Ukrainian officials on Friday ordered a historically Russian-aligned wing of the Orthodox Church to leave a monastery complex in Kyiv where it is based, the latest move against a denomination regarded with deep suspicion by the government.
Kyiv is cracking down on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) - which accepted the authority of the patriarch of Moscow until after Russia launched its full-scale invasion last year - on grounds that it is pro-Russian and collaborating with Moscow. The Moscow patriarch, Kirill, has strongly backed the invasion.
The UOC says it has severed its ties with Russia and the Moscow patriarchate and is the victim of a political witch hunt.
The Ukrainian culture ministry said the UOC had been ordered to leave the 980-year-old Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery complex, where it has its headquarters.
In a statement, it said a probe had revealed the UOC "violated the terms of the agreement regarding the use of state property", but did not give any details.
The UOC, which has until March 29 to leave, said in a Facebook post that the results of the probe were "obviously biased and grossly violate legal norms".
Since October, the Security Service of Ukraine has regularly carried out searches at UOC churches, imposed sanctions on its bishops and financial backers, and opened criminal cases against dozens of its clergymen.
Authorities said they had found pro-Russian literature on church premises and Russian citizens being harboured there, allegations the UOC denied.
Most Ukrainian Orthodox believers belong to a separate branch of the faith, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, formed four years ago by uniting branches independent of Moscow's authority.