Kyiv is cracking down on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on the grounds that it is pro-Russian and collaborating with Moscow, a charge the Church denies.
A court in the Ukrainian capital has sentenced a senior cleric to house arrest, according to his church, amid hearings on whether he glorified the invasion of Russian forces and fueled religious divisions.
In a statement on Saturday, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) said the kyiv court also ordered Metropolitan Pavlo to wear an electronic bracelet.
Interfax Ukraine and Ukrinform news agencies said Pavlo had been under house arrest for 60 days.
” I did not do anything. I believe this is a political order,” the cleric told reporters after the decision.
The decision came as kyiv cracks down on the UOC on the grounds that it is pro-Russian and collaborating with Moscow, a charge the church denies. Earlier in the week, Pavlo – who is the abbot of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra Monastery, Ukraine’s most revered Orthodox site – had cursed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, threatening him with damnation.
Prosecutors said the house arrest and electronic bracelet were precautionary measures, with prosecutor Yevhen Zavistovskyi saying the case against Pavlo would continue.
Russian news agency TASS said the court ordered Pavlo to live in a village about 40 km (25 miles) southeast of kyiv.
Pavlo said the house was uninhabitable.
“There is nothing to sleep on, no heating or light. There is no kitchen, no spoon. But it’s okay, I’m going to endure it all, ”he said.
Pavlo has lived in accommodation in kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, a 980-year-old monastery that the government says the church must leave. TASS also said the court denied Pavlo permission to attend church services.
The UOC insisted on its loyalty to Ukraine and denounced the Russian invasion. But Ukrainian security agencies say some church members have maintained close ties with Moscow.
The agencies raided many church holy sites and later released photos of rubles, Russian passports and leaflets with messages from the Patriarch of Moscow as evidence that some church officials have been loyal to Russia.
Sixty-one UOC clergy have faced criminal charges since the start of 2022, seven of whom have been convicted.
The government had also ordered the monks of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavrato leave the enclosure before March 29. He claims they breached their lease by making changes to the historic site and other technical infractions. But the monks rejected the request as a pretext.
Dozens of UOC supporters gathered outside the monastery on Saturday, singing hymns in the rain. A small group of protesters also showed up, accusing the other side of sympathizing with Moscow.
“They are brainwashing people supported by Russia, and they are very dangerous for Ukraine,” said Senia Kravchuk, a 38-year-old software developer from Kyiv. “They sing songs in favor of Russia, and it’s horrible here in the center of kyiv.”
David, 21, a third-year seminary student, disagreed.
Dressed in a priest’s robe and with a Ukrainian flag draped over his shoulders, he told the Associated Press news agency that the priests and residents of Lavra were in no way pro-Russian. The state, he said, was trying to evict hundreds of people from Lavra without a court order.
“Look at me. I’m in a priest’s habit, with a Ukrainian flag and a cross around my neck. Can you say I’m pro-Russian?” said David, who declined to give his last name because tensions surrounding the issue.
“The priests are currently singing a Ukrainian anthem and they are being called pro-Russian. Can you believe it?”
Separately, Ukraine’s president said on Saturday that he had signed decrees to impose sanctions on more than 650 individuals and companies he said were “working for Russian aggression.”
Zelenskyy’s adviser, Andriy Yermak, said the list included Russian state and local officials, “as well as companies engaged in the maintenance, repair or production of military equipment.”