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Ukraine convicts Russia-aligned church’s cleric for pushing Russian propaganda

The convict, reportedly UOC protoiereus Oleksandr Luniehov, justified Russia’s invasion and encouraged parishioners to support Russian occupiers.
The image shows UOC protoiereus Oleksandr Luniehov who was the abbot of the St. John the Merciful Church in the parish of the UOC’s Dnipropetrovsk Diocese in the village of Pysmenne, Vasylkivskyi district, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast.
Ukraine convicts Russia-aligned church’s cleric for pushing Russian propaganda

Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) says an abbot of a church in the Dnipropetrovsk diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC MP), who supported Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine, has been sentenced to prison, based on SBU-gathered evidence. He justified Russia’s full-scale invasion and occupation of Ukrainian territory in his sermons and privately encouraged parishioners to move to Russia or occupied regions to assist the aggressors.

The UOC MP has been repeatedly denying its collaboration with Russia and calling the state actions against individual members of the church’s religious persecution. However, the cases against the Moscow Patriarchate’s clergy in Ukraine usually include the justification of the Russian aggression by the individual clerics and have nothing to do with their religious activities.

The agency didn’t name the convict, but according to sources in law enforcement agencies speaking to LIGA.net, the individual is UOC protoiereus Oleksandr Luniehov. The source reported that Luniehov is the abbot of the St. John the Merciful Church in the parish of the UOC’s Dnipropetrovsk Diocese in the village of Pysmenne, Vasylkivskyi district in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast.

Expert analyses initiated by the Security Service of Ukraine confirmed the cleric’s subversive activities were benefiting Russia. Based on the evidence, the court sentenced him to five years in prison, finding him guilty under the Criminal Code’s part 3 of article 436-2 (justification, recognition as legitimate, denial of Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine, glorification of its participants). The SBU emphasized that the court’s verdict has taken legal effect.

The SBU says its officers documented the suspect’s crimes and arrested him in his own house in September 2022. During the searches, they seized the detainee’s mobile phones used for spreading Kremlin’s propaganda.

At the court hearing in May 2023, Luniehov denied the accusations of supporting Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine and stated that “when Donald Trump becomes president again in America,” the law enforcement officers involved in his detention, as well as judges, will be executed, according to Dnipro Operatyvnyi.

Moscow Patriarchate

For years, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has promoted the Russki mir or “Russian world,” a neo-imperial doctrine behind the Russian policy of expansionism ideology, the driving force behind the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

On 27 May 2022, in response to the Russian Orthodox Church’s Patriarch Kirill’s support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Moscow Patriarchate’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church announced its full independence and autonomy from the Moscow Patriarchate during a church-wide council in Kyiv. However, the UOC has never declared complete autocephaly or church independence from Moscow, and the Russian Orthodox Church did not recognize any change in their relationship to the UOC MP.

Anatomy of treason: how the Ukrainian Orthodox Church sold its soul to the “Russian world”

In its report published on 9 April 2023, the US-based think tank Institute for the Study of War concluded the UOC MP is “not an independent religious organization but rather an extension of the Russian state and an instrument of Russian hybrid warfare,” listing well-known facts of the church’s collaboration with the Russians, such as providing material support for Russia’s invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014 and the fact that Russian soldiers utilized UOC MP churches as military storage depots, garrisons, field hospitals, and even fighting positions during Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Fact check for Tucker Carlson: Russia, not Ukraine, is persecuting Christians

Cases against UOC MP clerics

In December 2022, the SBU searched 350 church buildings and premises of 850 people affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate’s church, reportedly finding numerous leaflets declaring Ukraine’s independence “a mistake” and promoting “unity” with Russia, “along with other evidence” of anti-Ukrainian activities.

As of October 2023, 68 criminal proceedings were initiated against representatives of the UOC-MP, including 14 church metropolitans, based on SBU materials. According to the Security Service, among the revealed crimes were 20 facts of high treason, collaboration, and aiding the aggressor country. In addition, currently, law enforcement officers are investigating 18 proceedings on public agitation for religious hatred, as well as the sale of firearms and the distribution of child pornography.

Last April, a journalistic investigation found that the UOC MP head, Metropolitan Onufriy (Orest Berezovsky), and over 20 other hierarchs of this religious organization have Russian citizenship.

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