Thousands join Kiev Holy Cross procession for peace despite threats & provocation attempts

Participants in the All-Ukrainian Orthodox Cross Procession for Peace, Love and Prayer for Ukraine. © Alexey Vovk
Thousands gathered for the Holy Cross procession of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Kiev on Wednesday, amid heightened security. The organizers of the march said its aim was to bring reconciliation and an end to the civil war in eastern Ukraine.

The procession symbolically began from two opposite corners of the country – one group started marching to Kiev from the Svyatogorsk Lavra monastery, in the country's east on July 3, and the other from the Pochayiv Lavra monastery in the west on July 9.

The two crowds of believers eventually met in Kiev on Wednesday for a joint procession.

Around 10,000 believers gathered on Vladimirskaya Gorka (St. Vladimir Hill) in central Kiev to read a prayer, police estimated, as cited by TASS.

Organizers said that overall around 80,000 people participated in the procession.

"More than 80,000 pilgrims – that's how many, according to our estimates, marched from the foot of the Saint Vladimir monument to the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra [the Kiev Monastery of the Caves],” managing director of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), Metropolitan Anthony, said

“It has been nearly two years since the Russian Orthodox Church included into each of its Divine Liturgies (key church service) a prayer for peace in Ukraine. Every priest who performs a divine service carefully reads, listens and raises it to the Lord. [He prays] for the termination of the civil unrest, the restoration of peace, the restoration of a normal church life,” Father Makary Markish said in an interview with RT.

When asked whether the Holy Cross procession could help reunite people, the priest replied: “Yes and no.”

“No, because there's no such thing as a quick fix. One shouldn't think of it as a lottery win. But [on the other hand] yes, it certainly can [help reunite people] because such moves, joint action, motivation, courage, confidence and determination of people involved in a good deed, can bear fruit, it's the victory of good over evil.”

Kiev police stepped up security measures in the center of the capital, setting up fences and metal detectors and halting traffic. Up to 6,000 law enforcement officers were deployed to provide security, the head of the Kiev National Police, Andrey Krishchenko, told 112.Ukraine TV. 

According to local police, “no serious incidents” were registered, although Kiev's National Police said they seized knives from several people heading to the city center. Three men were also briefly detained for carrying provocative banners, Interfax reported.

There were no provocations or skirmishes – the national police and guard worked without any problems. Preventative and safety measures paid off,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page.

On Monday Avakov ordered police to bar the religious procession from entering Kiev after police found ammunition planted along the planned route.

"The discovered dummy mines and real military cache of grenades have left us in no doubt of the reality of threats and provocations,” Avakov wrote on his Facebook page. The National Guard and National Police have blocked the procession from running through the streets of Kiev. The safety of citizens is above the religious rituals,” he added. 

Some participants in the Holy Cross procession failed to leave Odessa on Wednesday morning because they were blocked by activists from the ‘Auto-Maidan’ movement. "Representatives of ‘Auto-Maidan’ threatened to burn pilgrims alive and kill bus drivers if they continue the procession," a spokesman for the Odessa diocese told TASS. "The pilgrims were dropped off [from the buses]. Unfortunately, they will not be able to join celebrations in the capital. Buses turned around and returned to Odessa," he noted.

The procession was organized by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Its rival, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, which is not recognized by the majority of the Orthodox community, is planning to hold another Holy Cross procession in Ukraine on July 28.