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Moscow-backed Ukrainian Orthodox Church leader, 20 other hierarchs are Russian citizens, media claims; church denies

Snapshot of video investigation by Ukrainska Pravda
Moscow-backed Ukrainian Orthodox Church leader, 20 other hierarchs are Russian citizens, media claims; church denies

The head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP), Metropolitan Onufriy (Orest Berezovsky), and over 20 other hierarchs of this religious organization have Russian citizenship, according to an investigation by Ukrainska Pravda published on Friday, April 7. UPDATE: Metropolitan Onufriy has responded to the accusations, explaining how he had come to hold Russian citizenship.

The revelation of double citizenship, which is illegal in Ukraine, comes amid increasing pressure on the Moscow-backed church amid accusations that it is aiding Russia’s invasion by spreading “Russian world” ideology and failing to condemn clergy collaborating with Russians on occupied Ukrainian territories. The UOC MP, which is subjugated to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), had claimed to break ties with Moscow in May 2022, but in fact preserved its legal status as a part of the ROC.

Citing the Rospasport database, the journalists claim that Onufriy received a Russian passport in Moscow on 20 March 2002; the following year, he received a foreign passport of a Russian citizen. It was not his first, as he was already issued one in 1998, meaning he held Russian citizenship much earlier than 2002.

In addition, according to the investigation by Ukrainska Pravda, over 20 other priests of the UOC MP also hold Russian passports, including Bishop of Makariv Hedeon (Yuriy Kharon), an UOC MP archbishop and abbot of the Desyatynny Monastery in Kyiv. Moreover, the investigation claims that in January 2023, almost a year after the full-scale invasion of the Russian army into Ukraine, Kharon conducted a service in Kazan, Russia, where he “prayed for the support of the Russian troops and the Russian attack on Ukraine.”

The authors of the investigation also claim that in December 2022, the former Metropolitan of Izium and Kupiansk Yelysei (Oleg Ivanov), who cooperated with the occupiers during their invasion and fled to Belgorod after the de-occupation of Izium, received a Russian passport.

According to the investigation, additionally, the following UOC-MP clerics hold Russian passports:

  • Metropolitan Ionofan (Anatoliy Yeletskikh) of Tulchyn and Bratslav;
  • Bishop Serhiy (Serhiy Anitsoy), vicar of the Tulchyn eparchy and bishop of Ladizhyn;
  • Archbishop Panteleimon (Victor Bashchuk), vicar of the Kyiv eparchy;
  • Metropolitan Meletiy (Valentin Yegorenko), governing the Chernivtsi-Bukovyna eparchy;
  • Metropolitan Mark (Mykola Petrovtsiy), governing the Khust eparchy;
  • and Metropolitan Iryney (Ivan Seredniy), governing the Dnipro eparchy.

Ukrainska Pravda promises to publish the rest of the names soon.

Ukrainska Pravda did not specify where it received the database, but leaked Russian databases available online have been widely used before by investigative journalists, particularly from Bellingcat.

UOC MP denies accusations

The UOC MP has called the investigation “inaccurate and manipulative.”

“Some of the bishops mentioned in the video were deprived of their citizenship without any justification, and therefore they filed a lawsuit to restore their Ukrainian citizenship, as they do not have any other citizenship,” the statement said.

The Moscow Patriarchate said that since the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) repeatedly stated that it checked all UOC MP bishops for dual citizenship and has not revoked Ukrainian citizenship from the hierarchs mentioned by Ukrainska Pravda, “the information presented in the video cannot correspond to reality.”

The UOC MP claimed that Metropolitan Onufriy is a citizen of Ukraine from birth and does not hold citizenship of other countries.

UPDATE: Metropolitan Onufriy responded to the accusations, explaining that he received Russian citizenship because he studied in the Moscow Spiritual Academy, one of the three Christian education institutions that were permitted during the atheistic USSR after the Ukrainian Odesa Spiritual Academy rejected him as a student. In 1971, he became a monk of the St. Trinity-Sergiy Lavra in Moscow, where he was registered and lived until 1988 and inherited Russian citizenship when the USSR fell apart. The Russian citizenship was extended by default, but nobody cared about that in the period of “good brotherly relations” between Ukraine and Russia, and neither did he. He wanted to live until the end of his life in the Moscow monastery because of the godly people he encountered there, “and citizenship open up the opportunity for me to realize that dream,” but the bad relations between Russia and Ukraine, the dissolution of the CIS, and war of Russia against Ukraine killed that dream.

“Now I do not consider myself any other citizen except for my native land – Ukraine… I do not have a Russian passport,” Onufriy added.

Ukraine cracks down on the Moscow Patriarchate

During 2022, the SBU conducted more than 40 “counterintelligence and security measures” within the UOC MP. As a result, more than 60 criminal cases were initiated against UOC MP clergy who sided with the enemy, and courts have already handed down a number of verdicts against individual clerics. According to the SBU, two of them were exchanged for Ukrainian servicemen.

In addition, based on the materials of the security service, sanctions were imposed against 17 UOC MP officials, and nearly 250 Russian Orthodox Church clerics were banned from entering Ukraine. Ukraine also revoked the Ukrainian citizenship of 19 UOC MP priests who were found to have Russian citizenship, and initiated the forced return to their country of origin of two church clerics who were Russian citizens.

Particularly, Ukraine had earlier revoked the Ukrainian citizenship of four UOC MP clerics mentioned in the Ukrainska Pravda investigation: Metropolitan Ionofan (Anatoliy Yeletskikh), Bishop of Makariv Hedeon (Yuriy Kharon), Metropolitan Mark (Mykola Petrovtsiy), and Archbishop Panteleimon (Victor Bashchuk).

Also, on 1 April, the SBU brought charges against the abbot of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra of the UOC MP Pavlo (Lebed), accusing him of inciting religious enmity, justifying and denying Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine. The court imposed a 60-day round-the-clock house arrest on Pavlo and ordered him to wear an electronic bracelet, but his defense has appealed this decision.

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