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20 Nov, 2023 14:09

Ukrainian ‘bandits’ raid Christian monastery – diocese

A priest’s jaw was reportedly broken in the latest attack on a Ukrainian Orthodox Church
Ukrainian ‘bandits’ raid Christian monastery – diocese

A group of men wearing khakis broke into a Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) monastery on Monday in what the diocese described as the latest in a string of raids on its property. Police and Ukrainian nationalists reportedly assisted in the violent seizure.

The UOC, which has faced an escalating crackdown by the government of President Vladimir Zelensky, warned on Monday morning of an imminent attack on the monastery of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the city of Cherkassy, which is located some 150 km southeast from Kiev.

An update posted by the diocese an hour later said a storming was underway. A video it shared depicts a group of men climbing over a fence surrounding the monastery, some of them throwing punches at people on the other side.

The OUC called the attackers “bandits in military uniforms” and said they were snatching and destroying people’s phones. The mob broke a priest’s mandible, the report claimed, citing paramedics, and several other people were injured. “There are some 150 uniformed people at the monastery now. With active assistance by the police, the raiders are beating up the believers,” the diocese claimed.

It said members of the National Corps, a nationalist civic organization widely considered to be the civic wing of the Azov unit, were blocking the hospital, where victims were taken.

Azov is a powerful bloc of the National Guard of Ukraine that has informal ties with far-right groups worldwide. Kiev claims that the unit has cleansed itself from its original neo-Nazi elements.

The UOC has been targeted by a government crackdown since last year. Kiev has branded priests and bishops of the church as clandestine Russian agents, arresting some of them for alleged crimes, such as incitement of hatred. Agents of the SBU, Ukraine’s security agency, have raided churches and monasteries purportedly to find evidence of collaboration with Moscow.

Some Ukrainian officials have made it clear that priests and monks can avoid harassment by breaking away from the UOC and joining the Kiev-backed Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). Kiev stands accused of encouraging the forced seizure of church property in favor of the rival denomination.

A previous attempt to take over the monastery in Cherkasy happened last Wednesday, according to the diocese. The raiders claimed that monks made a decision to switch allegiance in August, but the monastery head denied that. On Saturday the clerics and lay people attending the monastery church voted in favor of remaining part of the OUC, a video of the event published by the church said.

The monastery traces its origin to 1901, after two wealthy city residents donated a plot of land they owned to the church. It was initially used to house pilgrims, and then a church was built on the location. In the 1940s, after a Soviet anti-religion campaign and Nazi Germany’s devastation and occupation of the city, it briefly served as the main city church. The OUC gave a blessing to operate a monastery at the location in 2002.