In Ukraine's main Orthodox monastery, in Kiev, the monks consider an eviction notice issued by the Ukrainian government "without legal basis" and intend to stay on the site "as long" as possible.
The authorities ordered the clerics to leave by Wednesday their monastery of the Lavra of the Caves, previously affiliated with the Russian Church and whose role has been essential in the history of Ukrainian and Russian Orthodoxy.
Founded in the 11th century and classified by Unesco as a World Heritage Site, the site, which overlooks the banks of the Dnieper, is home to monks who are part of the branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church subject to the Moscow Patriarchate before the war started there. over a year old.
Their Church nevertheless announced in May the severance of its ties with Russia because the Russian patriarch, Kirill, vigorously supported the invasion of Ukraine.
But the kyiv government considers that this Church remains de facto dependent on Moscow.
"Our Church was the first of all religious organizations in Ukraine to condemn Putin's war against Ukraine. It blessed the Ukrainian army to defend the fatherland", pleads Archbishop Kliment, a door -spokesman of this Church, questioned by AFP at the monastery.
"We hear ultimatums from the Minister of Culture which are not confirmed by any legal document. There is no legal basis" to force the monks to leave, denounces the metropolitan.
In mid-March, Minister Oleksandre Tkatchenko announced the termination of the lease which allowed this Church to rent part of the Kiev monastery free of charge, on the grounds of "violations (of the rules) in the use of state property".
President Volodymyr Zelensky had, for his part, invoked the need to defend "spiritual independence" from Moscow.
According to the spokesperson, they are now under the threat of "forced evictions" and also of "power, water and internet" cuts. "We will stay at Laure as long as it is physically possible," he said.
On Wednesday evening, in a filmed message, Metropolitan Pavlo, in charge of the Lavra of the Caves, had already announced their refusal to leave the premises: "We cannot do this, no matter the pretext", he declared.
In front of one of the buildings on Friday, AFP journalists saw a moving truck in which young men were loading boxes of books and small furniture. At the main entrance, the police screened vehicles asking drivers to open their trunks.
According to Metropolitan Kliment, more than 200 monks and 300 students live on the site which covers more than 20 hectares, with many churches with golden domes and buildings with green roofs.
At the end of 2022, the Ukrainian authorities had carried out several searches in religious buildings of this Church and sanctioned clergymen for their positions deemed pro-Russian. The kyiv Lavra had also been searched.
In his video message, Metropolitan Pavlo called on the faithful to "the duty to defend this holy place with us" on March 29.
The Church's spokesman claimed to have "received information that the police have been ordered to stop all buses transporting believers to Kiev Lavra and to check all passengers so that they cannot not enter it", on March 29.
Arina Lazourenko, 37, who came specially from the Sumy region (northeast) to visit the monastery, said she supported "all those who will defend the Lavra and the rights of believers".
"I don't know if I'll come (Wednesday), I can't promise anything (...) I'm optimistic, I hope everything will be fine," she continues.
For Anna, 46, "there is no connection between this Church and Moscow. It's a lie." “So I think it is unfair to transfer this monastery to the Ministry of Culture,” she adds.
"I'll do my best to be there on March 29," she said, before blurting out, "I'm crying. I was at church and I'm crying."
25/03/2023 12:33:40 - Kiev (Ukraine) (AFP) © 2023 AFP