The Ukrainian authorities may use force to expel monks from the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing on March 16.

“The Ukrainian leadership intends to take away the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) by March 29. The use of force is not ruled out,» she said.

Russia strongly condemns Ukraine’s actions regarding the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra and calls on international structures to influence the Ukrainian authorities. In particular, Zakharova added, Moscow will raise the issue of expelling the monks from the Lavra at a session of the UN General Assembly Information Committee if the information work of the secretariat is not balanced.

Earlier that day, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus’, in a video message regarding the situation at the Lavra, indicated that closing it by the Ukrainian authorities would violate the rights of millions of believers in Ukraine. He stressed that such a right is guaranteed by the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Patriarch added that the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra is one of the largest Orthodox monasteries in the world, home to more than 200 monks and novices, and the UOC control center is located on its territory.

On the eve of March 15, Pope Francis expressed concern about the situation around the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra. He urged stakeholders to treat places of worship with respect.

Last week, on March 10, it became known that the monks of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra must leave the monastery before March 29. At the same time, the Minister of Culture of Ukraine Oleksandr Tkachenko said that the monks of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church could remain in the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra if they transferred to the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

In response, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova pointed out that freedom of religion in Ukraine is being held hostage by bandits.

In 2022, the Ukrainian authorities stepped up their actions against the UOC. They searched the homes of bishops and priests, churches and monasteries, including the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, in order to find traces of «anti-Ukrainian activities.» Thus, in December 2022, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) opened 50 criminal cases against priests of the UOC.

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