The head of Russia’s Orthodox Church has refused to recognise a breakaway branch of the church which is gaining popularity in Ukraine. On his first visit to Kiev, Patriarch Kirill instead called for an end to the split in the faith in the country. Supported by pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, the independent Orthodox church was formed after the collapse of Soviet rule in 1991.
It is one of several political, social and economic disputes pitting the two ex-Soviet states against each other. Kirill was welcomed by hundreds of well-wishers when he arrived but hundreds of Ukrainian nationalists also turned out, denouncing him as a “Russian imperialist” and “Russian pope”. Kirill, regarded as a relative liberal in the highly conservative Orthodox religion, says he has no plans to meet the leaders of the rival, unrecognised church. The two churches have roughly the same number of followers.