In his nightly address on Sunday, March 12, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy emphasised that the Ukrainian authorities will not allow Russia to destroy Ukraine’s holiest site, Pechersk Lavra, or steal its valuables.

The statement came days after the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, also known as the Monastery of the Caves, notified the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) that the agreement allowing for the free use of religious buildings and state-owned property would be terminated from March 29.

“We will not allow the terrorist state to have any opportunity to manipulate the spirituality of our people, to destroy Ukrainian shrines – our Lavras – or to steal any valuables from them,” the President emphasized.

With the eviction of the UOC-MP, more of the holy site will be occupied by the Orthodox Church of Ukraine – Kyiv Patriarchate (OCU-KP). The OCU-KP was formed in 2019 out of two churches that the Russian Orthodox Church had always deemed illegitimate.

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Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, considered the highest authority among the world’s various Orthodox Christian prelates, conferred canonical status on the Kyivan church in 2019, with an ecclesiastical “tomos.” Since then, a gradual movement to reduce Moscow’s influence over Ukraine’s spiritual affairs has gathered momentum in parallel with the war.

Ukrainian government authorities warned UOC-MP representatives about potential criminal liability if they relocated museum exhibits, including relics of saints, from the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra to another location.

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Minister of Culture and Information Policy Oleksandr Tkachenko issued this warning on March 11, including the demand to vacate two buildings at the site in Kyiv.

The UOC-MP, however, responded by stating that there were no legal grounds for the eviction of its men’s monastery from the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra and that it was simply a “whim” of officials from the Ministry of Culture.

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Tkachenko had previously stated that all monks and ministers of the UOC-MP must vacate all the premises of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra by the end of March.

 

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