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Kyiv accuses Orthodox Church leader of justifying Russia’s invasion

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Ukrainian investigators are searching the home of Metropolitan Pavel Lebed, an Orthodox Church leader, who they accuse of justifying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and inciting inter-religious hatred.

Ukraine’s security service (SBU) confirmed on Saturday that Pavel, who runs Ukraine’s most important monastery, the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, is suspected of violating the country’s criminal code.

Pavel “in his public speeches repeatedly insulted the religious feelings of Ukrainians, humiliated the views of believers of other denominations and tried to form hostile sentiments towards them,” said the SBU, which also published what it alleges are phone intercepts from Pavel’s sermons. He also “made statements that justified or denied the actions of the aggressor country,” according to the service.

“Today, the enemy is trying to use the church environment to promote its propaganda and split Ukrainian society,” the SBU’s head Vasyl Malyuk said.

Pavel’s branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was previously under control of Moscow clergy, but declared its independence in May last year.

But Kyiv argues that the church needs to be closed down due to its pre-war ties to Moscow and has been trying to evict Pavel and his fellow worshippers from his monastery.

Pavel has denied the allegations, arguing that Kyiv has no legal grounds for the eviction, according to the BBC. During a court hearing on Saturday, he said he has “never been on the side of aggression,” describing his current status as “house arrest.”

The SBU has arrested dozens of clerics, accusing them of collaboration with Russia. Last year, the service raided the Lavra monastery and other buildings belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The church denies that there is evidence to support the charges.

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