Ukraine Lists Russian Orthodox Church Head Symbolically as Wanted

In a symbolic move, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry has placed Patriarch Kirill, the leader of Russia’s Orthodox Church, on a wanted list, alleging his support for the Kremlin’s 21-month-long conflict against Kyiv. This action, though symbolic, signifies Ukraine’s ongoing efforts to eliminate the influence of clergy members believed to have close ties to Russia, seen as undermining Ukrainian society.

The ministry’s wanted list post identifies Kirill by name, presenting him in clerical attire and designating him as an individual “in hiding from the bodies of pre-trial investigation” since November 11. While this move holds significance, Kirill currently resides in Russia and faces no immediate threat of arrest. It is part of Ukraine’s broader initiative to sever connections with priests associated with a branch of the Orthodox Church that was once directly linked to the Russian Church and Kirill.

Orthodox Christianity is the predominant faith in Ukraine, prompting Kyiv authorities to initiate criminal proceedings against clergy linked to this branch, which has witnessed a decline in parishioners since Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine in February 2022. The church asserts that it formally severed all ties with Moscow in May 2022.

Ukraine’s SBU security service released a document last month accusing Kirill of “infringing Ukrainian sovereignty” due to his position as “part of the closest entourage of Russia’s military and political leadership.” Security forces have launched numerous criminal cases, including charges of treason, against priests and officials associated with the Moscow-linked branch of the church.

Kirill has condemned these actions, calling on global clerical leaders to intervene against Ukraine’s measures targeting the church. A senior official in the Russian church criticised Ukraine’s decision to place Kirill on the wanted list as “ridiculous and predictable,” accusing Ukrainian authorities of lawlessness and attempting to intimidate parishioners.