The head of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being possessed by Satan — a comment certain to outrage tens of millions of faithful in both countries.
Patriarch Filaret issued a statement accusing the Russian leader of trying to “incite bloodshed and killings” in eastern Ukraine where pro-Moscow rebels have been waging a bloody five-month campaign to establish their own state.
He said that Ukrainians had repeatedly called on Putin “and his accomplices to come to their senses, stop sowing evil and death, and repent”.
“But it seems that he remains deaf to these calls and only multiplies evil because he, like Judas Iscariot, has become possessed by Satan,” Patriarch Filaret said.
Putin and his counterpart in Kiev, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, said on Saturday that the ceasefire between Ukrainian forces and rebels was mostly holding, but the truce still appeared fragile in its first full day as both sides of the conflict claimed violations.
A statement from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s office said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed steps “for giving the ceasefire a stable character” in a telephone conversation Saturday.
But, it said, both leaders assessed the ceasefire as having been “fulfilled as a whole.”
A separate Kremlin statement about the call said “There was a mutual satisfaction with the fact that the sides of the conflict were overall observing the ceasefire regime.”
Colonel Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s national security council, told reporters that rebels had fired at Ukrainian forces on 10 occasions on Friday night after the ceasefire was to take effect.
In Donetsk, the largest city controlled by the Russian-backed separatists, the night passed quietly — a rarity after several months of daily shelling in residential areas. But Alexander Zakharchenko, the top separatist leader from Donetsk, told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that the ceasefire had been violated with two rounds of shelling in the town of Amvrosiivka, about 50 kilometres southeast of Donetsk.
Fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government troops has ravaged Ukraine economy, claiming at least 2,600 civilian lives and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, according to United Nations estimates.
Patriarch Filaret’s strong words were in contrast to the tentative peace that has broken out in eastern Ukraine.
About 15 per cent of Ukrainians are believed to be members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.