Ukraine's security service said Tuesday it carried out a raid at a historic Russian Orthodox Christian monastery in Kyiv in order to counter suspected "subversive activities by Russian special services."
The highly unusual raid took place at the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, a UNESCO World Heritage site, after a priest spoke favorably about Russia – Ukraine's invader – at a recent service.
Ukrainian authorities said the search was prompted by suspicions of possible Russian covert operations. The Russian Orthodox Church has strongly supported Russian President Vladimir Putin's nine-month invasion of Ukraine, while hundreds of Ukrainian Orthodox churches have cut their ties to the Moscow-governed branch of the church.
The Ukrainian counterintelligence and counter-terrorism service said its agents were searching buildings for any hidden weapons or foreign citizens and potential intelligence.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Ukrainian authorities of "waging a war on the Russian Orthodox Church." He said the search was "another link in the chain of these aggressive actions against Russian Orthodoxy."
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church, has described Russia's invasion as a "metaphysical struggle" between Moscow and the West. He condemned Tuesday's search as "an act of intimidation."
The Ukrainian search follows a November 12 service at the Pechersk Lavra complex where a priest was filmed talking about the "awakening" of Russia. Songs praising the "Russian world" were sung.
At the time, the Ukrainian security chief, Vasyl Maliuk, said, "Those who, in the conditions of a full-scale war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine, are waiting for the 'awakening of Mother Rus' should understand that this harms the security and interests of Ukraine and our citizens. And we will not allow such manifestations."
Ukraine on Monday urged residents in the capital and other areas of the country to limit electricity use as it tries to repair damage to the power grid from Russian strikes while the World Health Organization warned that millions in Ukraine face a “life-threatening” winter.
“This winter will be about survival,” said Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe.
Kluge told reporters Monday, “attacks on health and energy infrastructure mean hundreds of hospitals and health care facilities are no longer fully operational, lacking fuel, water and electricity.”
He also warned of unique health challenges for the country, including “respiratory infections such as COVID-19, pneumonia, influenza and the serious risk of diphtheria and measles in (an) under-vaccinated population.”
In his nightly address Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged residents in Kyiv to conserve energy, and implored residents in other hard-hit areas of the country to do the same, including in Vinnytsia, Sumy and Odesa.
“The systematic damage to our energy system from strikes by the Russian terrorists is so considerable that all our people and businesses should be mindful and redistribute their consumption throughout the day,” he said.
As bitter winter weather arrives in Ukraine, Russia has been attacking the Ukrainian power grid and other key infrastructure from the air, causing widespread blackouts for millions of Ukrainians.
Ukrainian state-owned grid operator Ukrenergo reported that 40% of Ukrainians were experiencing difficulties, due to damage to at least 15 major energy hubs across the country, The Associated Press reports.
In Kherson and the neighboring province of Mykolaiv, Ukrainian authorities are urging civilians to evacuate, fearing that damage to the infrastructure of the recently liberated areas is too severe for people to endure the coming winter.
Residents of the two southern regions, regularly shelled in the past months by Russian forces, have been advised to move to safer areas in the central and western parts of the country, said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.
The government will provide transportation, accommodation and medical care, she said.
The evacuations come more than a week after Ukraine freed the city of Kherson and areas around it. The liberation of the area marked a major battlefield gain, while the evacuations now highlight the difficulties the country is facing following heavy Russian shelling of its power infrastructure.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.