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Russian Orthodox Priest Suspended After Blessing Ukraine-Bound Fighters

The Russian Orthodox Church has suspended a priest for incendiary comments he made during a send-off for dozens of fighters preparing to join pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Local diocese authorities in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg said in a March 26 statement that the priest, Vladimir Zaitsev, broke with the church’s position on the bloody conflict in Ukraine by encouraging the fighters to battle Ukrainian forces he described as “fascist scum.”

They said his March 11 comments, which were captured on film, should not be considered a "blessing for carrying out a fratricidal war."

They said a decision on whether to reinstate Zaitsev will be made after Easter.

More than 6,000 people have been killed in the conflict since April 2014.

Western governments accuse the Kremlin of providing arms and personnel to the separatists, a charge Moscow denies.

With reporting by Reuters