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15 Aug, 2023 13:53

Ukrainian police launch new raid on Christian monastery – priests

Officers broke into at least one building at the iconic Kiev Pechersk Lavra, local church figures have said
Ukrainian police launch new raid on Christian monastery – priests

Ukrainian police officers have stormed the Kiev Pechersk Lavra following a court ruling that authorized the forcible eviction of monks from the historic monastery, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) has said. The religious body is facing an unprecedented crackdown by the authorities in Kiev, who accuse it of ties to Russia.

Writing on Telegram on Tuesday, the UOC said that officers had cordoned off three buildings on the premises of the Pechersk Lavra, the largest Orthodox monastery in Kiev, adding that they had already destroyed the locks and broken into one of them. “These dwellings house not only pilgrims, but also monks of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra,” the statement read.

The UOC uploaded a video showing a small crowd gathered in front of one of the buildings, with the sound of an angle grinder apparently audible in the background. Another clip showed several Ukrainian officers entering an open door.

The standoff between the UOC and the Ukrainian authorities erupted last year when the country’s domestic security agency, the SBU, raided the monastery in a bid to prevent alleged “subversive activities of Russian special services.” 

In March, the government of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky ordered the eviction of the Pechersk Lavra’s monks as it moved to terminate the lease agreement which had allowed the UOC to manage the monastery. The government cited alleged violations of the terms of use, although the UOC rejected the demand.

At the same time, Kiev permitted monks to remain at the monastery on condition that they leave the UOC and join the government-backed Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is considered schismatic by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Last week, a Ukrainian court upheld the termination of the lease deal, clearing the way for the eviction of the clergy. Nikita Chekman, an attorney representing the UOC, condemned the decision as “one of the most shameful” in Ukraine’s modern history, suggesting that the court’s ruling was made under pressure from the government.

Ukrainian authorities have for months accused the UOC of being a Russian tool, despite it severing ties with Moscow shortly after the start of the Ukraine conflict in February 2022. Russia has repeatedly criticized Kiev’s religious crackdown, suggesting that it is being fueled by the US.