Authorities in Ukraine raided Monday three Orthodox churches aligned to Russia as political and religious tensions between the two countries grow.
According to Police spokeswoman Alla Vashchenko, security services and Police searched homes of priests who had declared their allegiance to the Russia branch of the Orthodox Church.
Recently, the Russian government granted independence to Ukrainian Orthodox church amidst cheers from the Ukraine’s Capital Kiev but anger from Russia’s capital Moscow.
In recent days, the two nations clashed following a Russian move that saw Russia seize the latter’s ships and sailors in the Sea of Azov making it the first military confrontation since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Vashchenko stressed that the raids on the churches in northern Ukraine are part of a probe into the possible violation of a law on equality of religious belief.
“Nobody has been arrested,” she confirmed
An official from the Moscow-aligned Orthodox Church in the Zhytomyr region said that were ordered to seize everything to do with our church. The officers, he added were gentle and tolerant.
The raids come three days after a similar search on the residence of Metropolitan Pavlo, who is also aligned with Moscow and oversees a major Kiev monastery.
Ukraine’s Orthodox Church is split between two branches. One that pledged allegiance to Moscow while the other to Kiev, which Moscow has refused to recognize.
In October, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, considered the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians worldwide, agreed to recognise the Ukrainian Church’s independence from Moscow, a move that has caused controversy among the two nations.
In response to the announcement, the Russian Church announced it would break ties with the Constantinople Patriarchate in protest.
The Russian Orthodox Church has repeatedly voiced fears that Ukraine will use legal moves or even use force to take control of the churches and monasteries that it currently controls.
Some priests have told their parishioners to be ready to defend them.