KYIV, Ukraine ( Associated Press) — Ukraine on Friday banned the activities of religious organizations “affiliated with centers of influence” in Russia and said it would investigate ties between the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox churches.
President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decision of the National Security and Defense Council to impose personal sanctions on representatives of religious organizations linked to Russia, which invaded Ukraine more than nine months ago.
Zelensky’s decree also resolves to investigate the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, one of two Orthodox bodies in Ukraine, following a schism in 2019 that led to the creation of one of them independent of the Russian Church.
Ukrainian authorities suspect that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church promotes pro-Russian positions and that some priests are actively collaborating with Moscow. Moscow Patriarch Cyril, the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church, has justified the invasion of Ukraine as part of a “spiritual struggle” to stop the ideological progress of the West.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Ukrainian authorities of “waging war against the Russian Orthodox Church”, but priest Mykolay Danilevich, who usually serves as spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, echoed Peskov in a telegram message saying rejected the characterization of the Church as not Russian.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine led to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church declaring its independence from Moscow.
In a video broadcast late Thursday, Zelensky said the use of Kyiv’s Pechersk Lavra monastery complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site revered as the cradle of Orthodox monasticism in the region, would also come under increased scrutiny.
Members of Ukraine’s security service, the country’s National Guard and police searched the monastery last week after a priest spoke favorably of Russia during a service there. The security service said its agents searched a total of more than 350 churches, including another monastery and a diocese, in the Rivne region, 240 kilometers (150 miles) west of Kyiv.