Ukrainian police search homes of Russian Orthodox priests

Ukrainian police search homes of Russian Orthodox priests
An Orthodox priest conducts a blessing service in front of the Soyuz FG rocket at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. The new Soyuz mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled on Monday, Dec. 3 with U.S. astronaut Anne McClain, Russian cosmonaut Оleg Kononenko‎ and CSA astronaut David Saint Jacques. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian police are stepping up pressure on Russian Orthodox priests and churches in several cities as Kiev pushes for the creation of an independent Ukrainian church.

A police statement issued on Monday said eight searches were taking place at the homes of Russian Orthodox priests and at churches as part of a criminal investigation into inciting hatred and violence.

The properties are located in Kiev and the nearby Zhytomyr region

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Istanbul-based institution that serves as a center of the global Eastern Orthodox faith, has drafted a charter for an independent Ukrainian church – a move Moscow fiercely opposes.

The strained ties between Ukraine and Russia are further deteriorating following a Nov. 25 naval clash in the Black Sea.