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Ukraine police raid three Russia-linked Orthodox churches

Iran Press TV

Tue Dec 4, 2018 02:55AM

The Ukrainian police have raided three Orthodox churches aligned to Russia amid mounting political and religious tensions between the two countries.

Police and security services also searched the homes of priests who had declared their allegiance to the Russian branch of the Orthodox Church, regional police spokeswoman Alla Vashchenko told AFP on Monday.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church was recently granted independence from Moscow in a controversial ruling that prompted cheers from Kiev but anger in Moscow.

The raids on churches in northern Ukraine were part of a probe into the possible violation of a law on equality of religious belief, the spokeswoman said without providing details of the investigation.

"Nobody has been arrested," Vashchenko added.

But Archbishop Kliment Vecherya, a spokesman for the Russian-aligned Ukrainian church, compared the raids to the crackdown on religious freedoms during the early Soviet period.

"Something similar happened almost one hundred years ago during the time of the tyrant Stalin, when priests and bishops were hauled in for questioning," he said.

The raids came a few days after authorities searched the residence of another Moscow-aligned church official, Metropolitan Pavlo, who oversees a major Kiev monastery.

The Orthodox Church in Ukraine is divided between two main branches, one of which pledges loyalty to Moscow and one overseen by the Kiev-based Patriarch Filaret that Moscow does not recognize.

In a historic decision in October, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, considered the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians worldwide, agreed to recognize the Ukrainian Church's independence from Moscow.

The decision was a huge blow to Moscow's spiritual authority in the Orthodox world.

The Russian Church announced it would break ties with the Constantinople Patriarchate in protest.

The Russian Orthodox Church has repeatedly voiced fears that Ukraine will use legal moves or even force to take control of the churches and monasteries under its control.

Tensions started to grow between the two neighbors after Russia's naval forces intercepted and seized three Ukrainian vessels for illegally entering Russian waters off the coast of Crimea in the Sea of Azov on November 25.

The Kremlin said the seizure of the ships was lawful because they were trespassing on Russia's territorial waters off the coast of Crimea, which rejoined Russia in a 2014 referendum.

Kiev and its Western allies, however, have been attempting to portray that as an instance of Russian "aggression."

The escalation was the countries' first open military confrontation since Crimea rejoined Russia in 2014.

The rejoining of Crimea to Russia came following deep political changes in Kiev where a pro-Western movement staged weeks of street protests that led to the ouster of the pro-Russia government.

People in Crimea and in the industrial eastern territories of Ukraine, areas which are dominated by ethnic Russians, effectively refused to endorse the new administration in Kiev. Crimea decided to rejoin Russia in a referendum in March 2014 and two provinces in the east revolted by establishing self-declared republics.

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