Portrait of the week in Ukraine

Ukraine in Focus

By Svitlana Morenets

Mar 24

  • Russian cruise missiles, costing $7m each, have been blown up by drones north of Crimea. Read more here.
  • Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut say they are preparing to ‘take advantage’ of Russian forces’ losses and fatigue: a hint of a possible counteroffensive.
  • Slovakia has delivered four of the 13 promised MiG-29 jets to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Kyiv submitted a request for Hornet fighters from Finland.
  • The Ukrainian government will launch a unified state register of weapons in June.
  • Ukrainian partisans blew up the car of a police officer working for Russian forces in occupied Melitopol, according to Russian media. He is in hospital.
  • The International Criminal Court is to open an office in Ukraine after issuing an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin for the unlawful deportation of children.
  • Hungary would not arrest Putin if he entered the country, according to Viktor Orbán’s chief of staff.
  • Ukraine needs £335bn for recovery and reconstruction after the damages caused by the first year of Russia’s all-out war, according to the World Bank.
  • Two-thirds of Europeans believe that Ukraine should become an EU member, a Bertelsmann survey found.
  • A Romanian senator has submitted a draft law proposing the annexation of part of the southern region of Ukraine to its parliament.


Ukrainian-language media selection

This is intended for readers who use tools such as Chrome Translate to translate foreign web pages into English. More about those tools here.

Russia intensifies assault on city deemed a ‘second Bakhmut’ – Francis Farrell (Kyiv Independent)

Ukraine increases military spending – what will it mean for the economy? – Dmytro Fionik (Liga.net)

Civilian forced to dig trenches for Russians: ‘I wanted to jump on a mine and end it’ – Daria Shulzhenko – (Kyiv Independent)

A tactical pause in the war will be a bigger challenge than a full-scale invasion – Roman Kravets, Dmytro Larin  (Ukrainian pravda)

The situation at the front on the 390th day of a full-scale invasion, with maps – Oleksiy Yarmolenko (Babel)


The analysis

Why Russian priests are being expelled from Lavra

In my hometown we have three Orthodox churches, two of which are formally aligned with the Moscow patriarchate. They mostly say Russian prayers but, growing up, this was not seen as important. My family would go to both and see them as interchangeable: you’d stand, pray, kiss icons, take communion. Many Ukrainians never gave it much thought. This all changed when Vladimir Putin invaded last year. Only then was it clear just how he had been using the Russian church as a tool of his state: not just in Russia, but in Ukraine too.

Previously neutral priests publicly prayed for Putin’s success, telling their parishioners how to help the invading forces. When Ukrainian forces investigated, they found guns, rubles and Soviet symbols in some church vaults. Abbots were arrested for handing over the coordinates of the Ukrainian positions. Even Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who in 2019 recognised the newly established Orthodox Church of Ukraine, saidRussia’s Orthodox Church shared responsibility for the war in Ukraine.

Now the Ukrainian government plans to expel all Russian Orthodox priests from the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, a massive Orthodox monastery in the middle of Kyiv. This is deeply controversial and, to some outsiders, may look like a divisive action in a country where 30 per cent of the population speak Russian and 13.8 per cent were Russian Orthodox Church members. But it has to be understood in the context of Putin’s well-documented politicisation of that church.

Doctrinally, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is identical: there are no freedom of religion issues. It’s just whether the ecclesiastical hierarchy reports to Moscow or Kyiv. All Russian Orthodox priests have been offered a way out – to switch to the Kyiv ecclesiastical hierarchy and to continue their service in Lavra and other churches. But also, next month, a law may be passed allowing Russian Orthodox clerics to continue if they can prove they have no links with Moscow.

But the golden-domed Lavra is perhaps the most famous church in Ukraine – and a special case. Although it was founded in 1051 and the first mention of Moscow didn’t come until almost a century later, the Russian Church ran it for centuries. Ten years ago, Russian Orthodox priests were given free use of 75 buildings in the complex – but they were recently found to have used them to store Russian passports (dual citizenship is forbidden in Ukraine), pro-Putin literature, flags, and bags full of cash in dollars, hryvnias, and rubles.

So the handover from Russian to Ukrainian priests is a big deal. Clerics from the Moscow patriarchate must vacate the religious buildings of the monastery and hand back the property by Wednesday. The Russian Orthodox clerics are suing, so may not leave the building soon. But some Lavra priests have been seen loading books, chairs, boilers, sofas and sinks into cars. A commission has been established to monitor that the church relics are not removed.

Before the full-scale war there were 8,797 Russian Orthodox churches in Ukraine. In December last year that number decreased by 212. These switched to Ukrainian orthodoxy. The changing face of religion is one of the many ways in which Ukrainian society is being reshaped by this war.

Handing out the firearms

When the invasion started on 24 February, it looked to the world like it would be a matter of hours before Russian troops arrived in Kyiv. What happened during those hours is important in understanding the Ukrainian mindset. Members of the public started to demand guns to defend their towns and villages – and were quickly issued with them by authorities who had assumed that it was a matter of when, not if, the Russians would come.

Acting on their own initiative, people started to build barricades in the hope of blocking routes for the advancing Russians. In my hometown, for example, we knew we would not be able to stop a tank assault – but the hope was that they could be delayed for an hour or two before the army arrived. At my former school, my headmaster told me he was burning student records so the Russians would have no record of who to round up and kill (as happened in Bucha).

In the end, Putin’s plans were thwarted: but the Ukrainian public were ready to take up arms and start a partisan war. To use a British phrase, we were ready to fight them on the beaches. Many of those weapons given out on 24 February still remain in the hands of the public. Now the Ukrainian authorities want to create a unified online system to confirm who has what. But they are not asking for the weapons to be returned: the last year has shown that the citizens can be trusted with them.

The online register will let gun owners create electronic accounts and apply to buy and store weapons. They can also update their information and change their storage location. The system aims to track the entire life cycle of firearms, from their import or production to their sale and destruction, to prevent their illegal distribution.


In pictures

Ukraine-Russia border: Russian paramedics (in blue) are given custody of wounded Russian prisoners of war, as stipulated by Geneva Conventions. Ukraine is still waiting for the return of its wounded. (Credit: Ukraine’s Coordinating Staff for the Treatment of POWs)


Quote of the week

‘The church and the state leadership in Russia cooperated in the crime of aggression and shared the responsibility for the resulting crimes, like the shocking abduction of Ukrainian children.’

– Constantinople Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew


Wider reading on the war

How Ukraine survived the winter –Marcus Walker and Yaroslav Trofimov (Wall Street Journal)

How Ukraine’s digital resistance fights behind Russian lines –David Patrikarakos (The Atlantic)

Saving Ukraine’s economy: the grain giant fighting for survival –John Paul Rathbone and Ben Hall (Financial Times)

How the invasion of Ukraine empowers Russia’s president –Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz (Foreign Affairs)

After his trip to Moscow, Xi Jinping still holds all the cards –Mark Galeotti (The Spectator)


The war in numbers

The IMF will lend Ukraine up to


the first time a nation at war has been given such a loan

Fine issued in Germany for wearing a ‘Z’ t-shirt


to a Russian-born man living in Wiesbaden

Ukrainian patients transferred to EU hospitals


since the start of the war in February last year


Svitlana Morenets was a journalist in Kyiv. She hitchhiked in Crimea to learn more about life under the Russian occupation and wrote a story about her experience in 2019. She is now in London working at The Spectator. If you enjoy the Ukraine in Focus newsletter, please forward it to someone you know: you can sign up here. Svitlana’s writing for The Spectator can be found here. This email is a work in progress: all feedback welcome: svitlana@spectator.co.uk

One comment

  1. “Fine issued in Germany for wearing a ‘Z’ t-shirt, €1,500 to a Russian-born man living in Wiesbaden”

    Cool! The ruskie trash are too stupid to know that the “Z” is the new 卐.

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