The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church has led prayers in Kiev on the first of a 10-day visit which observers see as reasserting Moscow’s dominance over church leaders in Ukraine.
Patriarch Kirill’s first service was held near the statue of Prince Volodymyr who launched the Slavic world’s conversion to Christianity over a thousand years ago. He said: “Kiev is our Jerusalem. Orthodox faith came from here, and, naturally, my first thought after my assignment was to visit Kiev, to bow to Volodymyr and to pray for our people.” Ukraine’s main Orthodox church answers to Kirill – but a breakaway church inside the country proclaimed itself independent from Moscow in the 1990s. Kirill’s visit sparked protests from 300 hundred Ukrainian nationalist demonstrators. Kirill is meeting with Ukraine’s President Yushchenko, but not members of the breakaway church. His tour will mostly take in pro-Russian areas of Ukraine.