'Pro-Moscow' Monks Resist Zelensky's Eviction From Ukraine Monastery

Monks have refused an order to leave a Kyiv monastery following accusations they had links to Russia, whose invasion of Ukraine has strained religious ties between the warring neighbors.

After Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) officially cut ties with the Moscow Patriarchate, whose primate, Patriarch Kirill has been accused of endorsing the war started by Vladimir Putin.

However, Kyiv believes the UOC is de facto dependent on Moscow and terminated the lease that allowed the monks to stay at monastery caves at Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, which overlooks the Dnipro River and has a key role in both Ukrainian and Russian history.

The Ukrainian government had given an eviction deadline of Wednesday to monks at the ancient cave monastery. But Metropolitan Kliment, the head of the information and educational department of the UOC, told reporters the monks would not leave.

Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra
Protesters hold placards reading "Moscow shaman - get out of the Sacred Lavra!," left, and "Moscow priests - get out of Ukraine!," right, at the entrance to the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra in Kyiv on March 28, 2023. The Ukrainian government has said monks, who are members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, must leave the site. SERGEI SUPINSKY/Getty Images

"There is no document that obliges us to leave the monastery today," he said, according to a translation by news outlet Liga.net. "There are documents that show that the contract should expire on the 29th, but it is not written that it ends on the 29th."

Metropolitan Pavlo, the director of the Lavra, last week called on the faithful to "defend this holy place with us."

Archimandrite Nikon, a high-ranking church figure, told Agence France Presse Wednesday that the Ukrainian government's demand was "unfair" and "wrong" for both the monks and Ukrainian citizens.

Newsweek has emailed Ukraine's internal affairs ministry for comment.

The Ukrainian government says the UOC broke tenancy agreements and constructed buildings illegally, which the church denies. More broadly, Kyiv also accuses the UOC of maintaining ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, which has supported Moscow's invasion of its neighbor.

Its head, Patriarch Kirill, has been widely condemned internationally. Three days after Moscow launched its full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, he described Ukrainians defending their country as "forces of evil" in a stance which has caused a split in the Orthodox faith worldwide.

Onufriy, the Metropolitan of Kyiv, issued a last-minute appeal to Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky to back down as he rejected claims that devotees at Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra were in the pay of Moscow.

"If there are cases of corruption, we do not support it," Onufriy told The Times of London.

Last week, the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights said it was concerned that "state actions against the UOC" could prove "discriminatory" and urged a "fair trial" for those facing criminal charges.

The latest development adds to the rancor within the Orthodox faith, which has been growing since conflict in Ukraine's Donbas region started in 2014.

In comments to Newsweek to coincide with the first anniversary of Putin's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the Orthodox Public Affairs Committee (OPAC) renewed its condemnation of Patriarch Kirill and his "un-Christian support" of Putin's war effort.

OPAC, a U.S.-based advocate for the global Orthodox church called on church leaders, clergy and the faithful of the Moscow Patriarchate "to resist Kirill's slavish submission to the Putin regime."

"The complicity of the Moscow Patriarchate's leadership in the war crimes being perpetrated in Ukraine remains beyond comprehension," OPAC's statement last month said. "It is clear is that these so called "men of God" are under the control of Putin and his henchmen."

OPAC has also called for unification talks between the UOC under Metropolitan Onufriy and the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine—another major Orthodox church in Ukraine—under Metropolitan Epiphanius.

This would establish "a unified national identity for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine," and also give the UOC canonical standing, since their separation from the Moscow Patriarchate in May of 2022, OPAC added.


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