Hundreds of worshippers attended a service Wednesday at a historic Kyiv monastery accused of maintaining links with Moscow as the deadline for the eviction of its monks dawned.
Despite the church officially breaking ties with the Russian Patriarchate after the invasion of Ukraine last year, Kyiv believes it is still de facto dependent on Moscow.
The government announced it was terminating the lease that allowed the monks to occupy part of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra for free, giving them until March 29 to leave.
Under a light snowfall, worshippers gathered in and outside the 11th-century golden-domed church to attend morning mass.
“This is clearly political. We will protect it, this is our sanctuary,” 49-year-old Mykolay told AFP.
“This is lawlessness… a Godless government persecutes us Orthodox people,” he said.
The ancient cave monastery, which overlooks the Dnipro River, has played a crucial role in both Ukrainian and Russian history.
As in previous days, the police were checking entries and opening car boots, but visitors were allowed in and out.
In a video message last week, Metropolitan Pavlo, the director of the Lavra, called on the faithful to “defend this holy place with us”.
The monks have said they would remain as long as physically possible.
Archimandrite Nikon told AFP Wednesday that the Ukrainian government’s demand was “unfair” and “doing wrong in relation to the citizens of Ukraine and to the monks.”
Asked if he feared eviction, he said “everything is possible, the devil is not sleeping.”
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