On January 29, the French daily La Croix published an article signed Pierre Sautreuil on the current situation of the Russian Church in Ukraine. Please find here our translation:
The Russian Church in Ukraine says its parishes have been more and more frequently subject to violent incidents since the creation of the new autocephalous Ukrainian Church at the beginning of January 2019.
Stolen icons, places of worship sacked, an explosive device thrown during a prayer service in a crowded church, locks changed… The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, faithful to the Moscow Patriarchate, has been denouncing for several weeks the increasing pressure attributed to nationalist Ukrainian groups. The former are acting with the support of local authorities, aiming at pushing these parishes to join the new autocephalous Church of Ukraine willy-nilly.
On Monday, January 28, two individuals were sentenced to two months in prison for attempting to set fire to an Orthodox monastery in Kyiv on January 25. A few hours after the fact, a group of Ukrainian nationalists belonging to “patriotic” groups attacked the poster board in the adjoining chapel, which they disassembled with a circular saw.
“The FSB out! “
This type of incident has become increasingly frequent since the official recognition of the new autocephalous Ukrainian Church by the Patriarchate of Constantinople on January 5th. On January 8, the Ukrainian ultranationalist group C14 organized a picket line in front of the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves, the residence of the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), displaying a banner saying “The FSB out!” [i.e. The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, TN], to emphasize the supposed connection between this Church and the Russian secret services.
“We could possibly target other places, but the Kyiv Lavra is the basis from where they spread their ideology of the “Russian world”. It is a symbolic place,” commented Markiyan Yatsinyak, one of the coordinators of the C14.
On the following day, during January 9 night, a church in the Odessa region was robbed and ransacked by unidentified individuals. On January 10, a graffiti “Moscow Patriarchate – FSB?” was discovered on the wall of a church in the Cherkassy region. Similar graffiti were painted three days later, on January 13, on two churches in the city of Lviv, this time signed by C14, and then on January 15 on a church in the city of Sumy. On January 18th, a small explosive device was thrown in this same church during the service of the vigils of the feast of the Theophany, without causing any injury. On January 22, a chapel was ransacked and its windows broken in the Zhitomir area.
An internal enemy
For the time being, these incidents remain sporadic and reflect localized tensions rather than a coordinated action. But they do reveal a climate of tension towards the Russian Church in Ukraine and a rhetoric of animosity fostered by senior Ukrainian politicians.
“It is not so much the religious issue that drives nationalists to act, but the idea that the Moscow Patriarchate is an agent of the Kremlin, an internal enemy likely to spread an anti-Ukrainian counter-propaganda”, stated Adrien Nonjon, a student-researcher at the Paris 1 Sorbonne University. He specialized in the study of the Ukrainian far right. “The majority of the attacks are concentrated in western Ukraine, as the churches linked to the Moscow Patriarchate are less present there. And there is a form of laissez-faire policy on the part of the authorities, who remain silent on the issue”.
Change of allegiance
In addition to these incidents, the Russian Church in Ukraine claims that its Ukrainian parishes are being pressured by nationalist groups and local authorities, in order to rush their joining the new autocephalous Church willy-nilly. At present, only about 100 parishes have decided to change their allegiance by choosing the Kyiv Patriarchate.
“The government is talking about parishes rallying, but often churches are taken over by force,” said Father Alexander Bakhov, the head of the legal service of the Russian Church in Ukraine. According to him, about thirty churches have been “seized” since January 5. A figure impossible to verify, as the modalities of the change of allegiance, supposedly clarified by the vote of a law on January 17, remain actually unclear. Representatives of the new autocephalous Ukrainian Church, for their part, deny the existence of these incidents and claim the transition process is peaceful.
Source (with picture): La Croix