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DefenseRussia and Ukraine exchanged prisoners, including priests

Russia and Ukraine exchanged prisoners, including priests

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This is a rarely seen exchange of civilians

Russia and Ukraine have swapped prisoners, including several priests, in a rarely seen exchange of civilians that follows the exchange of dozens of soldiers earlier this week, AFP reported.

According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, two Ukrainian Uniate priests captured in the Russian-occupied city of Berdyansk have been returned to Ukraine thanks to the mediation of the Vatican.

“Bohdan Guleta and Ivan Levitsky preached the word of God in Berdyansk, in the parish “Nativity of the Virgin” of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church,” said Zelensky. He specified that the two priests were captured by Russia in November 2022.

Among those released was Nariman Jelyal, deputy speaker of the Mejlis, a representative body of the Crimean Tatars, who was moved to Kyiv after Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014. In 2021, Jelyal was taken to Russia from Crimea, where he had been living despite the annexation , states the Associated Press.

Mejlis Speaker Refat Chubarov and Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev embraced him after nearly three years of captivity.

For its part, Russia indicated that the senior Ukrainian Orthodox cleric, Metropolitan Yonaphan, and two other priests had been handed over to Moscow.

Metropolitan Yonafan was sentenced to five years in prison in Ukraine in August 2023, accused of justifying the Russian invasion of the country.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is close to the Moscow Patriarchate, is under pressure from the Kiev authorities, although it severed ties with Russia after the invasion began, AFP noted.

The former Tulchyn Metropolitan Yonatan, who was condemned by the Ukrainian authorities for cooperation with the country’s occupiers, arrived in Moscow and was received by Patriarch Cyril. This became possible after negotiations led to his exchange for Ukrainian officers captured by Russia. He was awarded by the Russian Patriarch with the Order of St. Sergius of Radonezh – first degree” because of his “unwillingness to make compromises bordering on treason”, without specifying to whom.

On the other hand, Metropolitan Yonatan stated that the purpose of his ministry as the Ukrainian Metropolitan was “not to dishonor the name of the Russian Patriarch” because “the Patriarch is a symbol of the entire Russian Church”:

“Your Holiness, thank you for the efforts that brought me to this holy place. The patriarch is a symbol of the entire Russian Church. My task was not to dishonor your name, and this gave me strength to resist evil.”

These words of the former Ukrainian metropolitan illustrate the thinking of quite a few members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, whom Kremlin propaganda has managed to convince that the relationship with the Moscow Patriarch is a guarantee of belonging to the Church (in the form of “canonicity”) and the only possibility for the existence of Orthodoxy in Ukraine . The gross political abuse of “canonicity”, to which believers are especially sensitive, makes possible the next steps: justification of Russian military actions in Ukraine and the annexation of territories – both political and ecclesiastical. These attitudes, which are deeply rooted in the UOC, give the secular power an opportunity to look for “traitors” among the clergy and to try to introduce repressive laws regarding this church.

Photo: The convicted former Ukrainian Metropolitan was awarded by the Russian Patriarch

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