Villages torn as Ukraine shuns Moscow-linked church

STORY: A quarrel over the affiliation of the village church. Voices are raised and it ends in tears.

The parish in Karyshkiv in western Ukraine belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church or UOC, which Kyiv says is under the influence of Moscow.

"Russia kills us, rapes us," this woman says.

It's also about the language. "We must pray in Ukrainian!" she says.

The UOC uses Church Slavonic - an archaic religious language with similarities to Russian.

Most here want to switch to a new church backed by the government, as hundreds of other communities have voted to do since Russia invaded.

But not everyone wants that. This is no time to quarrel, another woman says.

Reuters visited two villages in late April in the western region of Vinnytsia. Dozens of residents spoke of a deep rift in their communities.

In neighboring Hrabivtsi, parishioners voted in March for their 300-year-old church to switch to the Kyiv-backed - and similarly named - Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

Towns and villages across Ukraine have held such votes.

Serhiy Fretsyuk is the local librarian.

"I think it's right that we switched because Russia is the aggressor, and it will forever remain the aggressor. Ties with them must be severed."

Ukrainian authorities have cracked down on the UOC since Russia's invasion.

More than 60 criminal cases have been opened against its clergy, many accused of collaboration and spreading pro-Russian propaganda.

A legal battle is also raging to evict the church from its historic monastery headquarters in Kyiv, one of the holiest sites in the Orthodox Church.

Authorities are encouraging people to sever all ties with Russia, but there are deep-rooted relationships that go back centuries.

Olga Hrebenyuk sings in the choir.

"There is no reason to be sad. The others will realize later and make the switch. It’s difficult for them because we got used to (singing in) Church Slavonic, but now we need to switch. For some it’s hard, for others it's easier."

"There’s a barrier, like when a man goes to another woman. There’s something not quite right."

The UOC denies being allied to Moscow and says it has seen no evidence of wrongdoing by its clergy.

Many of its believers are patriots fighting Russian forces, it says.

Despite that, polls show Ukrainians turning their back on the church in droves.