The nation’s domestic security agency raided more than a dozen religious sites in the Kharkov Region.
Ukraine’s domestic security agency, the SBU, conducted a new series of raids on Orthodox Christian churches in northeastern Kharkov Region on Saturday. The operation, which targeted 14 religious institutions, comes amid Kiev’s crackdown on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), the largest denomination in the country, over its alleged links to Russia.
The SBU directorate in Kharkov Region claimed it had conducted “counterintelligence activities” as part of the agency’s efforts to “counter the subversive activities of Russian special services in our state.”
The raids are also meant “to prevent the use of religious communities as a cell of the ‘Russian world’” the SBU noted in a post on Facebook, adding that it was searching for individuals who may be undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty as well as for various prohibited acts.
These raids coincided with similar efforts in the Kiev Region. On Friday, SBU agents inspected a small monastery in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, identifying 16 “suspicious figures.” The agency claimed that their presence there was illegal.
A similar operation took place in the part of Russia’s Kherson Region currently under Ukrainian control. During the raid on a premises in the Kherson diocese, the SBU claimed it found an unregistered gun, a golden Russian coat of arms, as well as “materials glorifying Russia.”
Ukrainian authorities have been engaged in a campaign against religious institutions allegedly linked to Moscow for months now, raiding Kiev’s Pechersk Lavra, the country’s main Orthodox Christian monastery, in late November.
The crackdown was supported by Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, who last week announced new measures seeking to ban religious institutions deemed to have links to Russia in a bid to safeguard the nation’s “spiritual independence.”
His principal target is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has been historically tied with Russia, but declared independence from Moscow after it launched its military operation against the neighboring state in late February.
Ukraine has long experienced religious tensions, with a number of entities, each claiming to be the true Ukrainian Orthodox Church, challenging the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate. The two main rival factions are the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which is considered by the Russian Orthodox Church to be schismatic.