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Ukraine war

Scuffles at Kyiv monastery as Church accused of Moscow ties resists eviction

Scuffles at Kyiv monastery as Church accused of Moscow ties resists eviction
Believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) pray and block the entrance to the church at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra (Monastery of the Caves) monastery complex, in Kyiv, Ukraine, 30 March 2023. Around one hundred of believers blocked the access of a Ministry of Culture commission to the monastery. The UOC-MP faces eviction following allegations by the Ukrainian government that it has links to Russia, and the monastery's lease agreement was terminated by 29 March. EPA-EFE/OLEG PETRASYUK

KYIV, March 30 (Reuters) - Scuffles broke out outside a Kyiv monastery on Thursday after a Ukrainian branch of the Orthodox Church accused by the government of having ties with Russia defied an eviction order.

Tensions over the presence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) at the 980-year-old Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery have risen since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year.

Hours after a deadline to leave the monastery passed at midnight on Wednesday, members of the UOC refused entry to a government representative who came to inspect buildings in the gold-domed monastery’s sprawling complex.

Shortly afterwards, Reuters correspondents saw UOC representatives trying to prevent journalists filming a senior UOC cleric as he walked inside the monastery grounds.

“You lie,” one man inside the complex shouted at reporters.

A Reuters reporter was hit and shoved by an unidentified man, and another reporter was pushed away by a cleric as she tried to approach him. No-one was hurt.

The UOC is Ukraine’s second-largest church, though most Ukrainian Orthodox believers belong to a separate branch of the faith, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, formed four years ago by uniting branches independent of Moscow’s authority.

The government says the UOC broke tenancy agreements and constructed buildings at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra illegally. The UOC denies this and says the government has not shown it any documents providing proof.

More broadly, Kyiv accuses the UOC of maintaining ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, which has supported Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. The UOC says it broke all links with the Russian Church in May 2022.

The UOC says it has taken the government to court over what it casts as an illegal eviction, and that it has no plans to leave until there is a ruling in the case.

By Max Hunder and Yurii Kovalenko

(Writing by Max Hunder, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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