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Zelenskiy says more measures coming after decree banning religious organizations with links to Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a virtual address to U.S. members of Congress, March 16, 2022. (Video screenshot)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said measures to guarantee Ukraine’s “spiritual independence” will continue after Ukraine on December 2 banned the activities of religious organizations “affiliated with centers of influence” in Russia.

“These days we have taken some steps to guarantee the spiritual independence of our people. I see that people support these steps,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video message, pledging to implement more steps.

Zelenskiy earlier on December 2 signed a decree enacting a decision to impose personal sanctions against representatives of religious organizations associated with Russia, which invaded Ukraine more than nine months ago.

The decree additionally provided for examining links between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, one of two Orthodox bodies in Ukraine following a schism that in 2019 resulted in the establishment of one with independence from the Russian church.

The Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council on December 1 told the government to draft the law following a series of raids on parishes that Kyiv said could be taking orders from Moscow. The government has two months to submit to the Verkhovna Rada a corresponding draft law on making it impossible for such religious organizations to operate in Ukraine.

In an addendum to the decree, sanctions were introduced against the vicar of Kyiv’s Pechersk Lavra, other Russian Orthodox Church leaders, and former lawmaker Vadym Novinsky.

The sanctions packages contain 12 types of restrictions, including a complete block of assets and a ban on trade operations.

The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) has conducted searches recently at the facilities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in which law enforcement officers discovered “a large number of anti-Ukrainian materials” and documents confirming the presence of Russian citizenship in the leadership of diocesan structures.

The SBU continued its raids on December 2, saying it searched at least five parishes belonging to a branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church urged the government “not to ignite an internal war” and called the accusations of collaborative activities “unproven and groundless.”