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Controversial Orthodox Church Procession Barred From Marching Into Kyiv

  • RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

KYIV -- Ukraine's interior minister has ordered police to bar a major religious procession from entering the capital on foot after police said explosives were found planted along the planned route.

Arsen Avakov said on July 26 that participants in the procession would not be allowed to march into Kyiv because of security concerns after two grenades and several fake mines were found on the marchers' route in the Svyatoshinsky district on the western outskirts of Kyiv.

"The fake mines and real grenades discovered this morning made it clear for us that the threats and provocations are real," Avakov said on his Facebook page.

"The safety of citizens is more important than religious rituals," he said.

Authorities said the participants would be ferried from Svyatoshinsky to their destination on buses.

More than 1,000 people, divided into two columns, have been marching since the beginning of the month toward Kyiv from the country's west and east in processions led by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate -- an affiliate of the Russian Orthodox Church and a rival of a major Kyiv-based church.

The two columns plan to meet at Volodymyr Hill in Kyiv later this week for what is being celebrated as the 1,028th anniversary of Kievan Rus's acceptance of Christianity. The holiday has been promoted by Patriarch Kirill, the Moscow-based head of the Russian Orthodox Church, as a day of Russian religious unity.

Ukraine's Orthodox Christian majority is split between three major churches: The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

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Russia's interference in Ukraine over the past two years has aggravated tension among them.

Some Ukrainian officials have said authorities say they suspect the marches are merely a facade for a Kremlin-orchestrated plot to stir unrest and prove that the rights of Russians, Russian speakers, and members of the Moscow-based church are under threat in Ukraine.

Moscow used such claims to justify its takeover of Crimea from Ukraine and its backing of pro-Russian separatists in the country's eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where Kyiv and NATO say Russia has sent thousands of troops during a war that has killed more than 9,400 people since April 2014.

On July 25, some 150 Ukrainian nationalists and veterans of the war in the east temporarily blocked the column coming from the east outside Boryspil, some 35 kilometers southeast of Kyiv, calling them "agents of Moscow."

With reporting by Interfax, AP, and Unian