During a visit to Ukraine’s Bukovyna region on Oct. 2, the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church opened a new monastery, prayed for President Viktor Yanukovych and presented special honors to two of Ukraine’s most influential yet controversial individuals: Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko and billionaire Dmytro Firtash.
Thousands of worshipers are reported to have attended Patriarch Kirill’s opening of Trinity Cathedral near Chernitvsi, a large city in western Ukraine.
According to a report by Russia’s Interfax news agency, Patriarch Kirill held a prayer for Yanukovych.
"We are today praying for Ukraine's president, so that God gives him spiritual and physical health, wisdom, courage and all that is necessary to carry the great burden and responsibility for establishment of the Ukrainian state, increasing spirituality and living conditions for its people," Interfax quoted Patriarch Kirill as saying.
An increasingly regular visitor to Ukraine since Yanukovych became president in 2010, the Russian Orthodox Church leader also issued church honors to Firtash and Boyko -- apparently as thanks for their support of church activities. While the Russian Orthodox Church has a large following in Ukraine, it is also seen by many Ukrainians as an instrument of Kremlin interests.
According to documents and sources, both Boyko and Firtash are close associates.
Firtash, who kick-started his business career while living in Chernivtsi region in the 1990s, has in prior years been a partner of Russian energy giant Gazprom in the multi-billion-dollar business of supplying Ukraine with natural gas. Firtash and Gazprom co-own Swiss-registered RosUkrEnergo, which controlled the supply of gas to Ukraine from 2004 until Yulia Tymoshenko -- as prime minister in 2009 -- cut out the middlemen trader as part of an agreement with her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Tymoshenko is currently facing up to 10 years behind bars if found guilty by a Kyiv court of exceeding authority while brokering that agreement. Ukrainian prosecutors say the agreement introduced gas import prices that are ruinous for Ukraine's economy.
Boyko served as Ukraine’s Energy Minister when RosUkrEnergo was first brought in to a dominant role in energy relations between Ukraine and Russia.
According to sources and documents, the authenticity of which Boyko has neither confirmed nor denied despite inquiries from journalists, he held power-of-attorney over Firtash’s assets and represented him in a divorce.
As prime minister from 2007 through 2010 and now as Ukraine's opposition leaders, Tymoshenko has repeatedly questioned the transparency of RosUkrEnergo's role.
She claims that Boyko and other top Ukrainian officials in the inner circle of Ukraine’s current political leadership, including President Viktor Yanukovych himself, are shadow benefactors of RosUkrEnergo. Such allegations are denied by Boyko and other top officials, including Yanukovych.