The Sunday Review
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Vertically shot footage published in November last year shows no soldiers, weapons or battlefield atrocities. But the sound of a patriotic Russian song reverberating through a church on Kyiv’s famous Lavra monastery grounds seemed to open a new front in Ukraine’s war with Russia.

This church is owned by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) – which, despite the name, has traditionally been loyal to the Russian Orthodox Church, and whose current leader Patriarch Kiril has openly supported Moscow’s brutal invasion. Splitting with Kiril, the leadership of the UOC denounced Russia’s attack, and last May, declared its independence from Russia.

In a sermon preached days after the split Patriarch Kiril stated that he was praying. “no temporary external obstacles will ever destroy the spiritual unity of our people.”

Days after the video surfaced, masked members of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) conducted a raid on the Lavra – officially, to prevent it being used fOder “hiding sabotage and reconnaissance groups” or “storing weapons.”

By December, a handful of church leaders had been sanctioned, and dozens more churches across the country were raided by the SBU – though the searches turned up There are not many Russian symbols, passports or books.

“There was no mention in the findings of weapons or saboteurs. What they said they found was printed matter, documents, which are not prohibited under Ukrainian law,” The Sunday Review was interviewed by UOC Bishop Metropolitan Klyment.

But there is a lot of grey area. In a statement the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) told The Sunday Review that it’s not illegal to store Russian propaganda, but it is to distribute it. “If such literature is in the library of the diocese or on the shelves of a church shop, it is obvious that it is intended for mass distribution,” This is the statement.

The company insisted on the raids The Ukrainian Orthodox Church “are aimed exclusively at national security issues. This is not a matter of religion.” Vladimir Legoyda is a spokesperson of the Russian Orthodox ChurchThe searches were however flooded with results as This article is available in English “act of intimidation.”

Professor Viktor Yelenskyi, Ukraine’s newly appointed religious Freedom Watchdog stated that the UOC leadership had been in power for 30+ years. “poisoning people with the ideas of the Russian world.” He defended the SBU’s raidsThey are often compared with the subsequent crackdown on Islamic extremism. “Ukraine is still a safe haven for religious freedom.”

Yet, at the end of 2022, the government declined to renew the church’s lease on its massive, central Lavra cathedral and turned over the keys to the similarly named, but completely separate Orthodox Church Ukraine (OCU). OCU was the rival and celebrated Orthodox Christmas on January 7th mass.

Alla spoke outside the church Christmas Day. She declined to reveal her last name. “I think it should’ve been done a long time ago.”

“We’ve been tolerating this [UOC] evil and closing our eyes as we thought we should be tolerant, but the war brought it all to surface.”

Father Pavlo Mityaev is pictured at the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Vita Poshtova, a village just outside Kyiv.

Ukrainian Orthodox Church held this year’s Christmas mass at a smaller church down just steps from the cathedral. Kyrylo Serheyev, a student at the lavra seminary, said this year especially, he’s praying for Ukrainian troops. He insists, in spite of government restrictions and the scrutiny from his church “our patriotism is not becoming less.”

Viktoria Vinnyk expressed sadness at not being able to attend the central cathedral’s mass this year. Though she speaks Russian, she’s never been to Russia.

“I hope for better in my country. And I hope that the situation will change,” Sie said.

The cathedral isn’t the only holy site to change hands. Since the Soviet times, there has been a tiny church in Vita Poshtova outside Kyiv perched high on the hill above the frozen Lake. It’s the only one in the village. In September, the congregation voted for the conversion of the church from UOC into the OCU. Olha Mazurets, parishioner says she wasn’t comfortable with Russia.

“It’s a matter of identity and self-preservation. We must identify our enemy too,” She spoke to The Sunday Review.

The ceiling of the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Vita Poshtova in Ukraine.

According to Father Pavlo Mityaev (the newly-appointed priest), this was before the conflict. “people didn’t pay attention to whether it was a Ukrainian or Russian-speaking church, they were coming to God. But when the war started, everything changed.”

Klyment claims that up to 400 of the UOC’s 12,000 churches in Ukraine have converted to the OCU since the war began.

It security According to services, since the invasion began 19 priests have been arrested and five have been convicted.

Andriy Pavlenko (UOC priest) was sentenced to 12 year imprisonment in December for passing information on Ukrainian battlefield positions within the Donbas to Russia. One week later, he was transferred to Russia as Part of a prisoner swap

Klyment acknowledges that priest’s guilt but dismisses other cases – like the Vinnytsia priest indicted just this week for disseminating pro-Russian propaganda – as He makes hollow claims. His belief is that the larger church has been unfairly damaged.

“Members of the Ukrainian Orthodox … are citizens of Ukraine, and sometimes among the best citizens of Ukraine, proving their patriotism with their own lives,” He was referring to UOC soldiers fighting at the frontlines.

On December 1, President Volodymyr Zilensky stated in his evening address that he is ready to do more. raids – proposing a law to ban churches with “centers of influence” in Russia from operating in Ukraine – all in the name of “spiritual independence.”

“We will never allow anyone to build an empire inside the Ukrainian soul,” He said.

Klyment however believes that the law would only drive his church underground.

“What else do you call persecution if not this?” He asked.