The spokesperson for Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Oleh Nikolenko on Monday, March 27, claimed the UN’s allusion to the “discriminatory” nature of the searches at the Pechersk Lavra and other monasteries was unbalanced.
The Kyiv Perchersk Lavra (or Monastery of the Caves) is an 11th century monastery complex in the heart of Kyiv. It is one of the holiest religious sites for both Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox Christians. Today it is owned by the Ukrainian government and most of compound is occupied by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP).
On March 24 the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a “Report on the Human Rights Situation in Ukraine,” which expressed concern that official actions targeting the UOC-MP could be discriminatory.”
Nikolenko clarified that while Ukraine is a democratic state where freedom of religion is guaranteed, it should be noted that this freedom does not equate to the right to engage in activities that could undermine national security.
“We call on OHCHR to refrain from unbalanced political assessments and base its reports on facts,” he said.
Tensions have been building progressively at the holy site, especially since March 10, when the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) was notified that their lease allowing for their free use of religious buildings, which are state-owned property, would be terminated on March 29.
Prior to the eviction notice, the UOC-MP was accused of harboring a pro-Russian fifth column among its ranks. The Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) searched the premises on Nov. 22, finding Russian passports, pro-Russian literature, cash that was suspected of being used to finance saboteurs, and forged documents.
The SBU said the operation and others like it were aimed at preventing the use of church facilities as a “center for the Russian world” ideology and to search them for sabotage groups, foreign citizens, or illegal weapons.
“We will not allow the terrorist state [Russia] to have any opportunity to manipulate the spirituality of our people, to destroy Ukrainian shrines – our Lavras – or to steal any valuables from them,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said on March 12.
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