”He was constantly hungry — in terms of power too.” Zaporizhzhia UOC MP metropolitan Luka is suspected of inciting inter-religious enmity. Who he is and how he became so influential? A long profile

Yuliana Skibitska
Kateryna Kobernyk
”He was constantly hungry — in terms of power too.” Zaporizhzhia UOC MP metropolitan Luka is suspected of inciting inter-religious enmity. Who he is and how he became so influential? A long profile

Metropolitan Luka at a divine service in Zaporizhzhia.

Dmytro Smolienko / «Бабель»

On May 7, 2024, in the Solomyansky Court of Kyiv, the preventive measure for Metropolitan Luka of Zaporizhzhia and Melitopol was considered. Several journalists, the prosecutor, Luka himself and one of his three lawyers came to the meeting — two of them were on a video link. Luka, a tall, thin man wearing glasses and a black church vestment, calmly listened to the prosecutorʼs accusation. According to the investigation, the metropolitan repeatedly publicly insulted parishioners of other denominations and posted provocative posts in his own Telegram channel Lekar.zp. In one of the posts, the metropolitan also complained about "perverts who walk in parades" and claimed that independence brought Ukrainians only hunger, unemployment and slavery. For inciting inter-religious enmity, the prosecutor asked for 24-hour house arrest for Luka, so that he could not pressure and influence the witnesses in the case. Luka, indeed, is not an ordinary priest and has great connections. He is an important figure in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UPC MP), and in Zaporizhzhia heʼs almost a legend. Critics of the metropolitan remember how he publicly supported the businessman Yevhen Anisimov, who was "obsessed" with the pro-Russian ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, and defended the priests of the UOC MP who refused to mourn the murdered child baptized in the Kyiv Patriarchate. Lukaʼs supporters, who are also many, say: in March 2022, the metropolitan took over a hundred children from occupied Berdyansk and lost his brother in the war — he fought in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. They both agree: Luka is a "powerful person", ambitious and intelligent. On May 7, the judge did not listen to the prosecutor and gave the metropolitan a more lenient decision — a two-month night house arrest and a ban on communicating with subscribers of the Lekar.zp channel. Babel editor Yuliana Skibitska talked to a dozen people who knew Luka at different periods of his life, attended his church services and talked to him presonally. He, instead, only agreed to a written interview. As a result, hereʼs the story of a metropolitan who says he loves Ukraine, but does strange things.


Lukaʼs real name is Andriy Kovalenko. He was born in 1971 in the town of Khartsyzk, Donetsk region. There were no priests in his family, only his grandfather from his motherʼs line served as a village church priest for a while. Luka wanted to become a doctor — in the late 1980s, he worked as an orderly at the Khartsyzk hospital, twice tried to enter the Donetsk Medical Institute, but failed both times. He passed the exams only in the early 90s, after returning from the army. Then on one Easter he went to the church and understood that his place is there.

When Luka was working in a Donetsk hospital, he was noticed by Metropolitan Hilarion of Donetsk and Mariupol. According to Luka, it was Hilarion who suggested to the sixth-year student to go serve in the church at the hospital just like Luka (Viyno-Yasenetskyi). Andriy took the name in his honor after was ordained a monk in 2003.

In 1998, Luka became a deacon under Hilarion, a priest the following year, and an archimandrite in 2004.

Bishop Luka in the Konotop Diocese of the UOC MP, 2008.

pravoslavie.ru / «Бабель»

"He was a person quite close to Hilarion," says OCU Metropolitan Oleksandr Drabynko, who at that time served as a referent under Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan). — At that time, [Victor] Nusenkis was in charge in Donetsk. He had a knack for organizing parishes at enterprises with the obligation [of workers] to go there. Luka was responsible for the ministry that was created from these parishes."

Drabynko recalls that Luka was very ambitious — he wanted to be ordained as a bishop as soon as possible. This happened in 2005 under the patronage of Nusenkis — the oligarch was one of the main sponsors of the UOC MP. As a bishop, Luka went to serve in the monastery of Glynska Hermitage in the north of the Sumy region. It was a kind of test, says Drabynko: if he succeeds, the diocese will trust him. Luca succeeded—not least because Nusenkis continued to fund the monastery.

Archbishop Luka, 2012.

Dmytro Smolienko / «Бабель»

In May 2008, Luka became archbishop of Konotop and Glukhiv. It was there that his first public scandal occurred. In October 2008, Luka cursed its abbot, George Bavatnyk, right during the liturgy in the Transfiguration Cathedral in Sumy. He opposed the transfer of the cathedral from the community to the UOC MP. Two weeks after the scandal with Luka, Bavatnyk was excommunicated from the church for three years.

"In general, he had a peculiar style of communication," Drabynko remembers Luka of those years. "He could shout, bang on the table."

Luka served in the Konotop diocese until December 2010, when he was appointed archbishop of Zaporizhzhia and Melitopol.

Luka on the island of Khortytsia, 2013.

Dmytro Smolienko / «Бабель»


From 1992 to 2009, the Zaporizhzhia diocese of the UOC MP was headed by Archbishop Vasiliy (Zlatolinsky). He knew how to find a common language with all groups of influence in Zaporizhzhia, while remaining equidistant from them. In April 2009, Vasiliy was laid to rest. Formally — by age: the archbishop was then 75 years old.

The real reason was politics. Vasily was replaced by his vicar and pupil, the thirty-year-old bishop Yosyf Maslennikov. He was a creature of the Kaltsevy brothers — the elder Serhiy was then a deputy from the pro-Russian Party of Regions, and the younger Volodymyr hoped to win the mayoral elections in 2010. Yosyf had to help him in this.

Yosyf Maslennikov is on the far left. On the far right is the vicar of the Tulchyn Diocese of the UOC MP Ionafan. In August 2023, Ionafan was sentenced to 5 years in prison for justifying Russian aggression. Yosyf fled to Russia in April 2022 and is being tried in absentia.


Yosyf served in Zaporizhzhia for only one and a half years. Babelʼs interlocutors, who remember those times well, say: he collected levies from churches and built a house for himself in a protected area on the island of Khortytsia. There were rumors that Yosyf stole the money that the church collected for the restoration of the Church of the Holy Intercession, where an improvised explosive device went off in July 2010.

Drabynko recalls: at one point, there were so many scandals behind Yosyf that he had to be replaced. In addition, his patron Volodymyr Kaltsev lost the mayoral election. Vyacheslav Bohuslaiev, the then General Director of Motor-Sich company and the member of parliament from the Party of Regions, also wanted to see the new bishop. This position was taken by Luka in December 2010. Now the metropolitan claims that he got to know Bohuslaiev, who is accused of helping Russia and collaborationism, already after his appointment. He said that the next day Bohuslaiev approached him on Volodymyrsky Hill in Kyiv.

Lukaʼs arrival in Zaporizhzhia was received ambiguously. On the one hand, the influence of "Donetsk lobby", with which Luka was associated, increased in the city by this move — and there were opponents to this. On the other hand, against the background of Yosyf Luka looked good.

Archbishop Luka on the left, the mayor of Zaporizhia Oleksandr Sin (in the middle), the farthest man on the right is Volodymyr Kaltsev, candidate for mayor of Zaporizhia, 2011.

Dmytro Smolienko / «Бабель»

"Yosyf was a boy who was very proud that he was the youngest bishop, but he remained a boy," says one of the Zaporizhzhia officials at the time. “Luka commanded respect. He had an excellent command of Russian and Ukrainian, knew how to be balanced, intelligent."

"Luka was charismatic," adds Yuriy Gudymenko, leader of the Democratic Ax party and former Zaporizhzhia journalist. “But he quickly began to gain weight and lose his charisma, he looked like a caricature. Then he had an operation in Germany and reduced his stomach. He came back very thin, and with that long beard he gave the impression of a really wise old man."

Luka had a lot to do. He improved the work of the diocese, launched the "Love is Merciful" project, under which the church bought hospital equipment, and after 2014, helped displaced persons and families of Donbas war veterans. Luka quickly gained influence and got the necessary connections: the entire "political beau monde" of Zaporizhzhia gathered on his birthday. However, the bishopʼs character remained complex. His former subdeacon Bohdan Zahorulko says: when Luka shouted at his secretaries, other priests hid so as not to fall under the hot hand.

Bohdan Zahorulko, former subdeacon of Luka.

Dmytro Smolienko / «Бабель»

Unlike Yosyf, Luka shunned ostentatious luxury. But he had a weakness — an expensive episcopal outfit.

"He had the nickname ʼfashionista,ʼ" says Bohdan Zahorulko. "Some of his vestments cost $10,000-20,000."

At that time, the UOC MP received land for new churches from the city council. Yevhen Anisimov was one of those who sponsored the construction. Local journalists called him "watcher" for Zaporizhzhia from Viktor Yanukovych. Anisimov, for example, gave money for the construction of the church of Peter and Fevronia in Zaporizhzhia. Luka thanked for the support. Zaporizhzhia priest Ihor Savva wrote in his book "Exodus" that Luka asked the priests to campaign for the Party of Regions. But in order not to undermine the authority of the church, it was necessary to do this in personal conversations.

Luka says in a comment to Babel that this is a lie: "Nowhere and never have I secretly or publicly called to vote for one or another political force."

In fact, it was not even direct campaigning that was important.

"Luka was clearly aware of his influence," says Yuriy Hudymenko. “He took a picture with Anisimov, although the majority in Zaporizhzhia hid their contacts with the "Yanukovych-set controller". When Anisimov was detained, Luka was almost the only one who did not give him up — but, on the contrary, publicly supported him.

Far right — Yevhen Anisimov, "controller" of Zaporizhzhia from Yanukovych side, then Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine Volodymyr Sabodan of the UOC MP, Luka, Zaporizhzhia mayor Oleksandr Sin, 2012.

hramzp.ua / «Бабель»


At the beginning of November 2013, when Mykola Azarovʼs government had not yet abandoned the Association Agreement with the EU, Luka said in his sermons that there is nothing wrong with Europe. But he did not support Euromaidan. According to Babel interlocutors, Luka was sincere in his views, not just followed the rhetorics of the then government. He does not give up on them even now: "Any violation of the law and violence [as was Euromaidan] is a sin that I cannot support, only condemn."

On April 13, 2014, on the day of the start of the anti-terrorist operation, another pro-Russian rally was held in Zaporizhzhya on the Alley of Glory. Its participants demanded the creation of the "Zaporizhzhia Peopleʼs Republic" and its annexation to Russia. To stop the separatists, Euromaidan activists, local ultras and representatives of the "Right Sector" nationalist organization took to the streets. The militia stood between the two columns. In the end, the separatists were pelted with eggs and flour — this day is still called "egg Sunday" in Zaporizhzhia.

Pro-Russian rally in April 2014 in Zaporizhzhia.
Participants were pelted with flour and eggs.

Pro-Russian rally in April 2014 in Zaporizhzhia. Participants were pelted with flour and eggs.


"Everyone remembers what happened during the day, when the separs [separatists] were pelted with eggs, but the most interesting began in the evening," recalls former journalist Yuriy Hudymenko. “Everyone continued to stand in the Alley, the situation became tense. Luka agreed that he would lead the pro-Russian column. I still remember this picture — Luka in front, followed by them, all in eggs and flour."

At the beginning of the war on 2014, Lukaʼs family stayed in Donetsk. The house where his mother and brother lived was located near the Donetsk airport, it was destroyed during shelling. Luka himself was last in Donetsk in 2015, at the funeral of, as he says, "a close person." He moved his mother to Zaporizhzhia, and later his brother also moved. Luka said: due to the fact that he supported the unity of Ukraine and was against hostilities, his old friends from Donetsk stopped communicating with him.

In 2016, the Primate of the UOC MP Onufriy ordained Luka a metropolitan. Drabynko says: he dreamed of a white hood for a long time, but he did not expect it from Metropolitan Volodymyr, with whom Luka was on good terms.

Luke and Metropolitan Onufriy of Kyiv and All Ukraine UOC MP.


"Luka changed when he had his stomach resected — he became more neurotic," recalls Drabynko. “I would say that he was constantly hungry — and this referred to power too. There is such a type of bishops — monarchical. They perceive this position exclusively as power. Thatʼs how he is."


On December 31, 2017, a tragedy occurred on Istorychna Street in Zaporizhzhia. A 39-year-old man decided to commit suicide and threw himself out of the window of a high-rise building. At that moment, two-year-old Zhenya was walking in the yard with his father, Roman. The suicider fell directly on top of the boy, who died in the ambulance.

The parents decided to bury their only child at the Pavlo-Kichkas cemetery in Zaporizhzhia. During the funeral, UOC MP priest Yevhen Molchanov, who was invited to the funeral, learned that the boy was baptized in the church of the Kyiv Patriarchate and refused to perform the ceremony.

"The mother [Zhenia] cried and fell on her knees in front of him, but he said that the Kyiv Patriarchate is a self-styled church, and the child is not baptized," said the boyʼs father, Roman.

The family took the childʼs body to the church closest to the cemetery, but they were refused there too — the priests closed the door and asked them to leave the territory of the church. Luka supported his priests: "According to the canons of our church, we cannot perform the ceremony for parishioners of other denominations. The priest did the right thing, because if he violated the canons, he would have to bear responsibility for it before God."

Dmytro Smolienko / «Бабель»

"I was in shock then," recalls Oleksandr Drabynko. "Metropolitan Volodymyr also said that we recognize the baptism of all denominations — Protestants, Catholics, and others."

Luka has his own version of events, which he calls a "misunderstanding." He said that his priest asked his colleague from the UOC KP to come to the funeral, all was needed is just to wait.

"When the parents were told about it, there was a misunderstanding, which was later turned into a scandal with the help of the mass media. I donʼt think there would be any special fuss if a cleric of another Christian denomination ended up in the place of our priest," Luka comments to Babel.

Relations between the Kyiv and Moscow Patriarchates in Zaporizhzhia have always been strained, even during the time of UOC MP Archbishop Vasiliy, who was considered a "wise diplomat." Ihor Savva, a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Ukraine in Zaporizhzhia, recalls: when Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate was to come to Zaporizhzhia in 2000s, Vasiliy blessed a close person to throw rotten tomatoes at him. The man did so, right next to the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity — the main church of the UOC-KP in Zaporizhzhia.

Priest of OCU Ihor Savva.

Dmytro Smolienko / «Бабель»

"One tomato did hit Filaret," says Savva. “The civilian was immediately detained by the police. All night there were battles between the Kyiv and Zaporozhzhia police. Those in the capital wanted to imprison him, and ours wanted to release him, at Vasiliyʼs request. He was released the next morning."

Bishop Photius of Zaporizhzhia and Melitopol, whom the UOC KP sent to serve in Zaporizhzhia in 2014, says: there was no dialogue between the two denominations. But after the Revolution of Dignity and the beginning of the war with Russia, the position of the UOC MP gradually worsened. In response, in 2015, the non-governmental organization "Orthodox Union Radomyr" appeared in Zaporizhzhia. Its members — strong athletic boys — guarded the "crudes" of the UOC MP and the walks of the "Immortal Regiment". They were a local “Orthodox bouncers”. Among other things, in 2018 they fought with people who brought childrenʼs toys to the temple of the Moscow Patriarchate, where the priest refused to mourn two-year-old Zhenya. Kostyantyn Kolodka was one of the founders of “Radomyr”.

"Father Kostiantyn is an interesting person," says priest Ihor Savva. “He made a church for himself, in which he “expelled an evil force” from the parishioners. The priests complained about him even to Vasiliy, saying this is fraud and he is deceiving people. Vasiliy sighed, said that he must be punished, called him for a conversation. Kostiantyn arrived with a gift, and that was the end of it."

Ihor Savva is holding his book "Exit", in which he described in detail his service in the UOC MP.

Dmytro Smolienko / «Бабель»

According to Savva, "Radomyr" arose from the blessing of Luka, who always complained that the church needed to work more with young people. Luka denies this, as well as any relationship of the UOC MP to this organization.

"Yes, members of “Radomyr” turned to our priests for spiritual advice, came to services, received communion, and confessed. There is nothing illegal in this," says Luka.

In 2018, Ukraine received Tomos, the UOC KP became the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. In response, the Russian Orthodox Church severed all relations with Constantinople. This meant that the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church could not receive communion in the churches of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and priests could not hold joint services. Luka supported this decision and even wrote an anathema to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

"Where did this organization [OCU] come from, who legitimized it?” Luka explains his position. “As everyone knows, it is not recognized by all Local Churches. The paper signed by the Ecumenical Patriarch is only, conditionally speaking, a certificate to the patient that he is completely healthy. Yes, you can pretend that everything is fine, that everything is fine, but you cannot deceive spiritual laws."

The Metropolitan adds: this structure — thatʼs what he calls the OCU — takes parishes from the UOC MP by deception and violence. However, in Zaporizhzhia, only two priests joined the OCU. One of them, Ihor Savva, says: Luka did not directly forbid the transfer to OCU, but in fact there was no need for it. For years, priests of the UOC MP told the congregation that the Kyiv Patriarchate was schismatic. Another important reason is money.

"Maintaining our church [OCU] and the Holy Intercession Cathedral are two big differences," says Metropolitan Fotius of the OCU. “Our church does not have as much money and sponsors as the Moscow Patriarchate. Thatʼs why the priests donʼt want to transfer."

Metropolitan Fotii of the Zaporizhzhia and Melitopol (OCU).

Dmytro Smolienko / «Бабель»


Luka met the full-scale invasion not in Ukraine. Without clarification, he says that he was far beyond its borders. Adding that the bombing of Ukrainian cities shocked him.

"The person who ordered the start of the war, we all know perfectly well where he is, acted inhumanely. I didnʼt think that this person was capable of this," Luka said in an interview with BBC Russian in April 2022. He did not mention Putinʼs name directly.

After his return, at the beginning of March 2022, Luka and his priests accompanied the convoy with humanitarian cargo. It was sent from Zaporizhzhia to already surrounded Mariupol. Luka was asked about this by the regional authorities, says the then head of the Zaporizhzhia region Oleksandr Starukh. The convoy did not reach Mariupol and stopped in the already occupied Berdyansk. From there, Luka took 400 people who got from Mariupol to Berdyansk on their own to Zaporizhzhia, and another 130 children from the Berdyansk boarding school.

Luka near the bus with children evacuated from the Berdyansk boarding school, March 2022.

hramzp.ua / «Бабель»

Ukrainian journalist Viktoria Roshchyna was in the column accompanied by Luka. The Russians detained her in Berdyansk. Roshchyna said that a little later the occupiers told her: "Luka is the leader in the column, and he refused you."

"A woman I donʼt know, openly, it is not clear what she was hoping for, ran with a camera and took pictures of the military, combat positions," Luka tells his version. “The mayor of Mariupol [Vadym Boychenko] was in the car with me, and two other people for whom ransoms of over $10,000 were proposed. If I really wanted to give someone, would I give some unknown girl with a camera or high-ranking officials?"

Luka adds that upon returning to Zaporizhzhia, he informed the SBU about the situation with Roshchyna. The security service, he says, had no complaints against him. But after the full-scale Russian invasion, SBU employees, according to Luka, asked him to "speak more patriotically": "Actually, [I was asked] to become a source of political information. However, I am not a politician or a political engineer, I am a priest."

On May 27, 2022, the UOC MP held a Council. There were rumors that on it the church would finally sever relations with the Russian Orthodox Church and declare itself autocephalous. The Councilʼs statement was more restrained. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church once again confirmed its status as an "independent church", which was always stated in its charter. One of the really important changes was the decision of the UOC to brew myrrh on its own, instead of getting it from Moscow. In the church world, this is a serious request for independence.

A woman prays in the cathedral of the OCU in Zaporizhzhia.

Dmytro Smolienko / «Бабель»

The Council also condemned the invasion of Russia and the position of Patriarch Kirill, who supported the war. It was mistakenly believed that the Council forbade the commemoration of Kirill in prayers, but in fact the decision was different: during the martial law, the bishops were allowed to independently make decisions regarding "certain diocesan issues." That is, to commemorate Kirill or not, the dioceses themselves decided. Kirill is still commemorated in Zaporizhzhia. Luka explains it this way: the diocese is already divided by the Russian occupation, so there is no need to divide it spiritually. The interlocutors of Babel, on the other hand, are sure: Luka is trying to maintain good relations with the Russian Orthodox Church until the end.

Religious scholar Ilya Bey also talks about this special relationship. He says that there is a version that in 2022 the Russian Orthodox Church considered Luka as a replacement for Metropolitan Onufriy. Or at least he could lead some structure that could arise in the occupied part of Ukraine. In 2018-2019, Luka was for some time a temporary member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. That is, he had the opportunity to communicate directly with senior officials of the Russian Orthodox Church, Bey explains.

Luka calls his participation in the Holy Synod a "technical moment" that could apply to any UOC hierarch.

Divine Liturgy in Moscow, 2016. In the middle are Metropolitan Onufriy and Patriarch Kirill. Luka is the second on the left.

hramzp.ua / «Бабель»

"This information is the fruit of alcohol and drug addiction," he sharply comments on the version that he was considered as a replacement for Metropolitan Onufriy. “Before electing the Metropolitan of Kyiv, this position must be vacant. Fortunately, our Blessed One lives and, God willing, will live for many more years."

The Metropolitan insists: after 2022, he did not go to Russia and does not communicate with Kirill, because he is not his confessor. In addition, even if he wanted to, his phone is constantly tapped, and "the same [secret services] person is watching the house for the third year."

In March 2024, the Russian Orthodox Church annexed parishes in the occupied territory of the Zaporizhzhia region. Luka reacted to this discreetly — he says that everything may change in the future.

"Parishes need to live. A simple example: the priest ran out of myrrh. It is issued only by the bishop. How can I transfer myrrh across the military border? How can a priest from that side come to me? And what to do? Deny people Baptism and Anointing? The priest is obliged to stay with his flock and feed it. But even if I cannot physically come to the parishes, this does not mean that I am not its ruling bishop," the metropolitan reflects.


The law enforcement officers have many questions for Luka — itʼs not the first time they are interested in him.

In November 2018, the Metropolitan was called to the Security Service and asked if he enjoys any privileges when he travels abroad. It was not an interrogation, but just in case, the metropolitan came to the SBU with his lawyer. Luka says that he himself turned to the police because of threats on social networks, but the security forces did not open the case.

In December 2022, Volodymyr Zelenskyy approved economic sanctions against four metropolitans of the UOC MP. Some of them, according to the SBU, supported Russiaʼs military aggression and began to cooperate with the occupation authorities, others promote "pro-Russian narratives." Luka also fell under the sanctions, which provide for the blocking of assets. The Metropolitan calls them illegal and says that it greatly limits the work of the diocese and his life. Even communal services, he complains, it is difficult for him to pay.

In August 2023, Luka was summoned to the Zaporizhzhia police for questioning. Later, it was reported there that they were conducting an investigation "on the fact of inciting inter-religious enmity." Then the metropolitan passed as a witness. Luka told: he was asked how he feels about Tomos. Investigators analyzed posts on the Lekar.zp channel. "I was shown the results of philological examinations — perhaps this person [who made the conclusion] is well-versed in matters of philology, but is not well-versed in matters of theology at all," Luka said. Subsequently, the prosecutorʼs office transferred the case to the SBU. The metropolitan faces up to five years in prison for inciting inter-religious enmity, with a possible ban on holding certain positions for up to three years.

Dmytro Smolienko / «Бабель»

Luka does not admit his guilt, and his lawyer Volodymyr Zadnipryanyi calls the accusations absurd. The Metropolitan emphasizes: he is a Ukrainian, deals exclusively with theological disputes, and the state thanked him for saving children from the occupation with sanctions and a criminal case. Luka really does not speak with openly pro-Russian rhetoric, but in 2020 he gave an interview to the propaganda publication "Ukraine.ru", and wrote on his channel that "neo-Nazis in Ukraine" call for the destruction of the parishioners of the UOC MP.


On May 13, 2024, almost a week after the court session in the Luka case, a divine service was held in the Holy Intercession Cathedral of Zaporizhzhia. All the higher clergy of the Zaporizhzhia diocese of the UOC were there. It was the day of commemoration of the Russian bishop and saint Ignatius (Bryanchaninov). Some of the relics of Ignatius were to be delivered to the cathedral from Lukaʼs personal collection. The Metropolitan himself had to lead the service.

There are dozens of cars in the cathedral yard in the morning. Priests come out of them — some are already in church vestments, some are simply changing by the cars. "You cannot stand here," says a cathedral guard to a man who got too close to the car of one of the holy fathers. The man obediently leaves.

There are not many people in the cathedral. Most of them are older women, in long skirts and headscarves. They cross themselves and quietly greet their acquaintances. A military man buys candles in a church pew, another, a boy with a stick, looks at the iconostasis. An energetic worker of the cathedral spreads a red carpet at the entrance. "Donʼt walk on the carpet!" — she sternly addresses those who come inside and aggressively sweep the path with a broom. In the end, all the priests enter the cathedral, line up in several rows. Everyone is waiting for Metropolitan Luka.

Dmytro Smolienko / «Бабель»

Luka comes 10 minutes late. He waves his hand and immediately the parishioners who were waiting on the side run up to him. He quickly blesses them, enters the cathedral and puts on the episcopal garb. The procedure is long and unhurried. A choir sings a prayer in the background. Kirill is really still commemorated in the cathedral.

Most parishioners do not want to talk about the court case against Luka. Only one woman says that "the persecution of the bishop is the persecution of our Ukrainian church." The abbot of the cathedral, Father Oleh, also does not want to talk, he says, journalists will twist everything anyway. And the bishop, according to his conviction, does and says many right things, and he is also an extraordinary person. The case against him is the UOCʼs policy of repression.

Luka himself also believes that he is accused of being anti-Ukrainian for nothing. In April 2022, his older brother Oleksandr died in the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Donetsk region. In Zaporizhzhia, he worked at the Zaporizhstal plant, after the full-scale Russian invasion he went to the front as a volunteer.

"He, like other soldiers, had neither a bulletproof vest nor a helmet, despite the fact that, according to [Defense Minister Oleksiy] Reznikov, everything was bought for $5 million a month before. If he had protection, would he have died? Most likely not. And in general, the question is: who against the background of such cases is an enemy of Ukraine, and who is not," the metropolitan asks a rhetorical question. And he hints that the enemy may be the Ukrainian government itself.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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