KYIV, Ukraine -- Orthodox monks who've been ordered out of a monastery in Kyiv refused to leave on Wednesday, as a deadline to vacate the complex expired.
The dispute over the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery, Ukraine's most revered Orthodox site, is part of a wider religious conflict playing out in parallel with the war.
The monks using the property belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has been accused of links to Russia.
But the site is owned by the Ukrainian government, and the agency overseeing the property notified the UOC earlier this month that, as of March 29, it was terminating the lease.
Metropolitan Pavel, an abbot of the monastic complex, told worshippers on Wednesday that the UOC would not leave the site pending the outcome of a lawsuit it filed in a Kyiv court last week to stop the eviction.
No attempts to evict the monks were made on Wednesday but Pavel said the UOC had been notified that the handover of the property would begin on Thursday.
Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko appeared to confirm that, telling public broadcaster Suspilne that a commission would start working Thursday on "the reception of those buildings that are to be transferred from the use of the metropolis to the use of the state.”
The government claims that the monks violated their lease by making alterations to the historic site and other technical infractions. The monks of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church dispute this, calling the claims a pretext.
The Ukrainian government has been cracking down on the UOC over its historic ties to the Russian Orthodox Church, whose leader, Patriarch Kirill, has supported Russian President Vladimir Putin in the invasion of Ukraine.
The UOC has insisted that it’s loyal to Ukraine, has denounced the Russian invasion from the start and has even declared its independence from Moscow.
But Ukrainian security agencies have claimed that some in the Ukrainian church have maintained close ties with Moscow. They’ve raided numerous holy sites of the church and later posted photos of rubles, Russian passports and leaflets with messages from the Moscow patriarch as proof that some church officials have been loyal to Russia.
Many Orthodox communities in Ukraine have cut their ties with the UOC that was long one of the main sources of Russian influence in Ukraine. They gradually transitioned to the rival Orthodox Church of Ukraine after it received recognition from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, who is considered the first among equals among leaders of the Eastern Orthodox churches but who lacks the universal power of a pope. Moscow’s and most other Orthodox patriarchs refused to accept that designation that formalized a split with the Russian church.