Russia-Ukraine War

Russia accuses Ukraine of allowing transfer of Orthodox Christian holy relics to Europe

Holy relics from Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery will be transferred to museums in Italy, France, Germany, and the Vatican, claims Russian Foreign Intelligence Service chief

Elena Teslova  | 26.06.2023 - Update : 26.06.2023
Russia accuses Ukraine of allowing transfer of Orthodox Christian holy relics to Europe


The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) claimed on Monday that Ukraine authorized UNESCO to move holy relics of Eastern Orthodox Christianity from the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery to Europe.

SVR Director Sergey Naryshkin said in a statement that the artifacts will be transferred to museums in Italy, France, Germany, and the Vatican.

According to Naryshkin, "globalist elites, known for their passion to appropriate other people's valuables, are stepping up efforts to plunder Ukraine."

However, whereas previously it was about financial and material resources, such as grain and fertile soil, “now they are reaching out to Orthodox relics on Ukrainian territory," he added.

The Ukrainian authorities, the SVR chief claimed, made an inventory of church property and allocated financial resources for its transport to Europe.

"There is no doubt that the return of the relics is not part of the plans of the West. The attacks on the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra are a logical continuation of the story of the secret export from Ukrainian territory of the oldest Byzantine icons, which have been on display in the French Louvre since June 14, 2023," the statement said.

The intelligence service chief also claimed that the icons were removed from Ukraine through the mediation of the Swiss non-governmental organization International Alliance for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Conflict Zones, which works in collaboration with UNESCO.

Naryshkin pointed out that the Byzantine icons were given by the head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, Bishop Porphyry, in the middle of the 15th century as a gift from the Sinai Monastery of St. Catherine, and in 1940, the Soviet authorities transferred them to the collection of the Kyiv Museum of Western and Oriental Art, where they were kept after the Great Patriotic War.

The situation surrounding the heritage of Orthodox Christians is described as "appalling" by the SVR chief, who claimed that it is "convincing evidence that Ukraine is needed by Western elites solely as a battering ram against Russia and a means of enrichment."

"Western tomb robbers forget that for them, stolen relics are just expensive 'artifacts,' while for the Russian world, they are priceless shrines,” he said, vowing that Moscow will do everything it can to return them, and “we will definitely return them."

Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, also known as the Kyivan Caves Monastery, has been an important center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity since its foundation in 1051.

In 2018, then-President Petro Poroshenko established the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in opposition to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which was part of the All-Russia congregation.

The split was accompanied by the division of property and the new church secured major assets, one of the last of them was the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra with all its relics.

With the start of the Russian "special military operation" in Ukraine, the new establishment has accused its predecessor of connection with Moscow.

In May last year, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church parted ways with Moscow; nevertheless, the Ukrainian authorities and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine continue to label it as "pro-Russian."​​​​​​​

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