Another Ukrainian region bans largest Christian church
The administration of the western Ukrainian region of Vinnitsa voted on Friday to ban all activities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and seize its property. A third of Ukraine’s regions have outlawed the institution at this point, in favor of the smaller Kiev-backed Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).
Vinnitsa authorities were instructed to make an inventory of all property in state, private and municipal ownership that was leased to the UOC for use, and declared all such agreements “terminated,” effective immediately.
The government in Kiev has accused the UOC of being pro-Russian and a potential threat to the security and spirituality of the country, even though the church had declared independence from Moscow and even condemned the Russian “invasion.” The UOC remains in communion with the Russian Orthodox Church.
The OCU, established by the Ukrainian government in 2018, has been recognized only by three other Orthodox churches. The UOC considers it heretical.
President Vladimir Zelensky’s government has prepared a bill that would ban the UOC in Ukraine, but the parliament has yet to vote on it. Instead, the regions in western Ukraine have decided to enact the policy on their own. So far, six of them have banned the UOC and either seized its churches and properties, or turned them over to the OCU. Lviv did so on April 6, followed by Rovno and Volyn a week later. Zhitomir and Khmelnitsky regions have since done likewise.
Zelensky has also tried to take over the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, the holiest Orthodox monastery in the country, which dates back to the 11th century. The Ukrainian government technically owns the monastery as a historical preserve, and granted the church its use in a 2013 agreement.
Kiev has accused the UOC of unspecified violations, and gave the monks until March 29 to leave the premises, or join the OCU. So far, the monks have refused. Thousands of Ukrainian faithful have been keeping vigil around the monastery, which is currently patrolled by armed security officers.
Russia has protested against the persecution of Orthodox Christians by Ukrainian authorities, but none of the human rights bodies in the West have responded so far. The US State Department had no comment on the plight of the UOC, either in its religious freedom report or the most recent report on human rights in Ukraine.