Kyiv has exchanged a priest accused of collaborating with Russia for 28 Ukrainian servicemen.

The priest is a member of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) which, despite officially breaking ties with the Russian Patriarchate after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, is still believed to be de facto dependent on Moscow.

Chief of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) Vasyl Maliuk, told Interfax: “I would like to emphasize that the enemy highly values its agents in robes – one such person was swapped for 28 Ukrainian servicemen.”

The exchange is the latest move in a long-running stand-off as Kyiv continues efforts to free its cultural and religious patrimony from Russian imperialist domination.

The majority of Ukrainians, whether believers or not, tend to view the UOC-MP and its defenders as Russian fifth-columnists who should no longer be allowed to promote Moscow’s interests and narratives in Ukraine, nor profit from controlling the country’s most sacred and historically significant religious sites.


One of these, the Pechersk Lavra in Kyiv, has become the focus for the ongoing feud.

Last month representatives of the UOC-MP refused to leave the Pechersk Lavra upon the expiration of the lease agreement, by which previous Ukrainian governments had allowed them to use the state-owned monastery complex free of charge. 

The UOC-MP asserts its right to remain there, pending further judicial process. The Ukrainian government is also looking into similar action at the Pochaiv Monastery.

According to the SBU chief, 19 UOC (MP) priests have been stripped of Ukrainian citizenship. "As I have said before, a robe and a censer is not an aggravating circumstance, but it does not exempt from criminal liability,” he said.

This week the Court of Appeal of Kyiv rejected the latest attempt by lawyers acting for Metropolitan Pavel of the UOC-MP to get him released from house arrest.

His confinement and the requirement to wear an electronic ankle monitor will continue at least until May 30.

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