Thousands of Russian Orthodox gather in Kiev despite threats


MOSCOW (AP) — Thousands of Russian Orthodox Christian pilgrims on Wednesday reached the center of Ukraine’s capital and finished their procession to the city’s most revered monastery after their march was disrupted a day earlier.

The procession by Ukrainian adherents of Russian Orthodoxy was prevented from entering the city on Tuesday after Ukraine’s interior minister said grenades had been planted along the route. The believers completed their journey in buses Wednesday.

Ukrainian nationalists had blocked the procession from entering the city on Monday, pelting marchers with eggs and denouncing them as “agents of Moscow.” The Russian Orthodox Church dubbed the march a “procession of peace” and was keen to portray it as a peace-making effort.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine, which share linguistic and cultural ties dating back hundreds of years, soured after Russia threw its support behind rebel separatists fighting government troops in eastern Ukraine. However, the conflict, which has claimed more than 9,400 lives, was not fought along religious lines.

The Orthodox Christian faithful in Ukraine are divided between one church which is part of the Russian Orthodox Church and a splinter church under a Ukrainian leader which Moscow does not recognize.

Kiev was the capital of the ancient Slavic state of Kievan Rus, which at one point included areas which later became known as Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Kievan Prince Vladimir performed a symbolic baptism of his then pagan country in Kiev in 988.

Moscow Patriarchate’s spokesman Vladimir Legoida told The Associated Press on Wednesday that at least 30,000 pilgrims gathered for a prayer at St. Vladimir Hill at the place which is believed to be the original baptism site.

Legoida said the church is “very happy and sends its thanks to the Lord” for the fact that the procession was allowed to march peacefully and reach the hill and the Pechersk Monastery.

“It’s a clear confirmation of the fact that the Moscow Patriarchate’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church is strongest and possibly the only peace-making force in Ukraine amid the civil conflict,” Legoida said.

Unlike nationalist leaders, senior Ukrainian politicians have refrained from openly opposing the march. Many Ukrainian officials are believed to be Russian Orthodox Church parishioners.

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