January 06, 2020

Ukrainian Orthodox Church compares Russias treatment of believers in Crimea to Stalin-era repressions
The head of Ukraine’s recently independent Orthodox Church has compared Russia’s treatment of believers in annexed Crimea to “Stalin-era” repressions, after authorities ordered a church demolished. Metropolitan Epiphaniy, the primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, said believers in Crimea and the east of the country had particularly suffered at the hands of Russia since the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was granted independence in 2018, to the fury of Moscow. “In Crimea, the Russian authorities, the temporary authorities, are trying to completely supplant us,” he said in an interview ahead of Orthodox Christmas on January 7. Officials are trying to evict the congregation from the peninsula’s Ukrainian cathedral and at the end of last year ordered the “absurd” destruction of another church building in Crimea, he said. “This is reminiscent of the Stalin-era of the USSR, when churches were destroyed,” he told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in a Ukrainian-language interview. Epiphaniy said he had raised the issue on a recent trip to the United States and had asked the international community to condemn Russia’s actions. Metropolitan Epiphaniy of Kyiv and All Ukraine spoke out against Russia  Credit: Hennadii Minchenko/ Ukrinform Last year the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s Archbishop Kliment was briefly arrested in Crimea in what he described as an attempt to tarnish his reputation. His cathedral in Simferopol has also reported attacks by vandals. In October 2018, the leader of the global Orthodox community granted independence to the Ukrainian Church, after more than 300 years under the jurisdiction of Moscow. Kiev had been pushing for the move since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Moscow’s support for separatist rebels in the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine. The Russian Orthodox Church, which is closely aligned to the Kremlin, cut ties with the top Orthodox patriarch in Istanbul, in one of the biggest rifts within Christianity for almost 1,000 years. Around 600 churches previously aligned to Moscow have joined the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church over the last year, Epiphaniy said. That figure is disputed by Moscow, which says some of the churches have been seized. The Ukrainian Church leader added that he wanted the conversions “to continue to be peaceful, calm and voluntary... we do not need confrontation.” In his Christmas address on Monday, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow called for the unity of Orthodoxy and “multiplying love”.
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