A scuffle occurred on April 2 at the Pokrovsky Cathedral of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) in Khmelnytsky. According to Viktor Burlyk, deputy of the Khmelnytsky Regional Council, a Ukrainian Armed Forces soldier in uniform was assaulted by a priest of the UOC-MP.
Later in the day, locals gathered around the church to protest the incident, and the priests were obliged to leave the premises.
Protesters gathered near the church, chanting “Moscow priests go away,” and “Glory to the Heroes,” and calling for parishioners to join the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) instead of supporting the Moscow Patriarchate. The protesters demanded that the person who raised his hand against the soldier come to them, explain his act and apologize for his actions.
The UOC-MP reported in Telegram that the protesters “held their illegal meeting, which they called a ‘parish community meeting,’ with the demand to seal the church, turned to law enforcement officers, and led the UOC[-MP] clergy out of the cathedral territory…”
Ananyev, the soldier assaulted, is a volunteer who has fought in the 19th Rifle Battalion since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion. The soldier had suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving on the front line.
Burlyk explained that the soldier had gone to the Moscow Patriarchate’s church to ask parishioners, “How many more people have to die before you stop going to the Moscow Patriarchate?”
In video footage of the assault, the priest tries to wrestle Ananyev to the ground and then, with the help of others, drags him out of the church after a prolonged scuffle.
The police detained Ananyev for petty hooliganism. The spokeswoman of the local police noted that during the service, the 26-year-old man had “started a conflict with the priest who was reading a prayer.”
Witnesses of the event called police for help. “The police are now investigating all the circumstances of the conflict and are questioning witnesses and those involved in the incident,” law enforcement officers said.
The mayor of Khmelnytsky, Oleksandr Simchyshyn, said that the city council would convene for an extraordinary session to deprive the UOC-MP of the right to use land plots within the city.
Additionally, the deputies will ask the district and regional councils to make a corresponding decision. The mayor also called on the Verkhovna Rada to pass a law banning the UOC-MP.
Simchyshyn also mentioned that on Sunday, over 3,000 people gathered near the cathedral, and 1,500 signed a decision to switch from the UOC-MP to the OCU. For the first time yesterday, a prayer was heard in Ukrainian in the cathedral – a prayer for Ukraine, Ukrainian heroes and soldiers.
Bishop Pavlo of Khmelnytsky and Kamianets-Podilsky, the head of the Khmelnytsky Eparchy of the independent OCU, condemned the beating of the military man.
“We condemn violence against our defenders, who at the front risk the most precious thing for us – their own lives,” he said.
“It is also unacceptable when various insinuations are used to shift the sole blame to the serviceman himself. At the same time, it is obvious that the cause of such and similar situations is the long-term propaganda of the ‘Russian world,’ which is spreading in the Khmelnytsky region through the Moscow Patriarchate’s cells,” Bishop Pavlo added.
In addition, the injured soldier Artur Ananyev shared details of the incident. He has been discharged, returned to civilian life, and is trying to adapt. Ananyev explained that he was attacked after asking how many more people would have to die before people would stop praying in the UOC-MP.
“After that, people attacked me. They started beating me, strangling me. Even some old women came up and hit me in the face,” the victim said.
He noted that representatives of the UOC-MP began dragging him towards the exit of the cathedral, where they pressed him to the floor with such force that he almost suffocated. Ananyev said that after the arrival of the police, the law enforcement officers threatened him with minor hooliganism. He claimed that a patrol officer, Marina Yanitska, accused him of provoking people and threatened him with a more severe charge if he was seen again.
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