Ukraine’s top security officials have ordered punitive measures against seven senior clerics, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday, part of a crackdown on a branch of the Orthodox Church with longstanding ties to Moscow.
The clerics are among Orthodox leaders known to have been sympathetic to Russia’s portrayal of its 10-month-old invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin says it is protecting Russian-speakers and has annexed four regions it says are historically Russian lands.
“We are doing everything to ensure that no strings are available to be pulled by the aggressor state that could make Ukrainian society suffer,” Zelenskiy said in announcing the measure in his nightly video address.
Under an order issued by Ukraine’s Security Council, all seven have had their assets seized and are subject to a ban on a range of economic and legal activities as well as a de facto travel ban.
A majority of Ukrainians are Orthodox Christians and competition has been fierce between the branch of the church historically linked to Moscow and an independent church proclaimed after independence from Soviet rule in 1991.
The Moscow-linked church severed ties with the Russian Orthodox Church after the February invasion, but many Ukrainians remain deeply suspicious of its motives. The Russian church wholeheartedly backs the invasion.
The Security Council last month ordered an investigation into the activities of the church and legislation is under consideration to limit its activities.
Ukraine’s SBU security service has been staging a series of raids of property owned by the Moscow-linked church and last week accused a senior cleric of engaging in anti-Ukrainian activity by supporting Russian policies in social media posts.
A spokesperson for the Russian-linked church said last week it had always acted within the framework of Ukrainian law and that there were no legal grounds to put pressure on its followers.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev described the authorities in Kyiv as “satanists” and “enemies of Christ and the Orthodox faith.”