Ukraine puts head of Russia’s Orthodox church on ‘wanted’ list

By Isaac M December 16, 2023

Officials in Ukraine have put the head of Russia’s Orthodox church, a pro-Kremlin figure who has supported Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the country, on its “wanted” list.

Patriarch Kirill is now “an individual in hiding from the bodies of pre-trial investigation”, according to a post of Ukraine’s interior ministry’s wanted list. Kyiv’s security services accused him of stoking the war.

Kirill, who is seen in his clerical robes in the photo, is listed as “missing” since 11 November on the ministry’s page.

According to Ukraine’s SBU security service last month, a document stated Kirill “infringed Ukrainian sovereignty” by virtue of his position as “part of the closest entourage of Russia’s military and political leadership”.

Priests and officials linked to the branch of the church associated with Moscow are now suspects as security forces have launched dozens of criminal cases, including that of treason.

Kirill has denounced these actions and urged the clerical leaders across the world to stop Ukraine’s moves against the church.

This is a symbolic move from Kyiv as the Russian head faces no direct threat of arrest. He is the latest figure named in Ukraine’s campaign to uproot the influence of priests it accuses of maintaining close links with Russia.

Placing Kirill on a wanted list is a “step that is as ridiculous as it is predictable”, Vladimir Legoida, a senior official in the Russian church said.

Ukrainian authorities were guilty of “lawlessness and attempting to intimidate parishioners”, Mr Legoida, who is responsible for ties with other churches, told Russian news agency RIA.

Last September, when president Putin ordered a partial mobilisation of reservists, Moscow Patriarch Kirill required his clergymen to pray for victory.

Similar to Mr Putin’s authoritarian regime, Kirill built a harsh hierarchy in the church that demands total conformity, Andrey Desnitsky, professor of philology at Vilnius University in Lithuania, told The Associated Press. If a priest refuses to read the patriarch’s prayer, his loyalty is suspect. “If you are not loyal, then there is no place for you in church,” added Desnitsky, a longtime expert on the Russian church.

Ukraine sees Orthodox Christianity as a dominant faith in the country. However, after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, officials in Kyiv launched criminal cases against clergy linked to a branch of the Orthodox church once directly linked to the Russian church and Kirill.

Parliament in Kyiv is considering a bill that would ban that branch of the church, which has lost many of its parishioners since Mr Putin sent Russian troops into Ukraine in February 2022. The church says it severed all links to Moscow in May 2022.


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