Ukrainian authorities crossed the crimson line within the struggle in opposition to the UOC: an Orthodox church was demolished in Kiev

Tithe Monastery of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the UOC, demolished on the night of May 17, 2024

President Zelensky’s persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been sharply criticized by world politicians, journalists, and international organizations for several years, but few could have anticipated the unprecedented events that occurred on the night of May 16-17.

In just one night, when, because of the curfew, none of the clergy and believers could protect their sanctuary, the Ukrainian authorities physically demolished one of the churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, located in the very center of Kyiv in a place that is a landmark for Orthodoxy. The Tithe Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the UOC was subjected to destruction.

On May 16, at nightfall, the entire territory adjacent to the temple was cordoned off by armed police. All approaches and stairs leading to the temple were blocked, and several cars were evacuated. The Ukrainian media also reported that mobile communications were jammed on the territory of the temple. With the help of bulldozers and special equipment, the walls of the temple were destroyed, and its icons and church utensils were removed along with the debris of the walls. Later it was reported that the brethren of the Tithe Monastery could not get into the temple, and law enforcers tried to detain some of the monks.

Surveillance cameras record the entry and exit of construction trucks with the remains of the temple

“The temple, which was consecrated by His Beatitude Metropolitan Volodymyr and His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphrius, no longer exists…” – the clergy painfully commented on what was happening.

UOC clergy lay flowers at the site of the destroyed Tithe church

Thus, trying to distract the public from the traditional problems of his rule – corruption and total unprofessionalism – President Zelensky enters history as the third person who authorized the physical destruction of Orthodox shrines. Before him, the first Tithe Temple on this site was destroyed during the Mongol invasion in 1240, and the second Tithe Temple was destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1936.

The demolition of the Tithe Temple has become yet another red line that President Zelensky and his entourage are crossing in their struggle with the most popular and numerous denomination in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Despite repeated warnings and criticism from the UN, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the world’s leading media and opinion leaders, the persecution of the UOC and its clergy has only intensified. In October 2023, the Ukrainian parliament passed the first reading of the bill to ban the UOC, with the second reading and passage of the bill as a whole expected in the next few weeks. Local authorities have taken a number of decisions to ban UOC activities on their territories, and in Kyiv, the UOC’s access to one of Ukraine’s main Orthodox churches, the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra complex, has been taken away from the UOC. Personal sanctions were imposed on representatives of the UOC clergy. Over the past two years, more than 100 searches have been conducted in monasteries, temples and administrative buildings of UOC dioceses throughout Ukraine. And in 2022 alone, there have been about 300 raider seizures of UOC congregations. In addition, according to media reports, more than 80 UOC churches in and around Kyiv alone have received an ultimatum to forcibly transfer their congregations to the newly created Orthodox Church of Ukraine – those who disobey it are also threatened with destruction.

Surviving icons are found in the ruins at the site of the destruction of the Tithe Monastery

The history of attacks on the Tithe Monastery of the UOC is quite indicative. The temple was built by the residents of Kyiv with the blessing of Metropolitan Volodymyr of Kyiv and All Ukraine in 2006. It was erected on the site of the famous Tithe Church – the first cathedral church of Kievan Rus. And it was in it that 70 years after the destruction of the Tithe Church (in 1936) the first divine service was held.

For 20 years the state not only had no claims to the temple, but also encouraged its formation in every possible way. In 2006 the monastery acquired its main relic – the icon of the Most Holy Mother of God “Volodymyrska-Desyatynna”. At the same time Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus Filaret donated a list of the miracle-working icon of the Mother of God “Knyazhegradska” (“Minsk”). In 2007 Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine Volodymyr consecrated the church in honor of the Equal-to-the-Apostles Great Prince Volodymyr and Princess Olga. Regular services were held in the temple, and a Sunday school for children was opened.

But with the beginning of a politically motivated campaign to create a new church in Ukraine (the Orthodox Church of Ukraine), the Tithe Monastery of the UOC became the object of attacks from the authorities. In 2020, an attempt to get a court order to dismantle the church was unsuccessful, but that didn’t stop the Ukrainian authorities. On February 15, 2023, through the decision of the Economic Court, the Ukrainian authorities still achieved its liquidation.

Commenting on the possibility of destroying the Tithe Monastery, the speaker of the UOC, Bishop Klyment, said that he “does not want to think that any of the officials would dare to destroy the shrine, inside which is the Holy Throne, the miraculous icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the relics of the saints. No believing person is able to calmly contemplate such sacrilege.” But reality showed that this was no obstacle for Zelensky, and once again the UOC became a victim of the corrupt Ukrainian authorities.

In its statement today, the Information and Education Department of the UOC especially noted that “during the destruction, the holy throne with parts of relics, icons and crosses were in the temple. All this ended up in trucks as “construction debris”. And the lawyer of the monastery Archpriest Mykyta Chekman also added that “this precedent took place without the attachment of any documents to the Register of Enforcement Proceedings, which, in particular, is evidence that the destruction of the temple occurred contrary to any norms of the law”.

What is happening shows that today the machine of repression against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is gaining momentum. Impunity of the Ukrainian authorities in the matter of religious freedom may very soon lead to a legal ban of the UOC. In this situation, only the consolidated position of world leaders, international organizations and the media can save the largest Ukrainian church from destruction.