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SBU charges Moscow-linked Kyiv monastery abbot with inciting religious hatred and denying Russian aggression

Metropolitan Pavlo (UOC-MP) signing a receipt of SBU’s suspicion notice. Photo: Security Service of Ukraine
SBU charges Moscow-linked Kyiv monastery abbot with inciting religious hatred and denying Russian aggression
Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) has served a suspicion notice to Metropolitan Pavlo (Petro Lebid) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP). The agency charges him with fomenting religious enmity, justifying and denying Russian armed aggression against Ukraine.

Dubbed by Ukrainian media as “Pasha Mercedes” for his fondness for luxury cars and regular violations of traffic rules, Metropolitan Pavlo is the former Prior of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery. The Moscow-Patriarchate’s Ukrainian Church has been under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church. It claimed in May 2022 that it had formally cut ties and declared independence from the Russian Orthodox Church.

The SBU says that Lebid had repeatedly insulted the religious feelings of Ukrainians, belittled the views of believers of other denominations, and tried to foster hostile attitudes towards them in his public speeches. According to SBU, he also made statements that justified or denied the actions of the aggressor country, as confirmed by a court-ordered linguistic examination initiated by the Security Service.

“The law and the responsibility for its violation are the same for everyone, and a cassock does not always guarantee pure intentions. Today, the enemy is trying to use the church circles to promote its propaganda and split Ukrainian society,” said the head of the SBU, Vasyl Maliuk.

Based on the evidence collected, SBU says it has notified Lebid of suspicion under the following:

  • Article 161, Part 1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (violation of the equality of citizens based on their race, national or regional origin, religious beliefs)
  • Article 436-2, Part 1 (justification, denial of Russian armed aggression against Ukraine, glorification of its participants).

In a video address published by the Russian state-funded news agency RIA Novosti, Metropolitan Pavlo or Petro Lebid stated he received the notice of suspicion on 1 April at 7:30, adding that his house was being searched. Commenting in the courtroom on the served suspicion notice, he claimed he was against the aggression, Ukrainska Pravda reported.

Moscow-backed Ukrainian Orthodox Church still linked to Russia despite claims – expert committee

In 2022, SBU started to carry out “counter-intelligence and security measures” against the pro-Russian-oriented UOC-MP clergy’s destructive activity in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The agency says there were more than 40 instances of applying such measures. It initiated 61 criminal proceedings against 61 UOC-MP priests, with courts already handing down seven guilty verdicts in these cases. Ukraine imposed sanctions on 17 UOC-MP officials, and almost 250 Russian Orthodox Church clergy were banned from entering Ukraine. The Security Service also revoked Ukrainian citizenship from 19 UOC priests and initiated the forced return of two Russian citizens.

“We emphasize that in its activities, SBU adheres to the principle of impartiality to the activities of any religious denomination and respects the right of every citizen to freedom of worldview and religion, as defined by the Constitution of Ukraine,” the SBU wrote.

  • In March 2023, the state-owned Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra National Reserve terminated an agreement that allowed the UOC-MP to use the premises of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra free of charge, ordering the UOC-MP clergy to vacate all its premises by month-end.
  • The UOC-MP priests should have left the monastery on 29 March, but Metropolitan Pavlo said he did not intend to do that and filed a lawsuit against the national reserve.
  • He also openly threatened Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and said Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko was “possessed by an unholy spirit.”
  • On 29 March, the UOC-MP website claimed that the Kyiv Commercial Court had opened proceedings on the lawsuit filed by the UOC-MP.
  • On March 30, the UOC-MP members did not allow the commission of the Ministry of Culture to enter the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra.
  • The Kyiv Commercial Court rejected the claim of the UOC-MP against the Kyiv Cave Monastery National Reserve.

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