UN Issues Rare Condemnation As Zelensky Moves To Evict More Monks, Seize Churches
The United Nation's human rights watchdog has voiced alarm over the Zelensky government's targeting of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) in a report published on Friday. The UOC, which still maintains communion with the Russian Orthodox Church, has seen its priests and monks expelled from some churches and monasteries of late, after the Ukrainian government has sought to bolster a rival nationalist church, also through controversial legislation.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in the new report that it is "concerned that the State’s activities targeting the UOC could be discriminatory." The UN report pointed to "vague legal terminology and the absence of sufficient justification" in proposed anti-UOC legislation being pushed forward by the Zelensky administration.
In January monks of the ancient Kiev-Caves Lavra were ousted from a main cathedral church in favor of the nationalist state-backed "Ukrainian Orthodox Church" (UOC).
And now there's a standoff between Orthodox Christians and police over the future of fate of the 11th century Kiev-Pechersk Lavra. The monks say they'll stay at their monastery and home for "as long as physically possible". The monastery said "There is no legal foundation" state's expulsion order, and many thousands of supporters have stood side-by-side with the monks over days.
According to a description in the Associated Press:
The courtyards of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra have been busy with more than just the usual worshippers, going to and from its churches in the sprawling monastic complex that is Ukraine’s most revered Orthodox site.
Also busy Friday were people in civilian clothes, loading cars with plasma televisions, furniture and other items from the buildings — helping the resident monks remove belongings of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, or UOC, before a threatened government eviction on March 29.
There also were police officers checking the cars to make sure no one was removing items that belong to the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra preserve, which oversees the complex.
Recent footage has shown church services led by the monks with thousands of Ukrainian supporters present. Zelensky officials have accused the monks of being sympathetic to Moscow.
Today in Kiev thousands of Orthodox Christians gathered in the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra for the Sunday liturgy. Zelensky regime wants to expel all priests and monks by March 29.— Based Serbia (@SerbiaBased) March 26, 2023
God help them ☦️ pic.twitter.com/1uPLN0Ic7N
The AP details further, "The site is owned by the government, and the agency overseeing the property notified the UOC earlier this month that as of March 29, it was terminating the lease allowing the free use of religious buildings on the property." Additionally, "The government claims that the monks violated their lease by making alterations to the historic site and other technical infractions."
The new UN human rights report is likely to be a boost to the monks' cause, but it could be too little too late in terms of international support. Ukraine's foreign ministry rejected the UN's conclusions and lashed out, with ministry spokesperson Oleh Nikolenko saying:
"In a recent report on human rights in Ukraine, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights [OHCHR – ed.] noted that searches in the buildings of the UOC MP could be of a ‘discriminatory nature.’
Ukraine is a democratic state, in which freedom of religion is guaranteed. At the same time, freedom is not the same as the right to be engaged in activities that undermine national security.
We call on OHCHR to refrain from unbalanced political assessments and base its reports on facts."
The freedom NATO is bringing Ukraine— the Lemniscat (@theLemniscat) March 26, 2023
Orthodox believers gather outside the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra for the last Sunday service, before Zelensky "evicts" the over 200 monks and priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), from their monastery.https://t.co/FG3pJZm5Ef pic.twitter.com/XJ410uer2B
Considered one of the most important holy sites in broader Ukrainian Orthodoxy, the monastery could be emptied of its monks by police-ordered eviction on Wednesday as the deadline for them to leave looms.