The protester with the controversial Ukrainian women’s rights movement Femen managed to get within a metre of Patriarch Kirill at Kyiv’s airport, but was stopped by a security guard and a priest.
The woman, identified by Femen as Yana Zhdanova, had the words “Kill Kirill” written on her back in large black letters and shouted a phrase from a religious ritual that aims to expel demons, roughly translated as “Kirill, go to hell.”
Police said the activist was being held at the airport and will soon be taken to court, where she may face a fine or several days in custody.
The commotion highlighted the tension between Moscow and Kyiv as Ukraine tries to move out of Russia’s shadow politically, economically and spiritually.
Ukraine’s main Orthodox Church still answers to Mr Kirill’s Moscow Patriarchate, and two smaller but increasingly popular independent churches are not recognised by world’s Orthodox leaders. But there is a growing movement to create a strong, unified Ukrainian Orthodox church that would be Moscow’s equal.
The incident also underlined the relative freedom and democracy of Ukrainian society compared to Russia, where three members of the feminist rock band Pussy Riot have spent months in prison and face up to seven years in jail for performing a “punk prayer” against Russian President Vladimir Putin from a pulpit of Moscow’s main cathedral. A spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church said it will not press charges against Zhdanova.
“The girl has been shamed and lectured and I think this is quite enough,” church spokesman Vasily Anisimov said. “If we put a policeman next to every sin… what will our life become?”
Mr Kirill did not react to the incident, proceeding to talk about his visit to a group of reporters. He is in Ukraine on an annual worshipping trip.
Femen has gained prominence for staging topless protests against all kinds of political and social problems – from the shortage of hot water to women’s rights in the Muslim world to domestic pension reforms. But critics say Femen members are more interested in self-promotion than real reform, and that their antics are often tacky and undermine the cause of their protests.
l The Russian Orthodox Church is planning to clarify its position regarding the recognition of the remains of Tsar Nicholas II and his family members who were murdered by the Bolsheviks shortly after the Russian Revolution, Patriarch Kirill said during his visit.
Addressing members of the Holy Synod in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the patriarch said he had received “very important information” from New York about the circumstances of the family’s murder in July 1918.
In 2007, seven years after the murdered Romanovs were canonised in 2000, two bodies that had been missing – the daughter and son of tsar Nicholas II – were discovered near Yekaterinburg.
DNA tests confirmed that the discovered remains were authentic, but the Church has so far refused to recognise their authenticity.