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SBU finds Russian passports, propaganda at premises of Moscow-affiliated church
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) reported on Dec. 8 that it had found Russian passports, anti-Ukrainian propaganda, and a stolen collection of icons during searches at the premises of the Russian Orthodox Church's Ukrainian branch.
The searches were conducted at 13 Moscow-linked churches, monasteries, and adjoining facilities in Cherkasy, Volyn, and Kherson oblasts. They belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, an affiliate of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In the Dormition Cathedral in Kherson, the agency found a collection of icons allegedly stolen by Russian troops from the Lithuanian consul's residence during the occupation of the southern city.
During a further inspection of the cathedral’s premises, the SBU discovered entry permits belonging to an official of the Russian occupation government and Russian passports belonging to local priests that they had received during the occupation of the city, the report reads.
Kherson, the only regional capital that has fallen to Russian troops during its all-out invasion of Ukraine, was under occupation for eight months before Ukrainian forces liberated the city on Nov. 11.
The agency also reported it had found the flag of so-called Novorossiya - a regional name used by Russian proxies in Ukraine - as well as pro-Kremlin propaganda at the Krasnohirsky Sviato-Pokrovsky Monastery in Cherkasy Oblast.
At the Mykolaivsky Myletsky monastery in Volyn Oblast, SBU officers found texts of prayers for the well-being of Russia and Russian textbooks praising Russian dictator Vladimir Putin's regime.
A series of searches and inspections at Moscow-linked churches, monasteries, and adjoining facilities began in October.
The agency explained that the measures had been carried out to prevent religious communities from being used as centers of Russian influence and "to protect the population from provocations and terrorist attacks."
During raids, the SBU said it found Russian propaganda and xenophobic literature, Russian passports belonging to senior clergy, and documents with pro-Russian ideological messages at the premises of the Russian-backed church.
On Dec. 2, President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree to approve a proposal by the National Security and Defense Council to ban Russian-affiliated religious groups and impose sanctions on some pro-Moscow bishops.
The primary target of these measures is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
The National Security and Defense Council instructed the Cabinet on Dec. 1 to draft a bill on such a ban. The bill will then have to be considered by the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine's parliament.
In May, the Moscow-affiliated Ukrainian church said it would have "full independence" from the Russian Orthodox Church, reacting to criticism of Russian-backed church leaders amid the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian branch said that it "condemns the war" and "disagrees with the position of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow on the war in Ukraine."
However, skeptics said it was just a ploy to appease critics since the Ukrainian branch effectively remained part of the Russian church and did not declare "autocephaly" – the Orthodox term for genuine independence. Under Orthodox rules, only one independent - or "autocephalous" - church can exist in a specific country.
The Russian-backed church's complete independence under Orthodox rules would imply its merger with the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, but the Moscow-affiliated church has opposed such a unification.