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News coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has touched on religiousdimensions of the longstanding conflict between the two countries. Russia and Ukraine are home to some of the world’s largest Orthodox Christian populations, but the Orthodox Church of Ukraine gained independence from the Russian Orthodox Church in 2019 amidst the ongoing political turmoil. Now, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church has sought to justify the invasion, although other Russian Orthodox clergy have expressed opposition to the war.
Around the time of the split between the Ukrainian and Russian churches, we published a blog post based on data from a Pew Research Center survey of Central and Eastern Europe conducted in 2015 and 2016. The analysis found that even before the split between the two churches, a plurality of Orthodox Ukrainians (46%) looked to the leaders of the Ukrainian national church (either the patriarch of Kiev or the metropolitan of Kiev and all of Ukraine) as the highest authority of Orthodoxy, while just 17% saw the patriarch of Moscow as their spiritual leader. The patriarch of Moscow received higher levels of support in eastern Ukraine than in western Ukraine, consistent with a broader geographic pattern of views toward Russia within Ukraine at the time of the survey.