Ukraine officially ends more than 330 years of Russian religious control over its Orthodox Church

Ukraine officially ended more than 330 years of Russian religious control over the country on Saturday by announcing the establishment of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox church at a ceremony in Istanbul, while the Russian Orthodox Church criticized the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Archbishop of Istanbul, Archbishop Bartholomew I, handed over a decree to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church granting it independence from the Russian Church in the presence of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the official Anatolia news agency reported Saturday.

The decree provides for the establishment of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church founded last month by two of the country’s largest churches.

The largest church in Ukraine, loyal to Russia, boycotted the move, which comes amid years of bad relations between Moscow and Kiev.

Bartholomew I will officially hand over the decree to the new Ukrainian church Metropolitan Epivani at Sunday’s mass, according to the Russian news agency Tass.

“It is a historic event and a great day”, Poroshenko tweeted describing the ceremony as “an embodiment of Ukraine’s hopes and aspirations”.

Poroshenko arrived in Istanbul on Saturday, where he is also expected to attend a mass on Sunday.

“This step will open the door to a new era in Orthodox history.

We’ll pray for peace and unity”, Poroshenko said on his Facebook page.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met his Ukrainian counterpart in Istanbul earlier in the day, the official Anadolu news agency reported.

This is Boroshenko’s second visit to Turkey since November.

Erdogan and Poroshenko held a meeting at the Wahiduddin Palace in the Asian part of Istanbul, away from the media, for about an hour and 15 minutes, without announcing its content.

In October, Bartholomew I abolished the rule of 332 years, placing Ukraine under the rule of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Poroshenko and Bartholomew I signed an agreement in Istanbul in November, setting a framework for cooperation between them.

“The idea of ​​an independent Ukrainian church is crazy”, Alexander Volkov, spokesman for the Moscow patriarch, was quoted by Anatolia as saying on Saturday.

Volkov accused Poroshenko of using the cause of the church as part of the propaganda to win votes in the Ukrainian presidential election in March 2019.

The move threatens to escalate political tensions between Moscow and Kiev.

Russia annexed the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move recognized only by Turkey, and since then the east of Ukraine has seen violence.

Tension between the two neighbors escalated in November when Ukraine accused Russia of firing at its ships and injuring two.