The SBU’s intelligence service said the raid was aimed at investigating suspicions that Russia was using the compound for sabotage and stockpiling weapons.
Ukrainian security services and police have raided a 1,000-year-old Orthodox Christian monastery in Kyiv to counter “alleged subversive activities of Russian special services”.
The vast Kyiv Pechersk Lavra complex – or Kyiv Cave Monastery – is a Ukrainian cultural treasure, and its cathedral, churches and other buildings are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Overlooking the right bank of the Dnieper River, it is also the seat of the Russian-backed wing of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and falls under the Moscow Patriarchate.
Ukraine’s Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism Service said the search was part of its “systematic work to counter the subversive activities of Russian special services in Ukraine”.
The statement from the intelligence service, known as SBU for its Ukrainian initials, said the operation was aimed at preventing the monastery from being used as “the center of the Russian world” and conducted to investigate suspicions “on the use of the premises… to harbor sabotage and reconnaissance groups, foreign citizens, [and] weapons storage. He said another site was also being sought in the Rivne area, 240 kilometers (150 miles) west of the capital.
The concept of the “Russian world” is central to 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 SBU did not specify the result of the operation.
War deepens division
In Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the Ukrainian authorities of “waging a war against the Russian Orthodox Church”.
He described the raid “as another link in the chain of these aggressive actions against Russian Orthodoxy.”
Church authorities based in Moscow have repeatedly expressed support for the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church, described the war as a “metaphysical strugglebetween Moscow and the West. He condemned Tuesday’s search 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 act of intimidating believers is almost certain to go unnoticed by those who call themselves the international human rights community,” Vladimir Legoyda said. , spokesperson for the Russian Orthodox Church.
The SBU operation follows a Nov. 12 service at the Pechersk Lavra complex where a Ukrainian Orthodox priest was filmed speaking about Russia’s “awakening.”
The SBU said it was “investigating the details of the incident which took place in one of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra temples – where songs praising the ‘Russian world’ were sung.”
Last Friday, the SBU said it had accused a senior clergy official in the western Vinnytsia region of trying to distribute leaflets justifying The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
In May, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate ended its ties with the Russian Church over the latter’s support for what Moscow calls a “special military operation”.
Ukraine claims the full-scale invasion was an unprovoked war of aggression.
A 2020 survey by the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center found that 34% of Ukrainians identified themselves as members of the main Orthodox Church of Ukraine, while 14% were members of the Ukrainian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
In 2019, Ukraine received permission from the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians around the world to form an independent church from Moscow, largely ending centuries of religious ties between the two countries.