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Kyiv’s cave monasteries become flashpoint in struggle against Russia

The crosses on prime of the Refectory Church in Kyiv’s Pechersk Lavra holy website have turned from gold to black.

Or so mentioned Metropolitan Onufriy, the pinnacle of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, after its clergymen and monks — deemed by Kyiv to be stooges of Moscow — had been ordered by the federal government to vacate the cave monastery website in Ukraine’s capital by the top of the month.

“Orthodox individuals are very unhappy and determined,” mentioned Lyudmila, a customer to the sprawling complicated and a follower of Onufriy’s church. “They’re attempting to kill our religion.”

With its church buildings, monasteries and catacombs housing the relics of saints, the 1,000-year-old Lavra is among the most sacred locations within the Japanese Orthodox faith. It has additionally turn out to be a brand new battleground in Ukraine’s battle to shake off Russian affect and management.

The UOC, the biggest spiritual group in Ukraine, was till lately subordinate to the patriarchate in Moscow and a bastion of Russian affect.

Monks and monks — deemed by Kyiv to be stooges of Moscow — have been ordered by the federal government to vacate the cave monastery website © Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

However it has been in turmoil since Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine final yr, triggering a backlash amongst parishioners and a few of its clergymen towards Russian ecclesiastical management and the church’s Moscow patriarch Kirill, a staunch supporter of the warfare.

In Could final yr, Onufriy declared independence from the Moscow patriarchy. However the transfer didn’t persuade its smaller rival, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, led by Metropolitan Epiphanius, which broke away from Russian management in 2018. Nor has it satisfied the Ukrainian authorities. They each say the UOC remains to be underneath Russian ecclesiastical and political management.

Oleksiy Danilov, Ukraine’s nationwide safety chief, mentioned the monks and clergymen within the Lavra had even been infiltrated by spies from Russia’s federal safety service or FSB.

Archbishop Yevstratiy, a spokesman for the pro-Kyiv OCU, mentioned Ukraine’s safety companies had demonstrated that its bigger rival was nonetheless subordinate to the Moscow patriarchate which was “not an actual spiritual establishment, however a part of the Kremlin”.

“The Lavra is just like the sacred coronary heart of Ukraine,” mentioned Yevstratiy. “Moscow understands that, so long as it holds this coronary heart in its hand, Russian affect will return, that it’ll conquer Ukraine and reimpose sacred unity.”

Oleksiy Danilov, Ukraine’s national security chief
Oleksiy Danilov, Ukraine’s nationwide safety chief, mentioned the monks and clergymen within the Lavra had even been infiltrated by spies from Russia’s federal safety service © Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Photographs

“We don’t have any connections,” retorted Metropolitan Kliment, a spokesman for the UOC church. “There is no such thing as a subordination. We aren’t coordinating [with Moscow].”

Ukrainian authorities have for months been tightening the screws on Onufriy’s church. In November, counter-intelligence brokers raided the Lavra and a number of different websites as a part of an investigation into pro-Russian affect operations.

In December a priest was arrested for main a service with an allegedly pro-Russian chant whereas different main figures within the UOC had been sanctioned over their ties to Moscow.

On March 10, the tradition ministry, which formally owns the Lavra website, mentioned Onufriy’s church had violated the phrases of its lease and wouldn’t have it renewed after it expires on March 29.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who had beforehand distanced himself from the tussle between Ukraine’s church buildings, has endorsed the clear-out of the Lavra as a “motion to strengthen our non secular independence”. Zelenskyy, born to Jewish mother and father, isn’t spiritual.

© Sergei Chuzavkov/AFP/Getty Photographs

However the finish of the lease units the scene for a tense stand-off between Ukrainian regulation enforcement and Onufriy’s monks and clergymen, who’ve vowed to remain and struggle the eviction within the courts.

“It’s not a great look,” mentioned a European diplomat, who feared the dispute may hand a propaganda victory to Moscow.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov mentioned on Friday the top of the Lavra lease for UOC clergy and monks “confirms the correctness of the particular operation in Ukraine” — the Russian authorities’s time period for the warfare.

Kyiv has promised to not evict the UOC clergymen and monks by pressure.

“Ukraine is a democratic, tolerant European nation,” mentioned tradition minister Oleksandr Tkachenko. “Nobody is elevating the query of evicting monks. We’re speaking concerning the return of property owned by the state, each moveable and immovable.”

UOC spokesman Kliment mentioned Zelenskyy and his ministers had been utilizing the Lavra dispute to distract consideration from corruption and the heavy human toll of the warfare.

“Now there are massive numbers of individuals we bury each day. As a substitute of this drama, they provide us a cleaning soap opera that runs till March 29.”

“After all there are those that did help Russia and the Russian navy however not the entire church,” Sergei Chapnin, senior fellow in Orthodox Christian research at Fordham College within the US. Chapnin mentioned the Lavra dispute may have been defused had Onufriy eliminated a number of the senior clerics who had flaunted their pro-Moscow sympathies and connections.

However now the Ukrainian authorities had waded right into a “battle between church buildings” that it couldn’t win as a result of it must clarify to the church’s many devoted and to Kyiv’s allies why it had made this transfer. It might even have to select up the price of operating the Lavra.

“We’re praying,” mentioned Lyudmila. “We don’t know what extra we are able to do to show that we’re Ukrainians. We aren’t residents of Russia.”