Orthodox monks from Kyiv’s 11th-century Pechersk Lavra monastery are fighting eviction by the Ukrainian government because of their church’s links with Russia.
The ancient golden-domed religious complex is the country’s most significant Orthodox monastery.
The monks in residency were, until recently, under Moscow’s jurisdiction.
However, they say they broke with the Russian Orthodox Church after its leader, Patriarch Kirill, backed Moscow’s invasion last year, but the Ukrainian government remains unconvinced.
One of the monks, who gave his name as Avel, denied any links to the Russian government: “For centuries we have belonged to the church, which has its own beginning and patriarch… and to make us out to be some kind of foreign agents or enemies… this is not true, this is not so. These are our people, our land and our Lavra.”
Last Friday, Ukraine’s 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 decision
The deadline according to Ukrainian media is March 29.
Despite numerous cars having been seen leaving the monastery, its head Pavlo Lebid stood outside vowing “no intention of moving ” even though the lease has been terminated.
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 loyal to Moscow, has appealed to religious and international leaders including UN chief Antonio Guterres, expressing “deep concern” at what he said was an illegal ultimatum.
Ukraine has recently established its own Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which Moscow’s Patriarchate does not recognise.