Orthodox monks at Kiev’s 11th-century Pechersk Lavra monastery are fighting eviction by the Ukrainian government over their church’s ties to Russia.
The ancient, golden-domed religious complex is the most significant Orthodox monastery in the country.
The monks in residence were, until recently, under the jurisdiction of Moscow.
However, they say they broke with the Russian Orthodox Church after its leader, Patriarch Kirill, supported an invasion of Moscow last year, but the Ukrainian government remains unconvinced.
One of the monks, who gave his name as Avel, denied any connection with the Russian government: “For centuries we have belonged to the church, which has its beginning and its patriarch … and to make us be some kind of foreign agents O enemies… this is not true, this is not so. These are our people, our land and our Lavra.”
On Friday, Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko announced the termination of the lease that allowed the church to occupy part of the monastery free of charge.
Moscow condemns the decision
The deadline according to Ukrainian media is March 29.
Although numerous cars were seen leaving the monastery, its boss Pavlo Lebid remained outside swearing “no intention of moving” even as the lease was terminated.
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President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday condemned what he called “outrageous decisions” and “an absolutely unprecedented attitude” towards the community.
Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Orthodox Church faithful to Moscow, appealed to religious and international leaders including UN head Antonio Guterres, expressing “deep concern” for what he called an illegal ultimatum.
Ukraine recently established its own Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which the Moscow Patriarchate does not recognize.