The FINANCIAL -- KYIV. Ukrainian lawmakers have backed President Petro Poroshenko's appeal to the worldwide head of the Orthodox Church to recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox Church's independence from Moscow.
The vote in the Verkhovna Rada came days after Poroshenko met with the archbishop of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, during a trip to Istanbul.
The resolution was supported by 268 lawmakers, more than the minimum 226 votes needed, according to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.
Poroshenko in a speech to parliament on April 19 called the move an act of "restoring historical justice" and “unity.”
"Unity is our main weapon in the fight against the Russian aggressor," Poroshenko said. "This question… is about our finally acquiring independence from Moscow."
Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and continues to back separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 10,300 people since April 2014.
Poroshenko compared having an autocephalous church to Ukraine’s aspirations to join the European Union and NATO, "because the Kremlin regards the Russian [Orthodox] Church as one of the key tools of influence over Ukraine."
Poroshenko said on April 17 that the issue of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church getting autocephalous status may be considered by Orthodox Church leaders by July 28.
The parliamentary motion was opposed by the Opposition Bloc, a successor to the Russia-friendly former President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions that reformed after he was driven from power in February 2014 following months of mass street protests by pro-EU protesters.
Party leader Yuriy Boyko called the move a gambit by Poroshenko ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections next year.
"The presidential campaign begins with the most sensitive topic for society: the issue of religion,” he said. “The state has no right to interfere in religious matters."
The head of external relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion, said that the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches are “one.”
“Therefore, the Constantinople Patriarchate or any other church cannot unilaterally proclaim the autocephaly of any church," he added.
Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow opposes any attempt aimed at "splitting churches."
Kyiv has been trying to obtain autocephalous status for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church since 2016.