The visit to Ukraine of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill I, which arrived in Kiev on Thursday, started in controversy when a woman from the Ukrainian women's right group FEMEN performed an act of protest against the patriarch, crashing the welcoming ceremony at the airport.
Alexander Volkov, the head of the patriarchal press service, was quick to condemn the episode. "It is very deplorable that people would try to mar Patriarch Kirill's visit to Ukraine with such escapades," Volkov said after the incident occurred.
The FEMEN activist approached the patriarch topless as he talked to the journalists present at the airport and shouted 'Go Away!' before security stopped her.
According to Volkov the episode demonstrates that "many people understand that Patriarch Kirill's visit to Ukraine is a huge and significant event."
"Such incidents cannot overshadow the primate's visit by any means but can only manifest a deep spiritual crisis in certain categories of society," he added.
Meanwhile, activists of the all-Ukrainian nationalistic association Freedom held a separate protest against Patriarch Kirill's visit to Ukraine near the Ukrainian presidential compound in Kiev. About 30 Freedom members gathered near the fence that surrounds the presidential compound on Bankova Street. They waved party flags and held banners with captions such as "Down with the Moscow occupiers," "For a united local Orthodox church with center in Kiev" and "Down with the Muscovite colonizer priest."
Policemen deployed on site made sure that the protesters did not cross the cordoned area.
Freedom had previously planned to hold two protests against Patriarch Kirill's visit - one near the Kiev Pechersk Lavra monastery on July 26 and the second on European Square on July 27. The Kiev District Administrative Court, however, banned the actions.
In response to the court's decision, Freedom called on its activists to gather near the presidential administration building. "We will ask the government why it is groveling before the Kremlin," a Freedom activist said.
In the mean time, a court ban on mass actions in the center of Kiev is supposed to remain in effect until September 1. The ban was imposed on July 3, when protesters gathered near the Ukrainian House in the center of Kiev to demonstrate against a new language policy bill.
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