Russian-backed Kyiv monastery under ongoing investigation, say Ukrainian officials

Suspected Russian citizens and cash were seized in raids on a 1,000-year-old Orthodox monastery in Kyiv and other Orthodox sites early Tuesday, a top Ukrainian security official said. special services”.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, said an investigation was underway into what was going on in the network of catacombs.

The SBU website said the agency had found pro-Russian literature, more than $100,000 in cash and “suspicious” Russian citizens.

“We’re not going to talk about money right now,” Danilov told the Guardian. “Some documents have been found there. And some citizens were found there … most likely citizens of the Russian Federation. And now we’re trying to find out what they do there and why they were there.

Located south of the city centre, the massive Kyiv Pechersk Lavra complex – or Kyiv Monastery of the Caves – is the headquarters of the Russian-backed wing of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate, as well as a Ukrainian cultural treasure and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Heritage Site.

The raid on the Pechersk Lavra was part of a wider cleanup of church property. The SBU said that in total, the identities of about 850 people were checked and 50 underwent “intense counterintelligence interviews”, including the use of polygraphs. More than 350 church buildings were searched, including two other monasteries and the headquarters of the Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate in the west. ukrainethe agency said.

The Russian Orthodox Church, whose head, Patriarch Kirill, has strongly supported Moscow’s military actions in Ukraine, condemned the raid as an “act of intimidation”.

The SBU said in a statement: “These measures are being taken as part of the systematic work of the SBU to counter the subversive activities of the Russian special services in Ukraine.”

It said that the purpose of the search was to prevent the cave monastery from being used as “the center of the Russian world” and “about the use of the premises … to shelter sabotage and reconnaissance groups, foreign nationals, weapons storage Suspicion was done to watch. ,

The concept of a “Russian world” is at the heart of Vladimir Putin’s new foreign policy doctrine that aims to protect Russia’s language, culture and religion. It has been used by conservative ideologies to justify intervention abroad.

The SBU did not provide details about the outcome of Tuesday’s raids. Armed officers were seen checking IDs and searching the bags of worshipers before letting them inside.

Kyiv Monastery
The SBU said the search was aimed at preventing the use of the cave monastery as the ‘centre of the Russian world’. Photograph: Valentin Ogirenko/Reuters

Danilov said the investigation is still at a very sensitive stage.

“All I can say is that some institutions are doing things that are not in their charters. They will not be able to do that,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether it is civil or religious or other institutions, It is a question of national security of our country. And for many years we closed our eyes to what was happening.”

“Any matter of religion is always complicated and it is not that simple. It is quite complex and needs a lot of attention.” There are positions that could possibly work for the aggressor state.”

The raid will further sour the already strained relations between Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians. The Kremlin denounced the searches as the latest chapter in Kyiv’s “war” against the Russian church.

“Ukraine has been at war with the Russian Orthodox Church for a long time,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “We can see this as another link in the chain of these military actions against Russian Orthodoxy.”

A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, Vladimir Legoida, said: “Like many other cases of persecution of believers in Ukraine since 2014, this act of intimidation of believers is almost certain not to go unnoticed by those who calls itself the international human rights community.”

The war has sharpened divisions between the Orthodox churches of Ukraine and Russia and intensified disputes over religious allegiance. Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow’s leadership formally separated three years agoWith Russia losing many Ukrainian parishes, but many historic churches and monasteries have remained loyal to Russia in religious practice and political allegiance.

Last Friday, the SBU said it had accused a senior clergyman in the western Vinnytsia region of trying to distribute leaflets justifying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In May, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church severed its ties with the Russian Church, calling for the latter’s support of Moscow’s “special military operation” rather than a war of aggression.

A 2020 survey by the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center found that 34% of Ukrainians identified as members of the main Orthodox Church of Ukraine, while 14% were members of the Moscow Patriarchate Church of Ukraine.

In 2019, Ukraine was granted permission by the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians worldwide to form a church independent of Moscow, largely ending centuries of religious ties between the two countries.

In early November, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine said it would allow its congregations. To celebrate Christmas for the first time on December 25Far from Russia and to the west – for centuries Ukrainians have celebrated Christmas on January 7, the day Jesus was born according to the Julian calendar.

The 25 December move was seen as part of a larger national process of dismantling symbols of Russia, the Soviet Union and communism, which began in 2014 when Putin annexed Crimea and the eastern Donbass region. The pro-Moscow uprising had begun.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians are expecting the harshest winter in the country’s history as Russia seeks to destroy its energy infrastructure in an attempt to force Kyiv to hold peace talks.

Volodymyr Kudritsky, head of Ukraine’s national power grid operator, Ukrainergo, told a briefing that practically no thermal or hydroelectric power stations have survived the Russian attacks.

“The scale of the destruction is enormous. There is a shortage of electricity production in Ukraine. We cannot generate as much energy as the consumers can use. A major energy provider said on Monday that Ukrainians needed to get used to power outages until at least the end of March and the government offered to evacuate people living in recently liberated Kherson, mostly Lives without electricity and running water.

“Given the difficult security situation and infrastructure problems in the city, you can move to safer areas of the country for the winter,” Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk said on the Telegram messaging app.

Fighting continued in the south of the country and in a major battlefield development, a Ukrainian official admitted that his forces were attacking Russian positions on the Kinburn Spit – a gateway to the Black Sea basin and parts of the Kherson region still Russian. is under control.

Moscow has used the Kinburn Spit as a staging ground for missile and artillery attacks on Ukrainian positions in Mykolaiv province and elsewhere along the Ukrainian-controlled Black Sea coast.

Natalia Gumenyuk, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian military’s Operational Command South, said in televised comments that the Ukrainian army “continues to conduct a military operation” in the area.

Moscow also appeared to be building up forces and increasing its military efforts on the eastern Donbass front around the key city of Bakhmut.

Ukraine’s presidential office said on Tuesday that at least eight civilians had been killed and 16 wounded in the past 24 hours.

france media agency The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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