Ukraine’s security service and SBU police raided a 1,000-year-old Orthodox monastery in Kiev as part of an operation against suspected “subversive activities of Russian special services.”
The sprawling complex of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra – or Kyiv Cave Monastery – is a Ukrainian cultural treasure and the seat of the Russian-backed wing of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate.
The Russian Orthodox Church, whose head, Patriarch Kirill, has strongly supported Moscow’s military actions in Ukraine, condemned Tuesday’s raid as an “act of intimidation.”
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said in a statement: “These measures are taken… as part of the systemic work of the SBU to suppress the destructive activities of Russian special services in Ukraine.”
The statement states that the search was aimed at preventing the use of the cave monastery as “the center of the Russian world” and that it was carried out to investigate suspicions “regarding the use of the premises… to hide sabotage and reconnaissance groups, foreign nationals, warehouses weapons”.
The concept of a “Russian world” is at the heart of Vladimir Putin’s new foreign policy doctrine, which aims to protect the Russian language, culture and religion. It was used by conservative ideologues to justify intervention abroad.
The SBU did not release details about the outcome of Tuesday’s raid.
The SBU, police and National Guard also raided two other monasteries and the headquarters of the Moscow Patriarchate Diocese in western Ukraine on Tuesday, the SBU branch in the Rivne region said in a statement posted on Facebook.
The incursion will further sour already tense relations between Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians.
“Like many other cases of persecution of believers in Ukraine since 2014, this act of intimidation of believers will almost certainly go unnoticed by those who call themselves the international human rights community,” said Vladimir Legoida, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church.
Last Friday, the SBU announced that it had charged a high-ranking cleric from the western region of Vinnytsia with attempting to distribute leaflets justifying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In May, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate severed its ties with the Russian church over its support for what Moscow calls a “special military operation.”
Ukraine says the full-scale invasion started an unprovoked war of aggression.
A 2020 survey by the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center found that 34 percent of Ukrainians identified as members of the main Orthodox Church of Ukraine, while 14 percent were members of Ukraine’s Moscow Patriarchate.
In 2019, Ukraine received permission from the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians around the world to form a church independent of Moscow, largely ending the centuries-old religious link between the two countries.