KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine has imposed sanctions on 22 Russians associated with the Russian Orthodox Church for what President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said was their support of genocide under the cloak of religion.

According to a decree issued by the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, the list includes Mikhail Gundayev, who represents the Russian Orthodox Church in the World Council of Churches and other international organizations in Geneva.

Russian state media reported that Gundayev is a nephew of the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill. Ukraine sanctioned Kirill last year.

The sanctions are the latest in a series of steps Ukraine has taken against the Russian Orthodox Church, which has backed President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine that is now entering its 12th month.

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“Sanctions have been imposed against 22 Russian citizens who, under the guise of spirituality, support terror and genocidal policy,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly address late on Monday.

He said the punitive measures said that they would strengthen the country’s “spiritual independence”.

A majority of Ukrainians are Orthodox Christians and competition has been fierce between the branch of the church historically linked to Moscow and an independent church proclaimed after independence from Soviet rule in 1991.

(Additional reporting by Ron Popeski, Elaine Monaghan and Lidia Kelly; Writing by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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