A Ukrainian security official says suspected Russian citizens, cash and documents were seized in a raid on a 1,000-year-old Orthodox Christian monastery in Kyiv and other Orthodox sites early Tuesday. as part of operations aimed at countering “alleged subversive activities by Russian special forces”. services”.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, said there was an investigation into what happened in the catacomb network. The SBU’s website said the agency found pro-Russian literature and more than $100,000 in cash.
“We’re not going to talk about money right now,” Danilov told the Guardian. “Some documents were found there. And some citizens ended up there… presumably citizens of the Russian Federation. And now we’re trying to find out what they’re doing in there and why they were there.
Located south of the city center, the sprawling Kyiv Pechersk Lavra complex – or Kyiv Cave Monastery – is the seat of the Russian-backed wing of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that falls under the Moscow Patriarchate, in addition to to be a Ukrainian cultural treasure. and a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The raid on Pechersk Lavra was part of a large sweep of church property. The SBU said a total of about 850 people had their identities checked and 50 underwent “extensive counter-intelligence interviews”, including the use of a polygraph. More than 350 churches were raided, including two other monasteries and the seat of the Moscow Patriarchate Diocese in western Ukraine, the agency said.
The Russian Orthodox Church, whose leader, Patriarch Cyril, has strongly supported Moscow’s military actions in Ukraine, condemned the raid as an “act of intimidation”.
The SBU said: “These measures are taken … as part of the SBU’s systemic work to counter the destructive activities of Russian special services in Ukraine.”
He said the search was aimed at preventing the cave monastery from being used as “the center of the Russian world” and was carried out to investigate suspicions “about the use of the premises… to harbor sabotage and reconnaissance, foreign citizens, storage of weapons.”
The concept of the “Russian world” is at the center of Vladimir Putin’s new foreign policy doctrine which aims to protect Russia’s language, culture and religion. It has been used by conservative ideologues to justify intervention abroad.
The SBU did not provide details on the outcome of Tuesday’s raid. Armed officers were seen carrying out identity checks and searching the bags of worshipers before letting them in.
Danilov said the investigation is still at a very sensitive stage. “All I can say is that some institutes carry out actions that are not in their charters. They can’t do that,” he said. “It does not matter whether it is civil, religious or other institutions, it is a matter of national security of our country. And for many years we closed our eyes to what was going on.
“Any question of religion is always complicated and it is not so easy. It is quite complex and requires a lot of attention,” he added. “We need to divide religion and civilians who hold certain positions in the church and who could possibly work for the aggressor state.”
The raid will further aggravate already strained relations between Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians. The Kremlin denounced the raids as the latest chapter in Kyiv’s “war” against the Russian Church.
“Ukraine has been at war with the Russian Orthodox Church for a long time,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “We could see this as one more link in the chain of these military actions against Russian orthodoxy.”
Vladimir Legoida, spokesperson for the Russian Orthodox Church, said: “Like many other cases of persecution of believers in Ukraine since 2014, this act of intimidation of believers will almost certainly go unnoticed by those who call themselves the international human rights community. ”
The war deepened the split between the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox churches and intensified a dispute over religious allegiance. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church formally split from the Moscow leadership three years ago, with Russia losing several Ukrainian parishes, but many historic churches and monasteries have remained faithful in religious practice and political allegiance to Russia .
Last Friday, the SBU said it had accused a senior clergyman in the western region of Vinnytsia of trying to distribute leaflets attempting to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In May, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate ended its ties with the Russian Church over the latter’s support for what Moscow calls its “special military operation”, instead of a war of assault.
A 2020 survey by the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center found that 34% of Ukrainians identified themselves as members of Ukraine’s main Orthodox Church, while 14% were members of the Ukrainian Patriarchate Church of Moscow.
In 2019, Ukraine received permission from the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians around the world to form an independent church from Moscow, largely ending centuries of religious ties between the two countries.
In early November, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine said it would allow its congregations to celebrate Christmas on December 25 for the first time, moving away from Russia and heading west. For centuries, Ukrainians have celebrated Christmas on January 7, the date Jesus was born according to the Julian calendar.
The move to December 25 was seen as part of a larger national process of dismantling symbols of Russia, the Soviet Union and communism that took off in 2014 when Putin annexed Crimea and sparked a pro-uprising. -Moscow in the eastern region of Donbass.
Meanwhile, Ukrainians brace for what is expected to be the hardest winter in the country’s history as Russia tries to destroy its energy infrastructure in a bid to force Kyiv to broker a peace.
Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, the head of Ukraine’s national power grid operator Ukrenergo, told a briefing that virtually no thermal or hydroelectric power station had been spared Russian attacks. “The scale of the destruction is colossal. In Ukraine, there is a deficit of electricity production. We cannot generate as much energy as consumers can use,” he said.
A major energy supplier said on Monday that Ukrainians had to get used to living in blackouts at least until the end of March, and the government offered evacuations to residents of recently liberated Kherson, which remains for the most without electricity or running water.
“Given the difficult security situation in the city and the infrastructure problems, you can evacuate for the winter to safer parts of the country,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on the Telegram messaging app. .
Fighting continued in the south of the country and, in a key battlefield development, a Ukrainian official admitted his forces were attacking Russian positions on the Kinburn Spit – a gateway to the Black Sea basin. and parts of the Kherson region still under Russian control.
Moscow used the Kinburn Spit as a staging ground for missile and artillery strikes on Ukrainian positions in Mykolaiv province and elsewhere along the Ukrainian-controlled Black Sea coast.
Nataliya Gumenyuk, spokesperson for the Ukrainian army’s Southern Operational Command, said in televised remarks that Ukrainian forces were “continuing a military operation” in the region.
Moscow appeared to be strengthening its forces and increasing its military efforts on the eastern Donbass front around the key town of Bakhmut.
Ukraine’s presidential office said on Tuesday that at least eight civilians had been killed and 16 injured in the past 24 hours.
France Media Agency, Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.