Moscow news source doubts Ukrainian statistics


by Oleg Nalisnik

RIA Novosti, 16 July 2021


“The largest in the country” and “most popular with citizens”—this is how the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine (PTsU) advertises itself these days. The results of a recent sociological survey supposedly showed its preferred status over other structures, principally the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UPTs), which the authorities accused of cooperating with Moscow. Why “puppet sociology” has become the last hope of secular Kiev and what the religious map of the republic really looks like is the subject of RIA Novosti’s article.


Crowd “on paper”


An honor guard, girls with loaves in embroidered blouses, and crowds of believers—that’s how Patriarch Bartholomew was received in 2008. The primate of the church of Constantinople was taken directly from Borispol to the Kiev caves lavra, the chief shrine of Ukraine


“We have come here in order to pray together with you for the unification of all Orthodox Christians of Ukraine in a united church, a church of your people, a church of your country,” he told Ukrainians at the time.


To be sure, the historic event was overshadowed by an incident: one of the parishioners in the cloister tried to attack the hierarch, waving his fists, and angry that the primate had come here at all.


Thirteen years later there are many more displeased people. Believers of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church declare that they are not awaiting the Istanbul patriarch in their land. All because he once promised peace and the unification of the Orthodox. But in reality he created a schism.


“He is not the head of our church, and not even an official representative of the state from which he is coming. He did not bring peace and unity to Ukrainian Orthodox society,” said Archbishop of Vasilkov Nikolai to 20,000 Ukrainians gathered in late May near the building of the Rada. They performed a prayer service and delivered to the authorities a petition with the demand to cancel the invitation to the primate from Constantinople.


Whether this was heard on the Phanar (the district in Istanbul where the administrative center of the patriarchate of Constantinople is located) is not known.


Although the publications associated with ecclesiastical Istanbul are vigorously and enthusiastically repeating the results of a recent sociological survey. The bright picture was painted by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology. According to its information, 57 percent of Ukrainians have a positive attitude regarding the visit by Patriarch Bartholomew that is planned for August. Almost a third of citizens are indifferent toward it and six percent are opposed.


This is somewhat different from the recent words of President Vladimir Zelensky to the effect that “the whole country is impatiently awaiting the visit.” But far more interesting in the sociological institute’s article is information about the Orthodox churches in the country. Of which, as is known, there are two: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is formally a part of the structure of the Moscow patriarchate, but is actually independent, and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is not recognized by the majority of Orthodox and was created three years ago by the government with the support of the Phanar on the foundation of schismatic structures.


And this is the picture: 58 percent of citizens, the sociological service maintains, identify themselves with the “new church.” And one quarter of Ukrainians call themselves supporters of the canonical UPTs.


And these figures have been drifting about in various news media for several days now. The pro-government media have been portraying them as a “triumph”: you see, they say, the “tomos gives vitality.”


The details are left behind the scene. For example, the fact that the study was rather simple-minded. Only 1,300 people in various regions were contacted by telephone.


“This sociological study was conducted specifically for the visit by Patriarch Bartholomew. That is, this is how they present public opinion, calling only 1,300 persons and portraying this as the opinion of all Ukrainians,” UPTs Archpriest Nikolai Danilevich commented regarding the sensational “research.”


Distortion of reality


This is not the first time Kiev has resorted to such tricks. In the past, the main supplier of the “necessary indicator” was the Razumkov Center. After its director became the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, the Kiev International Institute of Sociology and the “Democratic Initiative” foundation took the baton. Incidentally, the latter actively supported both Maidans.


What is interesting is that representatives of these organizations, at one of the round tables in 2019, scolded Ukrainian sociology for serving the interests of the political players “to the detriment of science.” And paradoxically they themselves exposed themselves. “Leading sociological centers are accused of corruption. [. . .] Of course this is overstated, but orders are nearly the only source of income for the sociological center. And it is the customer who chooses whom to include in the questionnaire,” conference participants said in a joint statement.


And not only that. The one who pays also may formulate the questions. And on that depends what the answers will be, to a great extent.


“In questions to respondents on a church topic there is a definite nuance: sociologists use the specification ‘Moscow patriarchate’ when they talk about the UPTs, although that is not in the official name. And this immediately evokes a certain reaction from respondents, thus distorting the true statistical picture,” the Ukrainian religious studies scholar Aleksei Smirnov explained to RIA Novosti. In addition, he added, the sample is intentionally incomplete: without citizens in the territories not controlled by Kiev. And they go to churches of the canonical Ukrainian church, the expert says.


And most important: the sociological surveys do not distinguish between those who really believe in God and those who identify themselves with one or another religious organization exclusively for political motives. In particular, “anywhere except among the Muscovites.”


“Such sociological studies should include questions about ‘real religiosity’ in order to claim to be scientific: does a person attend church and how often does he participate in sacraments and the like,” the religion expert emphasizes.


The last hope


“Real religiosity” among Ukrainians is constantly being measured. According to data of a recent study by a group of independent sociologists, the Ukrainian church leads in the number of active parishioners: 14.4 percent of the population. The PTsU has only 7.6 percent. Moreover, 10 percent of them state that do not even believe in God.


The contradictions do not end there. Leaders of the schismatics do not mention another statistical nuisance—the church buildings. The PTsU has about 7,000. The canonical UPTs has over 12,000. And this despite the fact that about 4,000 parishes were taken away.


Every year the Ukrainian church grows with new parishes and clergy; this is even determined by investigators of the Kiev International Institute of Sociology. And this despite the promises of its creators not the add anything to the schismatic organization.


“This structure was created on paper. And since it is artificial, it remains so. It was conceived as ‘country-wide.’ But it turns out that it is much smaller than the UPTs, which the authorities call ‘Russian,’ as they also call the priests and parishioners ‘agents of the Kremlin.’ And here it is necessary to deal with the sociologists. But, as is known, in such cases everything is decided by the customer,” the Ukrainian political scientist Rostislav Ishchenko explained in conversation with RIA Novosti.


In addition, the new structure resorts to an old tactic of schismatics: they open churches without parishioners in order to create the appearance of a majority. But here’s the problem: the PTsU, which was pasted together from the self-ordained “Kiev patriarchate” and the “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church,” never transferred their parishes into its jurisdiction, as required by law. That is, even de jure it has quite few parishes. In such a situation it really remains only to rely on telephone surveys. (tr. by PDS, posted 17 July 2021)

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