The SBU’s intelligence service says the raid was to investigate suspicions of Russia using the complex for sabotage and weapons storage.
Ukrainian security forces and police have raided a 1,000-year-old Orthodox Christian monastery in Kyiv to counter “suspected subversive activities by Russian special services”.
The sprawling complex of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra – or Kyiv Monastery of the Caves – is a Ukrainian cultural treasure and its cathedral, churches and other buildings are inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
Overlooking the right bank of the Dnieper River, it is also the seat of the Russian-backed wing of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and is subject to the Moscow Patriarchate.
Ukraine’s counterintelligence and counterterrorism agency said the search was part of its “systematic work to counter subversive activities of the Russian special services in Ukraine”.
The statement from the intelligence service, known as the State Security Department by its initials in Ukrainian, said the operation was aimed at preventing the monastery from being used as “the center of the Russian world” and was carried out to look into suspicions “about the use of places … to house sabotage and reconnaissance groups and citizens”. aliens, [and] Arms storage.” She added that another site in the Rivne region, 240 km west of the capital, was also being searched.
The concept of “world Russia” is at the center of President Vladimir Putin’s new foreign policy doctrine, which aims to protect Russia’s language, culture and religion. It has been used by conservative ideologues to justify intervention abroad.
The State Security Department did not elaborate on the outcome of the operation.
The war deepens the division
In Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the Ukrainian authorities of “waging war on the Russian Orthodox Church”.
He described the search as “another link in the chain of these aggressive acts against Russian Orthodoxy.”
Church authorities in Moscow have repeatedly expressed support for the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church, called the war a “metaphysical struggle” between Moscow and the West. He condemned Tuesday’s inspection as “an act of intimidation”.
The raid will further strain already strained relations between Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians.
“Like many other cases of persecution of believers in Ukraine since 2014, this targeted act of intimidation against believers will almost certainly go unnoticed by those who call themselves the international human rights community,” said Vladimir Legoyda, a spokesperson for the Russian Orthodox Church. .
The SBU operation follows a November 12 mass at the Pechersk Lavra complex where a Ukrainian Orthodox priest was filmed speaking of Russia’s “awakening”.
The SBU said it was “examining the details of the incident that took place in one of the synagogues in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra – where songs praising the ‘Russian world’ were sung.”
Last Friday, the SBU said it had accused a senior cleric from the western Vinnytsia region of trying to distribute leaflets justifying Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
In May, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate ended its relations with the Russian Church over the latter’s support for what Moscow calls a “special military operation”.
Ukraine says the all-out invasion was an unprovoked war of aggression.
A 2020 survey conducted by the Razumkov Center in Kyiv found that 34 percent of Ukrainians identified as members of the main Orthodox Church of Ukraine, while 14 percent were members of the Church of the Ukrainian Patriarchate of Moscow.
In 2019, Ukraine secured permission from the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians around the world to form a church independent of Moscow, largely ending centuries of religious ties between the two countries.