Ukrainian security services have informed a senior Orthodox priest that he is suspected of justifying Russian aggression amid a bitter dispute over a famous Orthodox monastery.
Metropolitan Pavel, the abbot of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra monastery, the most revered Orthodox place in Ukraine, was summoned for questioning on Saturday.
During a court hearing in the Ukrainian capital, the metropolitan strongly rejected claims by the Security Service of Ukraine, known as the SBU, that he approved of Russia’s invasion. Pavel described the accusations against him as politically motivated.
SBU agents searched his residence. Prosecutors asked the court to place him under house arrest pending an investigation.
This happened three days after the expiration of the deadline for the order of the Ukrainian authorities to evict the monks of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) who live in part of the monastery of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra. The priest strongly resisted the authorities’ order to leave the compound.
The UOC has been accused of having ties to Russia. The dispute over the property, also known as the Cave Monastery, is part of a wider religious conflict that ran parallel to the war.
The Ukrainian government has come down hard on the UOC because of its historic ties to the Russian Orthodox Church, whose leader, Patriarch Kirill, supported Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The UOC insisted it was loyal to Ukraine and condemned the Russian invasion from the start. The Church declared its independence from Moscow.
But Ukrainian security agencies claim that some in the UOC maintained close ties to Moscow. They raided many of the church’s holy sites and later published photos of rubles, Russian passports and leaflets with messages from the Moscow patriarch as evidence that some church officials were loyal to Russia.
The Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery is owned by the Ukrainian government, and the agency that oversees it informed the monks that it was terminating the lease and that they had to leave the place by Wednesday.
Metropolitan Pavel told the faithful on Wednesday that the monks would not leave pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the UOC in a Kyiv court to stop the eviction.
The government claimed that the monks violated their lease agreement by altering the historic site and other technical violations. The monks dismissed the claim as an excuse.
Many Orthodox communities in Ukraine severed their ties with the UOC and switched to the rival Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which received recognition from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople more than four years ago.
Bartholomew I is considered first among equals among the heads of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Patriarch Kirill and most other Orthodox patriarchs refused to accept his decision to authorize another Ukrainian church.
Russia ‘increases ammunition production’
As Ukraine prepares for a counteroffensive expected in the coming months, Russian forces have continued to push to capture the city of Bakhmut. The Ukrainian stronghold in the eastern Donbas region has been at the center of a fierce battle that has been going on for eight months in eastern Ukraine.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said during a Saturday visit to the military headquarters overseeing the action in Ukraine that Russia’s defense industry had increased ammunition production “several times”. The Russian government has previously acknowledged a shortage of ammunition.
The UK Ministry of Defense said in its latest analysis on Saturday that the Russian offensive personally overseen by General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian army’s general staff, had failed. Putin tasked Gerasimov with overseeing what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
“Gerasimov’s tenure was characterized by an attempt to launch a general winter offensive aimed at expanding Russian control over the entire Donbass region,” the British ministry said on Twitter. “Eighty days later, it is increasingly clear that this project has failed.”
As evidence, the ministry said that “in several directions across the front in Donbass, Russian forces achieved only marginal successes at the cost of tens of thousands of casualties.”
Along with the losses, the Russian military has “largely squandered its temporary manpower advantage” since the partial mobilization of 300,000 reservists ordered by Putin in the fall, according to a British analysis.
Gerasimov, who has been in his job for 10 years, was said to be “pushing the limits of how far Russia’s political leadership will tolerate failure.”