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A church being watched by a man in a Toyota

The church in Bohorodchany

Officially, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is now completely independent of Moscow, but many congregations remain loyal to the Russian Patriarch, which in some cases leads to local tensions. BBC American Nick Sturdee saw this in a city in the nationalist west of the country.

The sun streams through the high windows of the Holy Trinity Church in Bohorodchany. The divine floodlight illuminates icons and families in front of them and the tear-like condensation stripes on the frescoes, which were considered by the present to be a miracle. The congregation is singing, many are buzzing with their candles as if they were ready for the fight.

Father Volodymyr faces them all with bearded faces and crucifix in both hands. Today's sermon is the persecution of Orthodox saints throughout the centuries, moving inexorably and seamlessly into the present – indeed, to the events in this church that were only days before. "There were 40 of them, they broke the doors," he announces. "They forced us to the ground, they beat our sexton on the head, they called us KGB agents and told us to change church, change our confession, all in a very nice, democratic way – of course. "

This is the story of Father Volodymyr – a Ukrainian-Orthodox Orthodox preacher trained in Russia – how a city council delegation with a supportive cast of local political "activists" came to the church to carry out a committee he and his family out of rooms who had lived there for about 20 years.

Throughout Ukraine, parishes and priests volunteer or otherwise alternate with Father Volodymyr's branch of the Church known as the Moscow Patriarchate – dominated since the collapse of the Soviet Union, led by priests endorsed by the increasingly politicized Russian Orthodox Church – to a newly recognized Kiev Patriarchate. This is highly independent of Russia and critically critical of the failure of the Moscow branch to condemn the Crimean annexation of Russia, and the continued support of the war in the east of this country.


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The local authorities in Bohorodchany say that what happened here is strictly legal and that the rooms of the priestly family are needed by the city's growing music school.

However, Father Volodymyr says it is a violent act, part of a wave of persecution that has sparked a Ukrainian state that wants to impose a nationalist will on the country's orthodox Christians.

He and his wife Vera show us some mobile phone shots of the incident: a heated argument, voices raised, local officials and a man of whom they say head the chapter of the right-wing sector, a Ukrainian nationalist political and paramilitary group. But there is no violence.

The congregation – young, old, very young, very old – listen to their priest's report that their church is contaminated, which could be called Stoic indignation. Certainly not unbelieving.

Many have already read it online. According to Volodymyr's Facebook page, which was received enthusiastically by Russian news sites, the marauders had beaten worshipers and priests alike, paved them on the street and acted so quickly that – surprisingly – nobody had time to film this piece.

But there is definitely something going on outside the church – and that comes from a white Toyota that goes up in flames. We had noticed it the first time the day before when we parked just outside the church gates when Father Volodymyr led us around. "They were watching us," he said. A man with a boxer body stood at the door of the passenger, leaning on the car roof and pointing his video camera at us. One of the Babushkas from the congregation had tried to throw it away, unsuccessfully.

The church was not always orthodox. The building is a typical Catholic church, an 18th century monument to the ruling Polish population worshiped here before fleeing or fleeing in 1944.

The occupation by the Nazis meant that the Jewish population had not even survived until then

Father Volodymyr leads us to the locked door of his former apartment, which shines his phone on the official seal and rattles the door handle to make a good impact. The sound echoes in the darkness. We are interrupted by a sharp metallic creak. It is the Toyota man who is again focused on us with his video camera. "Why are you filming?" yells Vera. "Stop – come here!"

The Toyota man is retreating – to his Toyota, which is now parked in the puddle garden. It tries to reverse. The tension turns into a farce as our black-clad Orthodox priest and his wife stand near the wagon.

"What are you doing here?" We ask the Toyota man, cornered with three friends in hoodies, between the potholes of a music schoolyard.

"We are the people who love Ukraine, these people do not love Ukraine, they are Russia."

He closes the window.

It's not the last time we see a Toyota man. He is alone and ready to wait outside the office of the head of the local authority when we interview him. What is a man intimidating a priest and his church here, we ask? "Maybe he wants to tell me something," smiles Franko Frankovich Ezhak. "Maybe he also wants to ask me questions. Today is my walk-in surgery day."

It feels like the church of the Holy Trinity could to get a new owner soon.

Nick Sturdee and Yalda Hakim from Ukraine for our world reportson BBC World News

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