Thousands of Ukrainians oppose eviction of ‘pro-Russian’ church monastery

Kyiv, Mar 29 (EFE).- Thousands of followers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church were gathering on Wednesday at the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves for what could be the last service to be held at the historic church.

Because of its affiliation with the Moscow Patriarchate, the UOC’s monks – whom the Ukrainian government accuses of being pro-Russian – are facing eviction from the 11th century monastery, which occupies a prominent role in Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

The UOC on Wednesday filed another appeal against the government’s decision not to renew an agreement allowing the monks to run the monastery.

“We have been coming here every Sunday since we were born; it is very important for us and for our families,” says Anastasia Batenko, who joined her siblings Barbara and Sergei in a display of solidarity with the priests at the Monastery of the Caves.

The Batenkos want the government to rectify the situation so that they can keep practicing their life-long faith and keep praying “in our church.”

“Of course there are collaborationists (with Russia), but that does not mean that the whole church is collaborationist; look at us, we are ordinary Ukrainians,” Batenko says.

The Bishop Pavlo and other Orthodox monks and priests at the monastery have repeatedly said that they will not leave the church, which was raided late last year by the Ukrainian intelligence services who said they had found Russian propaganda material.

Since the beginning of the invasion in February 2022, Ukrainian authorities have arrested several members of the Orthodox Church clergy they accused of blessing the invading Russian army and of leaking information to enemy forces.

The UOC, which until recently held a majority in the country, broke with Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church in May last year in protest at the Orthodox religious leader’s fervent support for his country’s aggression against Ukraine.

But some experts have warned that this unilateral break has no canonical effect, and many observers in Ukraine doubt its authenticity, as the church’s hierarchy has consistently been publicly sympathetic towards Russia until very recently.

“If there are FSB agents, let them be tried and punished, but they can’t make this whole church pay,” says another of the parishioners who came to the monastery on Wednesday to show their opposition to the government’s eviction plans.The Ukrainian government insists there are Russian secret service agents among the church’s elite.

In 2018, Kyiv created its own Orthodox Church that is independent of Moscow’s influence, which was recognised a year later by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

That breakaway church has seen its numbers grow since Russia launched its invasion, but many Ukrainians are faithful to their tradition and want to remain as part of the UOC.

Former Ukrainian intelligence officer and former presidential advisor to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Oleksii Arestovych, is one of the most popular Orthodox voices in the country.

In one of his latest public appearances, Arestovych said that allegations of the UOC elite collaborating with Russia have been proven, while the families of many Ukrainians who have died fighting the war want to bury their sons and husbands in their churches.

“I don’t think everyone there is KGB, but there are undoubtedly many who sympathize with the Kremlin,” Arestovych said of the congregation’s hierarchy.

“It is a difficult task for our state and our society,” the former presidential adviser said. EFE


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