An ultra-controversial ban on Ukraine's main religious body, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), has just passed a first-round vote of lawmakers, due to the church maintaining links with the Russian Orthodox Church centered in Moscow.
It comes after Ukrainian security services have conducted several raids against Orthodox monasteries and churches, including the famous Kiev Pechersk Lavra monastery.
"Draft law number 8371 on the prohibition of religious organizations associated with the Russian Federation was adopted in the first reading," lawmaker Yaroslav Zhelezniak announced, after it passed 267 to 15.
The UOC blasted the move the get it legally banned as a severe violation of human rights and religious freedoms which violates the European Convention on Human Rights.
But another lawmaker, Inna Sovsun, was cited in AFP as calling it a "historic decision" - explaining the rationale of the majority of parliament as follows: "In order to defeat the aggressor, we need to think asymmetrically and leave no room for Russia to harm us."
Throughout the war, Zelensky officials have alleged - without evidence - that UOC priests and bishops sometimes are facilitators for Russian intelligence and harbor pro-Putin views.
The UOC responded, "Undoubtedly, the adoption of this draft law will indicate that human rights and freedoms, for which our state is also fighting, are losing their meaning." The UOC has confirmed it is taking steps to defend itself in courts:
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) has announced the appointment of international lawyer Robert Amsterdam of Amsterdam & Partners LLP to assist the international response to escalating attacks by the Government of Ukraine.
..."Protecting freedom of religion of all Ukrainians is essential to the continued support for Ukraine in both Washington and key European capitals," said Amsterdam. "Draft Law 8371 represents a significant step backwards, a violation of Ukraine’s international legal commitments and the nation’s own constitution."
Amsterdam continued: "Contrary to the Ukrainian government’s propaganda, the UOC is an independent church – instead we are witnessing pure political persecution and opportunism, which has nothing to do with Ukraine’s national security."
In some recent instances, Orthodox clergy members have seen jail time or have been placed under house arrest, or else harassment by mobs of far-right Ukrainian nationalists, for merely calling for peace between the two countries.
Where is the religious freedom in Ukraine?— Dean O'Brien (@DeanoBeano1) October 6, 2023
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is reporting that the entrance to Yeletsk Holy Dormition Women's Convent in the city of Chernigov is blocked by armed people. They are trying to seize the premises and drive out the nuns and priests. pic.twitter.com/8yvQZdJ0Ij
If this new move to impose an outright ban on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church goes through, this means church seizures and the arrests of clergymen by the state will only increase, as Zelensky is now waging war not just on the invading Russians, but on Orthodox Christians within Ukraine itself.