Persecution of Believers-1, March 1978 (CCE 48.16)

[1] Catholics in Moldavia; [2] Adventists.


There are 15,000 Catholics in Moldavia. They are Germans, Poles and Ukrainians. Communities of Catholics exist in Beltsy, Bendery, Tiraspol, Rashkovo, Grigorovka, Andriyashevka and other towns and villages. In the only Catholic chapel open in Moldavia the priest, Vladislav Zavalnyuk, is forbidden to give sermons in Russian — he must take the service in German or Polish. (The common language of Moldavian Catholics is Russian.) Zavalnyuk is also forbidden to tell his congregation during Sunday sermons about the oppression of religious believers.

In 1977, the majority of Catholics in Moldavia were left without confession or a service at Christmas, since bans on priests visiting their parishes (CCE 47.//) became significantly harsher. Zavalnyuk was ordered to keep a journal in which he was had to register all his departures from Kishinyov (Kishinyov), not only on pastoral but also on personal affairs. His licence and documents for his own car were taken away from him. Complaints to the republican highway police brought no results.

Religious believers who found out from an assistant commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs that a priest has the right to attend to the sick and dying at any time and in any place without any doctor’s certificates and without special permission of the local authorities, began to protest when such certificates and permission were demanded from them. Vikonsky, the commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs at the Moldavian SSSR Council of Ministers, introduced a new rule: on a call to a sick person the priest must first get permission to confess the patient in Kishinyov from Vikonsky himself, and then, when he has reached the sick man, from the local authorities. Moreover, he is permitted to confess and attend only the sick person to whom he was called. Other believers may not, taking advantage of the priest’s arrival in the parish, be confessed.


A few years ago, Catholics of the Rashkovo township (170 km from Kishinyov), obtained permission for the priest to visit them. On the day the priest arrived believers from neighbouring towns and villages began to travel to Rashkovo. Since the Catholic church in Rashkovo has long been closed, the believers gathered in the home of Valentina Oleinik, a middle-aged Catholic. Young people and children started coming to the service. They began gathering for prayers not only on days when the priest came, but on Sundays and feast-days. Oleinik’s old, cramped house could not accommodate the congregation and they began to build a more spacious house of prayer on her plot of land.

By day people worked on the collective farm and by night they built the “church”. For days on end old people and children carried building materials. The Catholics brought sand, stones, boards and cement from their yards. The authorities noticed the construction work, and harassment began. They forbade other believers to come to the parish, since it was suspected that they were coming to help in the construction. To the requests of many Catholics to assign them wood or coal, or to give them a horse to plough up their vegetable patch, or to give them some sort of certificate at the collective farm the answer was: “Let your priest give it you.” Then they started to ban the priest’s visits to Rashkovo. They promised to set up no obstacles to him if the believers would knock down what they had built. Valentina Oleinik was fined several times, and in autumn 1977 given 15 days in prison (CCE 47.//), Accusations were made against the believers that they had spoiled 200 square metres of arable land and that the building materials used for the “church” had been stolen. Several times the Catholics lay on the road in front of official vehicles, asking that their “church” should not be knocked down.

On 25 December [Christmas] 1977, the prayer house was demolished. The operation was prepared in the following way.

  • On 24 December all believers were ordered to turn in their hunting guns. On 25 December, Kozhukhar, the chairman of the district soviet executive committee (in CCE 47.// his name and post are given incorrectly) summoned a large group of Catholics to see him, supposedly to register the church committee.
  • From 24 December onwards, they interrogated Father Zavalnyuk every day for a week in Kishinyov at the Department to Combat the Theft of Socialist Property, charging him with having stolen some body work for his car.
  • Schoolchildren in Rashkovo were told to come to school on 25 December by 8 am and not 9 am as usually.
  • On the morning of 25 December Valentina Oleinik and seven other old people who had kept constant watch in the “church” were bundled forcibly and half-dressed into a van and taken 70 km from Rashkovo, into the Ukraine. They were turned out into a field and kept there all day.

Meanwhile, about 15 policemen kept watch at the school and did not permit the children to go outside. Three to five policemen kept watch near believers’ houses, sometimes with Alsatians. They did not permit the owners to go outside, binding the door and gates with wire. People coming to the village from the fields were not allowed in.

At 9 am machinery thundered into the village: tip-up trucks, large buses, mini-buses, many cars, first-aid vehicles with medical brigades, four tractors, two bulldozers and two excavators. The police closed the roads to the village. About 500 people in uniform and civilian dress took part in the operation. They were brought in from Kamenka and the neighbouring districts. Troops stood by in the woods. Several inhabitants of the settlement also affirm that they saw a helicopter. Long-time inhabitants say they had never seen so much machinery and so many officials during any of the wars they had witnessed as on that occasion.

The Holy Sacraments, church books, vestments and icons were removed from the “church”, taken to the village of Katerinovka and locked in a stable. A guard of nine men was set up near the stable. The eucharist was scattered on the ground near the former “church” and the chalices taken away to the office of a collective farm. By 4 pm the “church” and V. Oleinik’s house, which had served as a basis for it, had been demolished. The materials from the demolished buildings — boards, slates, bricks — were loaded onto a lorry and driven away. This was all sold off in neighbouring villages, without informing the buyers where it came from. V. Oleinik’s entire plot was subsequently dug up.

The priest tried to obtain permission to come to the village so as to restore the Eucharist, but he was not allowed to do so.

Catholics from Rashkovo went to Moscow to complain to the chairman of the Council for Religious Affairs, Kuroyedov. They were sent several times from one deputy to another, while these directed them back to the local authorities. In the end, on 19 January 1978, they were received personally by Kuroyedov. He confirmed that the “church” had been demolished with Moscow’s knowledge. Kuroyedov called the Catholics hooligans and promised them fines if they should gather and pray on the site of the demolished “church”. After this the believers went to the reception office of the CPSU Central Committee to complain but were sent back to Kuroyedov.

The local authorities in Rashkovo are threatening the believers with expulsion of their families. They are forbidden to gather for prayer, reference being made to the fact that there is no officially registered church committee. On the other hand, the local, republican and union authorities will not register the church committee.

For Christmas, the believers set up a Christmas tree on the site of the demolished “church”. The Catholics were ordered to take it down and told that it was forbidden to visit fellow villagers on Christmas night. Despite the ban believers went from house to house in groups. Meanwhile, in V. Oleinik’s yard the Christmas-tree was knocked over and the decorations smashed.

On Christmas Eve Kozhukhar, chairman of the district soviet executive committee, demanded that Valentina Oleinik distribute the icons from the demolished prayer house to the believers, otherwise he would burn them.

Recently officials have been saying that Oleinik is mad and are threatening her with compulsory psychiatric treatment.


In the town of Beltsy Catholics have repeatedly appealed to the authorities to register the church committee, the “twenty”. Latterly the authorities have been demanding to see a list of all the Catholics in the town (there are more than 1,500 of them). The Catholics have refused.


In February 1978 commissioner Vikonsky summoned representatives of the church committee of Catholics in Kamenevo and told them to go to the bishop in Riga with a demand for the replacement of Father Zavalnyuk. The Catholics did not agree to this. Vikonsky summoned the priest himself and demanded that he “get out”, threatening prosecution. Vikonsky accused the priest of slander in having given an anti-Soviet sermon at a funeral in 1975.

Catholics from Moldavia have sent a letter appealing to Pope Paul VI. They ask him to “bring influence to bear on the Soviet authorities”, so that “freedom of conscience, faith and performance of religious rites” should be observed in relation to them. They ask a blessing on themselves and their priest Father Zavalnyuk.

[2] Adventists

(From materials in the booklet The Struggle of the All-Union Church of Faithful and Free Seventh Day Adventists for Freedom of Conscience in the USSR)

The worldwide church of Seventh Day Adventists was set up in the USA in 1844. Until 1924 the Seventh Day Adventist church in our country was united. In 1924 and 1928 at the fifth and sixth All-Union Seventh Day Adventist Congresses in Moscow and at regional congresses in other cities a split took place. A resolution was passed at the sixth All-Union Seventh Day Adventist Congress which obliged Adventists to perform “civil and military service in all its forms on an equal basis with all citizens”. “Anyone who teaches otherwise”, the congress declared, was a “false teacher” and put “outside the Seventh Day Adventist organization”. (The fifth congress still left the decision on these problems to the individual conscience of each believer.)

From this time onwards, there began to exist and function the illegal church of the Faithful and Free Seventh Day Adventists (FFSDA).

Since it appeared up to the present day the FFSDA has been subject to slander and persecution by the authorities. Many ministers and members of the Church have been imprisoned. The first leaders of the FFSDA perished in Stalin’s camps: G. Ostvald in 1937, and P. I. Manzhura in 1949. The present head of the Church, 82-year-old preacher V. A. Shelkov, has spent 23 years in prisons, camps and internal exile. Since 1969 Shelkov has operated underground.

At present, as described in the pamphlet, the Church is subjected to the following type of persecution and harassment:

  • official surveillance of the homes and meetings of believers;
  • summonses and interrogations about ministers and members of the Church, “concerning  the religious and moral life and activity” of the Church (to such questions Adventists are expected to reply with “holy silence”);
  • intensified searches for printing-works and elder ministers who are operating underground;
  • attempts by official organs to infiltrate their employees into Church circles, to recruit members of the Church and their relatives as informers (in return they are promised cars, flats and money, and a reduction in their terms of imprisonment and release from military service);
  • searches with removal of religious material;
  • imprisonment.


In Pyatigorsk on 28 January 1978 19-year-old Adventist Yakov Dolgotyor was detained. The pamphlet The Earthly Life of Jesus Christ and three collections of hymns, The Turtle Dove, published by “A Faithful Witness”, were found on his person.

Dolgotyor was in Pyatigorsk with his father. After his son’s detention N. Dolgotyor appealed to the local police. There he was told that Yakov had been released and had gone home (to Udobnoye village, Odessa Region). The father went home and, not finding his son there, returned to Pyatigorsk. This time they told him that Yakov had been arrested.

The investigation into Dolgotyor’s case is being conducted by the KGB. The official organs are interested to know where he received the religious material.


A group of Adventists in Kharkov have left the officially registered congregation. The Kharkov commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs and KGB officials, threatening they would shut down the prayer house, demanded from the congregation’s leaders a list of the believers who had left. On 13 January 1977, a group of believers sent a protest about this to Brezhnev and Andropov. They state that they will not appear on any summons for any talks, and in the event of being brought in by force they will not reply to any questions whatever.


On the morning of 23 July 1977, the house of Kharkov Adventist I. A. Konev was besieged by an operational team of eight people. Amongst them were KGB and MVD officials, police and volunteer militiamen. Captain N. M. Fomin was in command. Besides Konev, his children and sick mother were in the house. The raiders climbed over the fence and demanded to be let in. The owners did not open the door. For three-and-a-half hours the raiders drummed on the windows and doors, swore at the owners and threatened them with reprisals. Then they short-circuited the electricity supply to the house. This very nearly caused a fire. The guardians of law and order trampled beds of tomatoes near the house, picked cherries and apples in the garden, and, getting into the henhouse, sucked eggs.

On the morning of 17 December 1977, the operation was repeated. This time about 15 people came. They were brought in two cars and a tour bus. A KGB major, whose name is not known, was in command. They tried to break down the doors, broke a window and wanted to climb through it into the house, but stopped when they saw that the owners were photographing them. They again short-circuited the electricity supply. After this Konev’s house was kept under watch. Security officials are setting the Konev family’s neighbours against them and collecting signatures to some sort of document about Konev.

Persecution of Believers (CCE 48.16), pt 2