The Russian-affiliated head of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, an Orthodox monastery, said on March 13 that he and other monks of the monastery had no intention of vacating the premises of the Lavra.
On March 10, the Ministry of Culture published a statement that monks of the Russian Orthodox Church's Ukrainian branch must leave the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, Ukraine's most important Orthodox monastery, by March 29. The branch is officially called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
"We are not collaborators," Metropolitan Pavlo Lebid, head of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, said in a video statement. "We are citizens of our state, people who have lived (in the monastery) since 1988. Many of us have no other place than here. No one can tear us away from God's love."
The Russian-controlled church's lease on a part of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra - called the Upper Lavra - expired on Jan. 1, and the Ukrainian government decided not to extend the lease. Later the Ukrainian authorities said they would also terminate the Russian-affiliated church's indefinite lease on the remaining part, the Lower Lavra, starting from March 29, accusing it of violating the terms of the lease.
The Russian-backed church argued that the termination of the lease was illegal.
Since January, the Ukrainian government has allowed the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is independent from Russia, to hold several church services in the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. There is speculation that the authorities may permanently transfer the Lavra to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
On Dec. 2, President Volodymyr Zelensky also imposed sanctions against Lebid, head of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra and an ex-lawmaker from the pro-Russian Party of Regions.
Lebid has held consistent pro-Russian views and called for "unity" with Russia. He has also stated that "Crimea has never been Ukrainian."
In November social media users shared a video in which a Moscow Patriarchate priest and parishioners at one of the Lavra's churches were singing a prayer for "Mother Russia." The priest was later suspended by the Moscow-affiliated church.
The Kyiv Pechersk Lavra ("pecherska" means "cave"), founded in 1051, is one of the first monasteries in Kyivan Rus. It belonged to the Ukrainian branch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople until 1688, when it was annexed by the Russian Orthodox Church.