The Battleground for Ukraine’s Liberal Soul

How the Ukrainian Orthodox Church achieved its independence from Moscow

2 June 2022

Oksana Forostyna

Marcin Król Fellow

It may seem that the largest of the three Ukrainian churches is trying to cut its ties with Moscow, but it is actually rather undecided. The chances it comes to terms with the legitimate Ukrainian Orthodox Church are slim. 

As the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill lately faced EU sanctions for his support of the invasion of Ukraine, and more and more Ukrainians, authorities, and politicians among them, became more vocal in questioning the legal status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (MP). The Assembly of the MP on May 27 did not provide proof that it was really determined to cut ties with Moscow, despite a claim of ‘independence.’

Before the changes to the constitution of the MP are published, there is no reason to claim it changed its stance profoundly, and that the recent moves are not just an attempt to win time in a turbulent situation. Earlier in the war some local authorities banned its activities, presumably for assisting Russian forces. The mayor of Konotop (in the Poltava region) did on 3 May as well as the city council of Brovary (one of the first attacked towns near Kyiv) a few days later. Back in April, 51 per cent of Ukrainians supported a possible ban of this church and another 74 per cent believed it should cut its ties with Moscow. Meanwhile, more and more MP communities keep changing their jurisdiction to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church— just on 30 and 31 May, 13 communities joined Orthodox Church of Ukraine (UOC) from the MP. 

The Subtle Kremlin Friendly Message of the Moscow Patriarchate

While the role of Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church in promoting Kremlin ideology is unambiguous, it was always more nuanced with the MP. Until the urgent Synod of the MP on 12 May it even seemed possible that it would take the bold step of cutting its ties with Moscow and move closer with the UOC. As the war started, many pro-Russian politicians and public persons considered pro-Russian before 24 February, have changed their stance radically. But the ‘Moscow Patriarchate’ (MP) as it is called in Ukraine, did just the opposite at its Synod, it used the term ‘so-called’ when describing the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (i.e. undermined its legitimacy) and, moreover, blamed it for the start of the war as being ‘a pretext’ for the Russians — along with the former president Petro Poroshenko. 


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Oksana Forostyna

Marcin Król Fellow

Marcin Król Fellow at Visegrad Insight. Co-founder of Yakaboo Publishing, an editor, translator and writer contributing to publications such as Krytyka Journal (Ukraine) and The European Review of Books. Her focus is on Ukrainian and regional politics as well as disinformation’s impact on societies.


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