of moral and spiritual foundations” by protesting “the embedding of LGBT traditions in Ukraine,” and stopping “so-called equality marches” from happening.
In that same statement, the National Corps likened its own stance towards LGBT events to the ongoing armed fight against Russian aggression. “The National Corps won’t allow to disdain traditions of Ukrainian society and of Ukrainian family, violate their moral principles, just like our members didn’t allow Putin to impose his will upon Ukraine and enslave us,” the statement read.
Remarkably, the same statement claimed the National Corps are not “radicals” and denied responsibility for persecution of the LGBT population in Ukraine.
However, in 2019, one group linked to the National Corps is apparently not trying to deny its attempts at LGBT discrimination and threats of violence. Prior to this year’s Kyiv Pride, Order (Орден), the self-described “conservative wing of the National Corps” led by the party’s ideologue Eduard Yurchenko, issued an apparent threat to Kyiv Pride participants: “Stay home, and don’t show up in public. Ever. That will make our life easier and keep you safe ;)”.
Much To Lose And Little To Win For OCU In Apparent Anti-LGBT Alliance
The far right has described LGBT and feminist “ideologies” as “imposed” and “introduced by global organizations.”
Such beliefs are not out of tune with recent statements by Epifaniy himself, as well as statements by other influential religious leaders in Ukraine. In fact, Yaroslav Kulyk’s own calls to “fight” against the LGBT are not that different from many religious leaders.
The recent instances of contacts between Epifaniy and far right, while not exhaustive by any means, suggest a level of proximity, if not outright cooperation, between the OCU and a number of notorious anti-LGBT/anti-feminist organizations.
The OCU’s, and other religious organizations’, failure to distance themselves from the Ukrainian far right’s attempts to piggyback off of their prestige is especially concerning considering how the OCU is one of Ukraine’s few respected institutions.
According to a May 2019 survey, over half (54.2%) of Ukraine’s population supports the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). Compare that statistic to Ukraine’s far right, which, per recent polls, can hardly expect to make it into Ukraine’s Rada in July’s parliamentary election.
Clearly, Ukraine’s faith bodies and leaders have little to win and much more to lose from what seems like a budding alliance with fringe groups if they do not truly agree with these extremist organizations’ actions and beliefs.
U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo made a statement on January 10 of this year regarding the Declaration of Ukrainian Autocephaly (which created the OCU), calling it a “historic achievement”, and encouraged Ukraine’s government and Church “to promote tolerance and respect for the freedom of members of all religious affiliations to worship as they choose.”
Pompeo’s call to promote tolerance and respect was not heeded when considering Ukraine’s LGBT people, feminists, and gender equality activists — in other words, vulnerable groups that find themselves being targeted as religious leaders align closer to the ideas of violent organizations.
Authored and researched by Oleksiy Kuzmenko