Branch of Ukrainian Orthodox Church suspected of being pro-Russian

Ukraine’s top security officials have ordered an investigation into the activities of a branch of the Orthodox Church historically linked to Moscow, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday.

The Ukrainian president reported that the probe would look into whether the Moscow branch of the church was entitled to operate at one of Ukraine’s holiest sites - the Pechersk Lavra complex in Kyiv.

“We have to create conditions so that no actors dependent on the aggressor state can manipulate Ukrainians and weaken Ukraine from within,” Zelenskyy said in a video address.

Russian orthodox

The Orthodox Church in Russia has backed the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine from the start.

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In Ukraine, the Moscow-linked church formally severed ties with the Russian Orthodox Church last May, but is still mistrusted by many Ukrainians and accused of secret cooperation with Russia.

Orthodox Christians make up the majority of Ukraine’s 43 million people and competition has been fierce since the collapse of Soviet rule between the Moscow-linked church and an independent Ukrainian church proclaimed soon after independence.

Ukraine’s counteractive actions

The Ukrainian head of state said the government would submit a bill to parliament barring religious groups “affiliated with centres of influence in Russia”.

Action would be taken to guard against “subversive activity of the Russian special services in the Ukrainian religious environment”. In addition, the property holdings of the church would be examined, including its use of the Pechersk Lavra complex.

The SBU security service said last week it had searched 350 buildings belonging to the Russia-linked Church and carried out checks on 850 people. It said it found “dubious” Russian citizens, large sums of cash and pro-Russian literature in a raid on the Pechersk Lavra, which Moscow denounced.