According to Reuters, on 10 March Ukrainian officials ordered the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) to leave the 980-year-old monastery of the Caves in Kiev by 29 March.
The UOC, historically linked to the Russian Orthodox Church, severed its ties with the Moscow patriarchate last year in response to the Russian invasion. But according to the Ukrainian culture ministry, the UOC “violated the terms of the agreement on the use of state property”, without specifying however how. For its part, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church claims to be the victim of a political witch-hunt.
The next day, Patriarch Kirill – who has openly supported Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – implored religious leaders to “make every effort to prevent the forced closure of the monastery, which will lead to a violation of rights of millions of Ukrainian believers”. Among the leaders to whom Kirill has addressed are: Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Pope Tawadros of the Egyptian Coptic Church, and some lay leaders, including the Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, and the head of Human Rights of the United Nations, Volker Turk.
Last December, Ukrainian officials ordered punitive measures – including the seizure of clergy assets, bans on certain economic activities and travel bans – against seven members of the Orthodox Church clergy accused of having sympathetic ties to Russia.
Some have expressed concern about the Ukrainian government’s measures, believing they unfairly interfere with freedom of religion in Ukraine.
“Zelensky’s ban on the religious activities of the UOC, despite its formal separation from Moscow, effectively curtails the spiritual practices of millions of already beleaguered Ukrainians,” wrote journalist and podcaster Hedieh Mirahmadi Mirahmadi in an op-ed for The Christian Post. “We argue that Ukraine’s battle against Russia is a fight for democracy, but sending the army to monasteries does not promote freedom. This latest move by our ally in Ukraine should cause a strong protest from Christians, no matter where we are politically.