Attackers target church in Ukraine amid religious split

In this photo taken Nov. 6, 2018, the 18th century Saint Andrew's Church in Kiev, Ukraine. The Ukrainian parliament has approved a bill to hand over St. Andrew's Church to Constantinople Ecumenical Patriarchate for service, religious rites, and ceremonies. The bill entered into force Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said that the transfer of St. Andrew's Church to Constantinople is another step towards the main goal of obtaining Tomos on autocephaly of the Ukrainian church. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

MOSCOW (AP) — The Ukrainian Orthodox Church says unknown attackers hurled Molotov cocktails at the landmark St. Andrew’s Church in the capital Kiev and assaulted a priest.

The attack followed a move by the Patriarch of Constantinople to pave the way for the independence of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine from the Russian branch of the church.

Ukrainian Orthodox Church spokesman Evstratiy Zorya said Thursday that unknown men threw Molotov cocktails at the church in the morning and attacked a priest with pepper spray.

The imminent creation of the new Ukrainian church has raised concerns of violence between backers and opponents of the church split.

Ukraine last week turned over St. Andrew’s Church for permanent use by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople whose leader is regarded as “first among equals” for Orthodox Christians.

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.