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Obey or leave, Kyiv monks told

18 August 2023

Alamy

Demolition workers at the end of last week make safe the remains of an Orthodox church damaged in a Russian rocket attack in Zaporizhzhia. Three people were killed in the attack, and nine others were wounded

Demolition workers at the end of last week make safe the remains of an Orthodox church damaged in a Russian rocket attack in Zaporizhzhia. Three peopl...

OFFICIALS in Ukraine have taken fresh steps to secure control over Kyiv’s Pechersk-Lavra, or Mon­astery of the Caves, as further legal moves were made against the country’s Moscow-linked Orthodox Church (UOC).

“Out of 40 objects, we have now reclaimed 11, while around 30 are still being used by unknown persons in ways which definitely do not correspond to the monastery’s functions,” the acting director of National Kyiv-Pechersk Historic-Cultural Preserve, Maksym Ostapenko, told the Ukrinform news agency on Tuesday.

“For now, our commission will not touch objects where monks live or services are performed. But once final court decisions enter into force, the monks must either prove they have no ties with the aggressor state and work out a new transparent format for relations with our state, or vacate the premises.”

Ukrainian media reported that priests and supporters of the UOC had barricaded doors and access points at the 11th-century monastic complex when police and officers from the Culture Ministry arrived this week to inspect the premises under a court order made on 9 August.

They added that the Father-General of the Pechersk-Lavra monastery, Metropolitan Pavlo (Lebed), who faces trial for supporting Russia’s invasion, had undergone heart surgery after being released on bail last week after four months’ detention (News, 11 August).

The actions of Ukrainian officials have been denounced by both Russia’s Foreign Ministry, which said that it feared that Pechersk-Lavra could be looted, and the Moscow Patriarchate, which said that the “assault” on the complex, comprising numerous churches and monastic buildings, would continue facing “opposition from believers”.

“The madness of the Kiyv authorities in relation to the Ukrainian Church defies any rational comprehension,” the chairman of the Patriarchate’s Synodal Department for Church-Society Relations, Vladimir Legoyda, wrote on social media on Tuesday. “It can only be some kind of wild, monstrous desire to exterminate and destroy — and they know what they’re doing.”

The exchanges took place as Russian missiles and drones continued to strike Odesa and other cities across Ukraine; a slow summer counter-offensive was reported to have made progress towards the eastern Sea of Azov.

Another Metropolitan of the UOC, Luka (Kovalenko) of Zaporizhia and Melitopol, was questioned by police last week on suspicion of “inciting religious enmity”. Appeals continued for the release of Metropolitan Ionafan (Yeletsky) of Tulchinsky, who was jailed for five years on 7 August on similar charges.

In a national message last week, after meeting a delegation from the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that all religious communities were respected in Ukraine, and could “participate in solving socially important issues”.

He went on to say, however, that the country remained determined to preserve “all aspects of its independence, including spiritual independence”, and would not “allow any religious community to be used by the aggressor state”.

On Tuesday, the head of Ukraine’s State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience, Viktor Yelensky, told the Glavom news agency that he had seen “nothing to refute conclusions” in a January government report that the UOC “formed part of the Moscow Patriarchate”.

He said that steps would be taken if government-backed legislation to ban religious organisations “affiliated with the centres of influence in a country carrying out aggression against Ukraine” was eventually enacted in Kyiv’s Verkhovna Rada parliament.

In a statement on Tuesday, the UOC said that funerals of “servicemen who fell defending Ukraine from Russian aggression” had been conducted the previous day in 15 of its dioceses.

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