Russian saboteurs and weapons could be hidden in the long-contested church property, the service claims
Ukraine's domestic security agency, the SBU, has launched a raid targeting the country's main Orthodox Christian monastery, the Kiev Pechersk Lavra.
Earlier this month, it launched a criminal probe into alleged pro-Russia activities at the church property, which has been the focus of a long-running custodianship dispute.
A statement released by the SBU on Tuesday morning said an interagency raid was being conducted to prevent "subversive activities of Russian special services". The goal was to "prevent the use of the Lavra as a cell of 'Russian world'", and to check claims that the monastery was being used to hide "teams of saboteurs, foreign citizens, weapons, etc."
Ukrainian media have published footage of police cars and armed officers standing at the entrance to the historic neighborhood in the capital.
Kiev Pechersk Lavra traces its origins to the 11th century and is considered the most prominent Christian site in Ukraine, as well as a treasured piece of national heritage. The part of it held by religious authorities is being contested by rival churches.
It is currently controlled by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). The residence of the head of the church, Metropolitan Onufriy, is located in the monastery complex. The Church has historic ties to Moscow, but has been de facto independent since the 1990s. After the armed conflict in Ukraine started, it symbolically distanced itself from its Russian cousin by stopping all mention of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in prayers.
The rival Orthodox Church of Ukraine claims that the monastery should be at least partially administered by it. The church was recognized as valid by the Constantinople Patriarchy in 2018 in a controversial move, which caused a major split in the Orthodox world. The Russian Orthodox Church considers its priests schismatics.
Tuesday's raid follows a scandal over a video published earlier this month by a priest of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. It showed parishioners at the Lavra performing a hymn to Our Lady, which mentions the unity of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus in their faith in Christ, and worship of His mother.
Metropolitan Pavel, the bishop in charge of the Lavra, denied claims that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church "prayed for Russia" and pledged allegiance to Ukraine and its leadership. He called the hymn a "secular song" and said that the priest involved in the incident had been disciplined.
The SBU stated that it was investigating "the performance of songs praising the 'Russian word'" at the monastery for criminality, claiming that the act "undermined the security and interests of Ukraine".
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reacted to the news, calling SBU raid the latest example of Kiev's persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.