A spokesman for the Russian church branded the move “lawless” and an “attempt to intimidate parishioners”
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has been put on a criminal wanted list by Ukraine’s Interior Ministry. The document identified the Patriarch by his secular name and described him as “an individual hiding from the bodies of pre-trial investigation” and deemed him responsible for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
The head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, said that a criminal case had been opened following the announcement and that measures will be taken to identify the Ukrainian special service officials who are seeking to prosecute the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Patriarch Kirill has repeatedly called on his parishioners to support the participants of Russia’s military operation against Ukraine, who were “sacrificing their lives to protect our Orthodox people in the Donbass.”
Reacting to the news of the Patriarch’s being put on the Ukrainian wanted list, Russian church spokesman Vladimir Legoida labeled the move “predictable and absurd.” The Ukrainian authorities are guilty of “lawlessness and attempting to intimidate parishioners,” he wrote in a Telegram post.
Even before the conflict escalated in 2022, the Patriarch had been accusing Kiev of suppressing and discriminating against the Ukrainian Orthodox church (UOC), which was “an integral” part of the Moscow Patriarchate, citing physical attacks on religious leaders, relics, and places of worship. Patriarch Kirill has repeatedly condemned those actions and appealed to religious leaders across the globe to stop the “mass violations of the religious rights of the followers of the UOC” in Ukraine.
In May of 2022, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church declared its independence from the Russian Orthodox Church in response to Russia’s military operation. Despite the move, the administration of President Vladimir Zelensky continued favoring the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which was created shortly after the Western-backed coup in 2014 that installed a pro-Western government.
The Ukrainian authorities and activists have been seizing the UOC’s places of worship and handing them over to the government-backed OCU. For instance, this past spring monks were evicted from the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, a golden-domed 11th-century UNESCO World Heritage Site, on suspicion of still having ties to the Russian Orthodox Church. Relics were looted under the guise of saving them during the conflict.
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