Dramatic photos: Ukraine’s priests take an active role in protests

A man kneels before an Orthodox priest in an area separating police and anti-government protestors near Dynamo Stadium on January 25, 2014 in Kiev. (Rob Stothard/Getty Images)

A man kneels before an Orthodox priest in an area separating police and anti-government protesters near Dynamo Stadium on Jan. 25, 2014, in Kiev. (Rob Stothard/Getty Images)

Christianity has deep roots in Ukraine. The majority of Ukrainians are not actively religious, according to polls, but Eastern Orthodoxy is still a major force here. It's the faith that most observant Ukrainians follow, though they're divided between the Kiev and Moscow Patriarchates. (A number of Ukrainians also follow Greek Catholicism.) But churches and priests are omnipresent in the country, and especially so in the protests that have racked Kiev and other cities since late November.

Ukraine's Orthodox and Catholic priests have been frequently seen on or near the front lines of the clashes, ministering to protesters and riot police alike, though at times some have appeared to more closely align themselves near the protesters. Perhaps this is because protesters, camped out for three months in Kiev's Independence Square, and having endured the overwhelming firepower of security forces, are in more immediate physical need. Perhaps it's because of the complex historical relationship between church and state dating to Soviet-era Ukraine. Or maybe it's just where those priests' individual sympathies lie.

Whatever the case, photos tracking the priests as they move between both sides of the physical conflict, as well as minister to the dead and wounded, provide strikingly powerful glimpses into life on the ground in crisis-racked Ukraine.

Priests of different faiths pray a protests during clashes with police in central Kiev (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Priests of different faiths pray  during clashes with police in central Kiev. (Sergei Chuzavkov/AP)

A man prays as people rest inside Mikhailovsky Zlatoverkhy Cathedral, which serves as a temporary shelter and a first-aid post for anti-government protesters, in Kiev. (REUTERS/Stringer)

A man prays as people rest inside Mikhailovsky Zlatoverkhy Cathedral, which serves as a temporary shelter and  first-aid post for anti-government protesters in Kiev. (Stringer/Reuters)

A clergyman walks as people rest inside Mikhailovsky Zlatoverkhy Cathedral (REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili)

A clergyman passes by people resting inside Mikhailovsky Zlatoverkhy Cathedral. (David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters)

A priest speaks through a megaphone to riot police and anti-government protesters at the site of recent clashes in Kiev (REUTERS/Konstantin Chernichkin)

A priest speaks through a megaphone to riot police and anti-government protesters at the site of recent clashes in Kiev (Konstantin Chernichkin/Reuters)

A Ukrainian woman supporting president Viktor Yanukovich, and a priest speak to a police line, in Kiev (EPA/IGOR KOVALENKO)

A Ukrainian woman supporting president Viktor Yanukovich and a priest speak to a line of police in Kiev. (Igor Kovalenko/EPA)

A priest blesses anti-government activists (REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

A priest blesses anti-government activists (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

A priest marches with anti-government protesters (AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS)

A priest marches with anti-government protesters. (Aris Messinis/AFP)

A priest blesses an anti-government protester at a road block in Kiev (ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)

A priest blesses an anti-government protester at a roadblock in Kiev. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

An Orthodox priest holds an icon as he stands in front of policemen in Kiev (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

An Orthodox priest holds an icon as he stands in front of policemen in Kiev. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

A Ukrainian priest walks at the site of clashes during another day of anti-government protest in Kiev (EPA/MAXIM SHIPENKOV)

A Ukrainian priest walks at the site of clashes during another day of anti-government protest in Kiev. (Maxim Shipenkov/EPA)

A priest talks to Ukranian riot police (REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko)

A priest talks to Ukranian riot police. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

A Ukrainian priest stands in front of a line of riot police as he takes part in a protest (EPA/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE)

A Ukrainian priest stands in front of a line of riot police during a protest (Zurab Kurtsikidze/AP)

A Ukrainian church priest blesses a fighter during clashes with riot police (EPA/MAXIM SHIPENKOV)

A Ukrainian church priest blesses a protester during clashes with police. (Maxim Shipenkov)

An orthodox priest stands amidst Ukrainian protesters, outside the European Council building in Brussels (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

An orthodox priest stands amidst Ukrainian protesters outside the European Council building in Brussels. (Yves Logghe/AP)

A priest tends to a wounded anti-government protester in the lobby of the Hotel Ukraine (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

A priest tends to a wounded anti-government protester in the lobby of the Hotel Ukraine. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

A priest stands in the lobby of the hotel Ukraine (REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili)

A priest stands in the lobby of the hotel Ukraine. (David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters)

An Orthodox priest walks under fire during clashes between anti-government protesters and riot police (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

An Orthodox priest walks under fire during clashes between anti-government protesters and riot police. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

A priest rushes to give the last sacraments to an anti-government protester during clashes with riot police in central Kiev (BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

A priest rushes to give the last sacraments to an anti-government protesters during clashes with riot police in central Kiev. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

An Otrthodox priest gestures after clashes between anti-government protesters and riot police (REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)

An Orthodox priest after clashes between anti-government protesters and riot police. (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

An Orthodox priest holds a cross as a woman reacts next to dead bodies following violence in Independence Square (REUTERS/Konstantin Chernichkin)

An Orthodox priest holds a cross as a woman reacts next to dead bodies following violence in Independence Square. (Konstantin Chernichkin/Reuters)

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