By Marcel Gascon
Kyiv, Mar 31 (EFE).- Orthodox monks at the Monastery of the Caves in Kyiv, whom Ukrainian authorities accuse of being pro-Russian, were still refusing to leave the complex on Friday amid attempts by the Ukraine government to evict them and take over the administration of the Unesco World Heritage site.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church monks, who have not formally renounced their ties to the Moscow Patriarchate, had until March 29 to vacate the 11th century monastery, which occupies a major role in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, but they have refused to leave.
Officials from the Ministry of Culture returned to the monastery on the banks of the Dnipro river on Friday morning, but had to turn back when the monks refused them access to the complex, as they had a day earlier.
Hundreds of onlookers, journalists, critics and faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church gathered at the monastery’s entrance, where there were tense confrontations between the worshipers praying – in Russian – for the monks to remain and activists who are demanding they abandon the religious center.
One of the activists, angry at a group of women for praying in Russian, stood next to them singing the Ukrainian national anthem.
In front of one of the churches in the complex, young Ukrainian activists shouted patriotic slogans and hurled insults at Russian president Vladimir Putin, provoking the ire of the women who were praying in support of the monks.
In a statement, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church called the young men “provocateurs”: “The police took them away. The priest has sprinkled them with holy water”.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Culture – which has refused to extend an agreement allowing the monks to run the monastery – has filed a police complaint over the monks’ refusal to give them access, and expects to receive a warrant that would allow them to evict the religious leaders.
For Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other high representatives of the government and its security establishment, the eviction of the monks from the Monastery of the Caves and other measures designed to curb Moscow’s influence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are part of “the struggle for the spiritual independence of Ukraine”.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has carried out raids on the monastery and other temples from the UOC, whose members claim to be victims of religious persecution.
The SBU says Russian passports, pro-Kremlin propaganda material and bags of cash were found during some of those raids, and Ukrainian security forces have also arrested several priests from the congregation for blessing the invasion from their pulpits and for allegedly providing information to the enemy.
For centuries, the UOC has been at the heart of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine, and many church leaders publicly expressed their affinity with Moscow until recently.
The UOC broke off ties with the Moscow Patriarchate in May last year, following Patriarch Kiril’s fervent backing of the Kremlin’s invasion.
But critics say that did not go far enough, demanding the clergy switch their allegiance to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is independent of Moscow and is aligned with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. EFE