Ukrainian Nationalists Protest Russian Patriarch’s Visit

Ukrainian police have detained several nationalists for protesting a visit to Kyiv by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill.

The members of Ukraine’s nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) movement were arrested Monday as they rallied near Kyiv’s Saint Sophia Cathedral, where Kirill was leading a service.

Ukrainian nationalists refuse to recognize Russian authority over Orthodox Christianity and accuse Moscow of trying to block independent Ukrainian churches from gaining international acceptance. 

Russia’s Interfax news agency says Kirill denies that the Russian Orthodox Church is undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty.  Interfax says the patriarch made the comment while addressing a congregation in the Ukrainian city of Dnepropetrovsk.

Patriarch Kirill is recognized as a spiritual leader by the main branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Ukraine’s relations with Russia have improved since it elected pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovich in January.  But anti-Russian sentiment remains strong in some parts of the country.

Ukraine’s Orthodox Christians are currently split between parishes loyal to Kirill’s Moscow Patriarchate and autonomous Ukrainian churches supporting independence from the Russian church.