Ukraine Raids 'Monastery of the Caves' in Its Own Capital

In effort to stop Russian sympathizers from using Pechersk Lavra complex for sabotage
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 23, 2022 1:19 PM CST
Ukraine Raids Historic Monastery in Kyiv
A woman cleans the snow in the Pechersk Lavra monastery complex in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday.   (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

If it seems counterintuitive that Ukrainian forces raided one of its own holy sites this week, it's strictly a preemptive strike. The BBC reports that the nation's SBU security service descended Tuesday upon Kyiv's Pechersk Lavra Christian monastery, a 1,000-year-old Eastern Orthodox church that, until recently, followed the Moscow patriarchate. The move, which also targeted other at least two other monasteries that same day, came as whispers circulated that some clergy members support the Russian invasion, are in cahoots with the Kremlin, and are trying to quietly influence churchgoers. "These measures are being taken ... as part of the systemic work of the SBU to counter the destructive activities of Russian special services in Ukraine," the service said in a statement, per the Guardian.

The statement noted that it hoped to prevent Russian sympathizers from using the site for "sheltering sabotage and reconnaissance groups [and] foreign citizens" or for "weapons storage," which has been alleged. After Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, the Pechersk Lavra church—a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's also known as the "Monastery of the Caves"—broke away from the Russian patriarchate, headed by Patriarch Kirill, who's seen as an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has given a thumbs-up to Moscow's military actions.

Despite that break, fears of Russia-sympathetic spies within the monastery remain. For several years now, Ukrainian parishes have been defecting from the Russian Orthodox Church, though many churches and monasteries have stayed put and stayed loyal: Officials say more than 30 priests have been arrested for aiding Russia since the war began, per the New York Times. Upon hearing about the raid, a spokesperson for the Russian Orthodox Church called it "an act of intimidation of believers," while Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov slammed Ukraine for being "at war" with Moscow's church. It's not yet clear what was uncovered during Tuesday's raids. (Read more Ukraine stories.)

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