Currently, one of the main focuses of the Minister of Culture and Information Policy Oleksandr Tkachenko is the eviction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church — Moscow Patriarchate from the Pechersk Hills in central Kyiv. He still believes that the UOC leadership can leave the premises of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery in a "civilized" manner. And he speaks cautiously about the forcible scenario.
"This is an issue of religion, it concerns the state's management of its own property," the minister assures LIGA.net.
During the interview with LIGA.net, Tkachenko revealed why the news story about former president Petro Poroshenko aired on 1+1 TV channel during the national telethon program is not a hit piece, how many more potential "draft dodgers" Ukrainian society can get, and whether the era of "crazy weddings" in Ukrainian cinemas will end.
- According to the work plan of the Ministry of Culture's commission, the first stage was to be completed on April 11, and the UOC-MP was to hand over 34 objects of the Lower Lavra. Has at least one object been transferred since then?
- The gradual transfer continues. The commission resumed its work today and visited one of the sites, where the state of preservation is unsatisfactory, to put it mildly. This case will be recorded by the police. The process is not going as fast as we would like, but it is ongoing.
- You are very careful in answering the question of how the state will ensure that the territory of the monastery is liberated from the UOC-MP. Given the position of the UOC leadership, the state will be forced to use force even if there are legal grounds to do so. How do you imagine the day the Lavra will be liberated from the UOC-MP?
- We are in a legal plane. The decision of the Yanukovych government on an open-ended agreement has been canceled, there are warnings from the reserve, and explanations have been given. The people who impede the activities of the commission are staying on the premises of the Lavra illegally. But to record the transfer of property, we need a court decision. And then the [court] bailiffs should start acting.
We should not rule out a reasonable reaction of the other party, if not good will. When we took over the management of the Assumption Cathedral and the Refectory Church in the Upper Lavra, everything was more or less civilized. Representatives of the monastery were a part of the joint commission, signed an act of acceptance and transfer, and also submitted their representatives to the commission for the Lower Lavra. But suddenly the next day they changed their minds and then Metropolitan Pavlo started acting up.
Therefore, we cannot exclude that at some point they will come to their senses again and the process will become civilized and correct again.
- Do you still believe that they can come to their senses?
- Hope dies last. There are many other processes going on at the same time regarding other facilities. There are criminal cases, in particular, regarding obstruction of the commission's actions and damage to property.
The public demand during the great war for the behavior and numerous collaborations of the UOC-MP has changed. If before the war some could tolerate representatives of the UOC-MP, it is hardly possible now.
- Is the state ready for a forcible scenario?
- Bailiffs should come in and enforce the court decision.
- You have repeatedly hinted directly to the monks of the UOC-MP that they have the option of staying in the Lower Lavra, but that the sanctioned leadership of the UOC-MP must be forced to leave. How many monks of the UOC-MP are ready to transfer to the OCU and are just waiting for the right moment?
- First, the state should take over the management, and then address the issue of monastic life. Many premises on the territory of the Lavra are new buildings, many are in poor condition, many are used for economic purposes: a candle factory, etc. We first need to deal with all of this. Undoubtedly, religious life will continue there in one way or another. And probably monastic life as well.
- Do you have any data on how much money the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra could have brought to the UOC-MP per month/year?
- I think it is at least dozens of millions of hryvnias in turnover per year. We know of many benefactors who donated to the monastery and now the UOC-MP says: "We have rebuilt it for you." No, dear gentlemen, you did not rebuild it. It was rebuilt by people who donated money.
- Metropolitan Onufriy somehow exudes confidence in this whole story with the Lavra. Even after Pavlo's arrest, he continues to serve there. Is this a deliberate strategy not to up the ante? Or does Onufriy have security guarantees?
- You have seen the publication about the Russian citizenship of the Metropolitan and other representatives of the UOC-MP. The state does not interfere with the service. The state would like this to happen legally, by concluding new agreements on temporary service, returning all property.
- As for the investigation into Onufriy's Russian citizenship, does the state have any confirmation of this information?
- For now, we can use the investigation of Ukrainska Pravda. It seems to me that the arguments presented there speak for themselves.
- What is the situation with the Pochayiv Lavra?
- The question is not only about the Pochayiv monastery, but about many objects that were transferred to the UOC for use or lease. In many cases, the agreements are coming to an end, as, for example, in the Chernihiv Reserve.
And in the case of the Pochayiv Lavra, only in one church, the Kremenets Reserve, did the agreement come to an end. And the same picture is happening as in Kyiv. The priest took the keys and is preventing us from taking over this church. But most of the Pochayiv Lavra is in use for 49 or 50 years under an agreement with the Cabinet of Ministers. And the term will not expire soon.
We are studying these documents. As soon as we are ready, we will provide details. A more or less civilized process is taking place in Chernihiv.
We are also investigating the situation in other places. First of all, we pay attention to the objects that are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture. Because most religious sites are either owned by the regional council, like the Sviatohirsk Lavra, a community (in other cases, local councils), or they are even owned by the UOC.
- The OCU and the UGCC have publicly declared their claims to the Pochayiv Lavra. Does the state have a "Solomonic solution"? After all, hypothetically, this could become a time bomb. And it is better to discuss the scenario with the candidates now.
- We haven't thought about it yet. On the grounds of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, the OCU holds services on holidays, while the UOC-MP continues to serve downstairs. We see that there are opportunities for different churches to hold services. As for Pochayiv, let's first resolve the issue of property. In the future, informed decisions should be made as to how services can be held there, whether it is a lease or temporary agreements.
We also need to look into the history of this issue.
And this question is addressed to many leaders at various levels of government.
- More than 8,000 churches continue to be under the UOC-MP. How many of them can the state influence? And what to do with the churches that belong directly to the UOC-MP?
- This does not mean that they belong [to them]. They may be privately owned, or owned by religious organizations (NGOs), or leased and used from the authorities.
- What share of these 8,000 objects can the government influence?
- The vast majority are owned by local authorities. Some part (I don't think it's much) may belong to the UOC-MP.
- The recent decisions of the regional councils to ban the UOC-MP look a bit populist, because they should act in terms of terminating specific agreements, not just banning the UOC-MP.
- The regional councils have the right to express a political position, but we should wait for further steps from the Rada, where several bills on the UOC-MP have been registered. The next session of the Verkhovna Rada will be soon. It is likely that these issues will be considered there.
- More than a month has passed since the story of the stand-up comedian [Andriy] Shchehel. Has the state managed to create effective preventive mechanisms?
- We ask everyone who is going to travel to provide a package of documents that would indicate that there are indeed contracts, that funds will be collected, or that Ukraine will be adequately represented at events. But we also ask for a basic thing that all men should have during the war: a certificate of military registration. If a person registers for military service and thinks he is going to behave the same way as these "super-smart" comrades, then a completely different legal process comes into play.
- This mechanism has already started working, is it effective or not?
- We have established cooperation with the Border Guard Service to exchange information about those who travel abroad and return, so that we can immediately respond to possible unworthy behavior.
- Do you have any statistics on how many people are currently traveling abroad with permits from the Ministry of Culture?
- We know how many people have applied to us and how many certificates we have issued. For example, in January-March 2023, we received more than 1,500 requests, of which we provided about 1,000 with letters of assistance, and about 300 with explanations if something was wrong with the documents.
Many people who return report to us. Many people have traveled many times, come back and do great things for Ukraine, but we have only now established a list of information.
- Does the state have the ability to control the return of citizens?
- If a person is registered for military service and has not returned, he must be summoned to the military enlistment office. If a person fails to do so, the law comes into play, according to which he must be directly punished.
- How are you currently involved in the telethon? Do you chair any meetings or coordinate as a ministry?
- We meet with colleagues from time to time. My colleagues often ask me to be a guest editor.
- You believe that TV channels need to earn money. On the other hand, LIGA.net subscribers have comments about "Russian-language stupid shows" like Supermom, which STB for some reason does not want to dub into Ukrainian. In addition, STB is constantly embroiled in controversial stories, and only under public pressure does it postpone the show "Pregnant at 16" and the series in which it replaces a Russian actor with inferior photoshop job. Have you had any communication with the channels regarding the quality of entertainment content?
- We have communication and understanding that the channels need support during the war. Online media, such as yours, have suffered, but you have a little more opportunity to raise additional funds. Offline media is direct advertising, sponsorship, and the market has fallen by about 70-80%.
In order to continue to survive and work on content creation, you need to launch entertainment projects. In some way, we need to create a basis for further investment in content.
We will do our best to find funds from the state, and we are strongly promoting the need for investment from our Western partners and co-production with Ukrainians.
- How do you feel about the appearance of politically ordered stories on the air of the telethon? To what extent are the channels to blame for this?
- What does "politically ordered stories" mean?
- Stories that have signs of a hit piece.
- For example?
- On March 31, 1+1 [chennel] aired a six-minute story about how Romanian law enforcement officers detained a truck with a Roshen sign with smuggled cigarettes. They mentioned Poroshenko. As a person who is involved in the telethon, do you think this is appropriate?
- I don't have to tell you that we speak the language of facts. If it happened, it happened. But if it is deliberate, there is an emphasis, and it is repeated, only then can it have signs of a hit piece.
- So, if it's a one-off, it's okay?
- If this is consistent with the facts, then sure.
- The telethon is actually funded by taxpayers...
- Not until recently.
- And who funded it?
- The owners of the channels.
- And the money that was allocated from the state budget?
- So far, they have not received it.
- So the 1+1 story was filmed with the money of the owner?
- For a whole year, the telethon was actually working without state funding. Only those who worked on the Freedom channel received some money.
- Has everything they received been returned or postponed?
- They did not receive anything from the state.
- And what about the amounts that have been repeatedly reported, what is allocated to them?
- These are signs of a hit piece. They do not correspond to the facts.
- So as things stand, since the first day of the all-out invasion, all these channels have not received a single penny from the state budget?
- Except for those who participated in the creation of Freedom channel.
- I mean the all-Ukrainian telethon "United News".
- What is the recent appearance of [US-sanctioned MP] Oleksandr Dubinsky on 1+1 Ukraine's morning broadcast about?
- I haven't worked for 1+1 since 2019.
- You are the Minister of Culture and Information Policy. One of your main tasks, as you once said, is to fight disinformation. You know why Dubinsky was sanctioned by the United States. In particular, for participating in disinformation campaigns with [Andriy] Derkach, who is suspected of treason by the SBU. Is it okay for you to have such characters on our TV?
- I don't know the reason why he appeared [on 1+1 Ukraine]. I know that he is an MP from Kyiv Oblast. If it was directly related to his parliamentary activities, I don't see any problems.
If it concerned some national topics, views, or something else in general, then this is a question for [1+1 holding].
- Dubinsky has recently created a new YouTube channel, where he talks about the hunger of Ukrainians due to schemes in the grain corridor and the oppression of the UOC-MP. In addition, the Youtube channel of Diana Panchenko, a propagandist from Medvedchuk's channels, has hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Is the Ministry of Culture doing anything to block such content? Does it appeal to Youtube and Google?
- Recently, we have noticed a certain decrease in the traffic of many resources participating in the telethon on Youtube. We also had some questions about Meta (Facebook). In such cases, we respond. In particular, this concerned not only the resources that were in the telethon, but also Channel 24 and others.
We sent letters, and we are now in a dialog with Youtube. We will have a meeting with Meta on Saturday (April 15 — ed.) to discuss cooperation when Facebook pages of Ukrainians talking about the war or information resources are blocked. In this sense, we are involved.
"When it comes to the sanctions policy against Russians or resources like Strana, we also get involved. But they are periodically born anew, and we need to constantly monitor this, pay attention to it."
- How quickly does Youtube respond to our requests?
- During the war, a quick response system was established. They have now taken our messages into consideration and are checking what happened themselves. We see the usual traffic on the Youtube channel of these resources resuming.
- Some questions from subscribers. When will the Ministry of Culture shift funding for projects of dubious quality (like Crazy Wedding) in favor of films that we would not be ashamed to show abroad, such as Pamfir, My Thoughts Are Silent, etc.
- Crazy Wedding is a case when the invested funds were returned to the state. A huge number of films produced with the support of the Ukrainian State Film Agency have won awards at international festivals. The number of high-quality Ukrainian films and investments is incomparably higher than in commercial projects. Although it was worth investing even a little more in commercial projects, provided that the funds were returned.
- For you personally, is Crazy Wedding an okay product?
- I'm looking for a balance. For me, the first Avatar is an okay product.
- That's a good comparison: Crazy Wedding and Avatar.
- I can explain why. Because there (in Avatar – ed.) high artistic skill, visuals, and most importantly, meaning are combined.