Ukraine's Interior Ministry on Friday placed the head of Russia's Orthodox Church, a backer of the Kremlin's 21-month-old war against Kyiv, on a wanted list after security services accused him of abetting the conflict.
The measure is purely symbolic as Patriarch Kirill is in Russia and under no threat of arrest. It was the latest step in Ukraine's campaign to uproot the influence of priests it alleges maintain close links to Russia and subvert Ukrainian society.
A post on the Ukrainian ministry's wanted list identified Kirill by name, showed him in his clerical robes and described him as "an individual in hiding from the bodies of pre-trial investigation". It said he had been "missing" since November 11.
Orthodox Christianity is the dominant faith in Ukraine and authorities in Kyiv have launched criminal cases against clergy linked to a branch of the Orthodox church once directly linked to the Russian church and Kirill.
Parliament in Kyiv is considering a bill that would ban that branch of the church, which has lost many of its parishioners since Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops into Ukraine in February 2022. The church says it severed all links to Moscow in May 2022.
Ukraine's SBU security service last month issued a document saying Kirill "infringed Ukrainian sovereignty" by virtue of his position as "part of the closest entourage of Russia's military and political leadership".
Security forces have launched dozens of criminal cases, including accusations of treason, against priests and officials linked to the branch of the church associated with Moscow.
Kirill has denounced those actions and appealed to clerical leaders world-wide to stop Ukraine's moves against the church.
A senior official in the Russian church told Russia's RIA news agency that placing Kirill on a wanted list was "a step that is as ridiculous as it is predictable".
Vladimir Legoida, responsible for ties with other churches, told RIA that Ukrainian authorities were guilty of "lawlessness and attempting to intimidate parishioners".