Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on Sunday that Ukraine’s actions against a branch of the Orthodox church linked to Russia are aimed at achieving “spiritual independence.” Zelensky, along with other Ukrainian leaders, accused the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which falls under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church, of undermining Ukrainian unity and collaborating with Moscow.
Last Friday, the authorities ordered the UOC to vacate its base in the Pechersk Lavra monastery complex, which is 980 years old, leading to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill calling on Pope Francis and other religious leaders to help stop the crackdown.
In his nightly video address, Zelensky praised the latest action, saying it was “one more step towards strengthening our spiritual independence,” without mentioning the order directly. He stated that Ukrainians had reacted positively to the move and that the country would continue this movement. Zelensky vowed not to let Russia manipulate the spiritual life of the Ukrainian people, destroy Ukrainian shrines, or steal their values.
Meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox head has appealed against the eviction of the church from Kyiv. Since October, the Security Service of Ukraine has conducted searches at UOC churches, imposed sanctions on its bishops and financial backers, and opened criminal cases against dozens of clergymen. The church officials claim that the church and its millions of worshippers are victims of a witch-hunt.
Orthodoxy is the primary faith in Ukraine, and the Moscow-linked church has been competing for worshippers with an independent Orthodox Church, which was founded after the Soviet collapse in 1991 but only recognized by the church hierarchy in 2018. The independent church has been gaining in size and following since the invasion. The Ukrainian culture ministry has set a deadline of March 29 for the Moscow-linked church to leave the Pechersk Lavra monastery complex.