Ukraine will move to place restrictions on the activities of Russian-linked religious organisations in the country, and security services will begin an investigation into a Moscow-linked branch of the Orthodox Church after a raid on a monastery last week
“The National Security and Defence Council has instructed the government to propose to (parliament) a bill on proscribing activities in Ukraine by religious organisations affiliated with centres of influence in Russia,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Thursday.
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Zelenskyy said the security services investigation would look into whether the Moscow branch of the church was entitled to operate at one of Ukraine’s most hallowed sites – the Pechersk Lavra complex in Kyiv.
The Orthodox Church in Russia has repeatedly voiced support for the Kremlin’s nine-month-old invasion of Ukraine. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church, has described the war as a “metaphysical struggle” between Moscow and the West.
Part of the Ukrainian church broke with Moscow in 2019 over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in the eastern Donbas region, after hundreds of years of spiritual leadership from Moscow.
While the Moscow-linked church formally severed ties with the Russian Orthodox Church last May, it is still mistrusted by many Ukrainians and accused of secret cooperation with Russia.
“We have to create conditions so that no actors dependent on the aggressor state (Russia) can manipulate Ukrainians and weaken Ukraine from within,” Zelenskyy said.
The intelligence services, known as the SBU for its initials in Ukrainian, last week searched 350 buildings belonging to the Russia-linked church and carried out checks on 850 people. It said it found “dubious” Russian citizens, large sums of cash and pro-Russian literature in a raid on the 1,000-year-old Pechersk Lavra.
Overlooking the right bank of the Dnieper river, Pechersk Lavra is the headquarters of the Russian-backed wing of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and falls under the Moscow Patriarchate.
The complex is a Ukrainian cultural treasure and its cathedral, churches and other buildings are a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site.
Moscow and the Russian Orthodox Church condemned the raid.