(RFE/RL) — The Ukrainian parliament has given initial approval to legislation that would ban religious organizations associated with Russia, a measure that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) says is aimed directly at banning it from Ukraine.
Deputies voted on October 19 to support the bill in its first reading, said Yaroslav Zheleznyak, a member of parliament, on Telegram. The measure must be backed in a second reading and approved by the president to go into force.
The UOC is a branch of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church that previously was under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox patriarch in Moscow. It cut ties with Moscow in May over Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, but it has been accused of maintaining links with Russia.
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) said on October 19 that 68 criminal cases, including accusations of treason, had been initiated against UOC representatives since Russia’s invasion.
Earlier this year, Ukrainian authorities accused UOC Metropolitan Pavlo of inciting religious enmity and denying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and placed him under house arrest. He has denied the accusations.
Ukrainian authorities leveled new accusations against the UOC on October 19, saying that the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church is involved in creating private military companies in Russia for the war against Ukraine.
“According to the instructions of the Moscow Patriarch, their [private military companies] are engaged in the recruitment and combat training of mercenaries for the war against Ukraine,” the Security Service of Ukraine said.
It said one such private military company, St. Andrew’s Cross, is documented to operate out of a cathedral in St. Petersburg.
“Within the walls of the religious institution, its representatives recruit parishioners for further inclusion in the composition of the occupying groups of the Russian Federation, which are involved in the front line,” the SBU said.
The bill passed by the Verkhovna Rada on October 19 would ban the activities of religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence “in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine.” It says a court of law would be empowered to terminate such activities.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church said in a statement issued after the vote that the bill is essentially aimed at banning the UOC.
“The draft law itself does not mention the UOC, but its origin (a decision of the National Security Council regarding the UOC), media, and political support indicate that this law will be applied to the UOC, which is actually an independent church,” it said, adding that the parliament is “deliberately trying to pass [the UOC] off as the Russian Orthodox Church.”
The UOC also says the draft law would not comply with the Ukrainian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights and accuses Kyiv of trying to portray its Ukrainian clergymen and believers as “agents of the Russian Federation.”
The Russian Orthodox Church has staunchly backed President Vladimir Putin and Moscow’s invasion.