For years, the Ukrainian government has accused the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of having links with Russia. The monks have so far resisted an evacuation of the Kiev Cave Monastery. Now the abbot is under investigation.
The Ukrainian authorities are investigating the abbot of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, Metropolitan Pavlo, accusing him of inciting religious hatred and justifying Russia’s war of aggression. On Saturday, the house of Pawlos and the monastery with the distinctive golden domes were searched.
“They told me in two words that I was suspected of working for Russia,” Pavlo said in a video released by the Russian state agency Ria Novosti. He denies the allegations and describes them as politically motivated.
Since the public prosecutor’s office requested house arrest for the monastery head during the ongoing investigation, Pavlo had to appear in court on Saturday. However, it has not yet made a decision, but wants to continue negotiations on Monday.
Speaking to Ukrainian media, Pavlo said: “I condemn all attacks on our state, and what Russia and Putin have done is unjustifiable.”
Domestic intelligence raises serious allegations
The Ukrainian domestic secret service SBU also accuses Pavlo of having repeatedly offended the religious feelings of compatriots in public appearances and of wanting to create a hostile atmosphere towards believers of other denominations. The SBU released audio recordings on which Pavlo’s statements should be heard. The abbot has been causing a stir for years with his pro-Russian positions.
A few days ago he spoke in a video against the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj and threatened him with damnation. God will “not forgive” the head of state for throwing the monks out of the cave monastery, Pavlo said.
Monks let the eviction date pass
The dispute over the links between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and Moscow has been smoldering for years and developed parallel to the war against Ukraine. The Ukrainian government recently failed to extend the contract for the use of the Kiev Cave Monastery, which is also the seat of the UOK.
The contract expired on March 29, but Pavlo and other monks of the monastery refuse to leave. They are insisting on a court order to evict and have filed a lawsuit. The state that owns the monastery accuses the church of erecting several buildings there without permission.
After the search at Pavlo and in the monastery, some believers protested against the measures in front of the monastery. Those gathered, including clergy, waved religious symbols and prayed. A group of counter-demonstrators confronted them and waved Ukrainian flags. They trampled on a photo showing Pavlo with Putin.
Followers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church hold religious images and protest against the measures taken against the monastery and Abbot Pavlo.
Church with wire to Moscow
Until almost a year ago, the UOC was under the control of Moscow Patriarch Cyril I, who is one of the supporters of the war of aggression against Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was not until May 2022 that the UOK broke away from Moscow – but the Ukrainian government doubts the seriousness of this step.
According to the SBU, since 2022, seven UOC clergymen have been convicted of collaborating with Russia, for example because they passed on information or revealed positions of Ukrainian armed forces. Two of the convicts have meanwhile been transferred to Russia during prisoner exchanges and have been released.
Alternative Church established in 2018
Since 2018 there has been an orthodox “counter-church”, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OKU). It was founded with the support of the Kiev government and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and Orthodox honorary leader Bartholomew I. However, Russian Patriarch Cyril I and most other Orthodox patriarchs did not recognize this.
Some formerly Ukrainian Orthodox communities have turned their backs on the UOK and converted to the OKU.