Security agents in Ukraine have conducted a “counterintelligence” operation at Kyiv’s historic Pechersk Lavra and other facilities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) as part of a probe into suspected pro-Russia activity.
The 11th-century monastery and UNESCO World Heritage site — which is also known as the Monastery of the Caves — is the seat of the UOC, which was formerly under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Patriarch in Moscow. The UOC cut ties with Moscow in May over Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
In a post on Telegram on November 22, Ukraine’s SBU security agency said it was conducting “counterintelligence measures” aimed at countering “the subversive activities of the Russian security services in Ukraine.”
A short while later, the SBU’s regional office in the Rivne region said similar operations had been undertaken at the Korets Monastery in Korets and several other UOC facilities in the region.
The SBU said the operations were aimed at preventing the use of the facilities as a “center for the Russian World” and to search them for sabotage groups, foreign citizens, or illegal weapons. “Russian World” is a term at the heart of the Kremlin’s foreign policy doctrine aimed at promoting the Russian language, culture, and religion around the world.
A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow condemned the SBU raids as “an act of intimidation of believers.” Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has been a vocal supporter of Russia’s war against Ukraine.
On November 15, the SBU announced it was opening a criminal investigation into a November 12 incident at the Pechersk Lavra. During a service, worshippers sang a pro-Russian song with lyrics such as, “Mother Russia is waking up.”
On November 18, the SBU charged a UOC cleric in the Vinnytsya region with distributing leaflets justifying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.