Ukraine moves to ban Moscow-linked Orthodox Church

Ukrainian lawmakers take bold steps to sever ties with the Moscow-linked Ukrainian Orthodox Church amidst growing tensions over Russia's influence.

Ukrainian lawmakers on Thursday advanced legislation that would ban the Moscow-linked Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), as Kyiv vows to cut ties with institutions it considers aligned with Russia.

Rows over Moscow’s ties to the Church have escalated since the war began.

Ukrainian security services last year raided the historic Kyiv Pechersk Lavra monastery over its ties to the Moscow Patriarchate.

“Draft law number 8371 on the prohibition of religious organisations associated with the Russian Federation was adopted in the first reading,” lawmaker Yaroslav Zhelezniak said, adding that 267 deputies voted for the bill.

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Bills must typically pass two readings in the Verkhovna Rada — the Ukrainian parliament — before they can be signed into law by President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Lawmaker Inna Sovsun praised the vote as “extremely important”.

“So far, this is only the first reading but it is still a historic decision,” she said on social media.

“In order to defeat the aggressor, we need to think asymmetrically and leave no room for Russia to harm us,” she added.

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The UOC voiced disappointment at the proposed ban, saying it violated of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of religion.

“Undoubtedly, the adoption of this draft law will indicate that human rights and freedoms, for which our state is also fighting, are losing their meaning,” it said.

The proposed ban has been controversial in Ukraine, where some parishioners still attend churches linked to the Moscow Patriarchate.

Leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which officially broke ties with its Russian counterpart last May, had been accused by some lawmakers of collaborating with Russian clergymen.

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A poll in June 2023 by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology found two-thirds of Ukrainians supported an outright ban on the UOC.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion, some churches switched their allegiance to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is independent of Moscow.

Russia has strongly criticised what it sees as persecution of Orthodox believers in Ukraine.

The head of Russia’s Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, has repeatedly expressed support for the invasion and has told believers that Putin’s reign over Russia was mandated by god.

– By: © Agence France-Presse

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