Russia demands that Ukraine free Orthodox 'martyr' cleric from house arrest

  • World
  • Wednesday, 05 Apr 2023

FILE PHOTO: Abbot of the Kyiv Pechers Lavra Metropolitan, Pavlo of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, accused of being linked to Moscow, attends a court hearing, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine April 1, 2023. REUTERS/Viacheslav Ratynskyi

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Wednesday demanded that Ukraine free a top Orthodox cleric placed under house arrest by a Kyiv court this month in connection with allegations he had glorified Russia's invasion and stoked religious divisions.

Metropolitan Pavlo, the abbot of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra (monastery) in central Kyiv, is a senior official in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) which Ukrainian authorities have accused of being pro-Russian and of collaborating with Moscow, charges the UOC denies.

Pavlo, who the court ordered to wear an electronic bracelet, banned from attending church services, and ordered to spend the next two months living in a village outside Kyiv according to Russia's TASS news agency, has denied wrongdoing and called the case against him political.

Russia's Foreign Ministry called on Ukraine to free him immediately.

"We are deeply worried about the fate of Metropolitan Pavlo, who is known to be under house arrest and in electronic shackles. He is taking on the likeness of a martyr for the Orthodox faith," the ministry said in a statement.

"We demand the immediate release of Metropolitan Pavlo and the provision of appropriate medical care for him."

Pavlo had been living in accommodation in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, a 980-year old monastery complex the government says the church must leave, something it has so far refused to do.

Ukrainian prosecutors have said his house arrest and electronic bracelet are precautionary measures while the case against him continues.

Sixty-one UOC clergy have had criminal cases opened against them since the start of 2022 with seven found guilty.

The UOC has been accused of maintaining links to the Russian Orthodox Church, which has publicly backed what Moscow calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine.

The Russian Orthodox Church used to be the UOC's parent church, but the UOC says it broke all ties in May 2022.

Ukraine has about 30 million Orthodox believers, divided between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and two other Orthodox Churches, one of which is the autocephalous, or self-governing, Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; editing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

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