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The True History of the Tithe Church

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Photo: The place where the illegally built chapel of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate stood on the territory of the National Historical Museum in Kyiv, Source: Mcip
Photo: The place where the illegally built chapel of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate stood on the territory of the National Historical Museum in Kyiv, Source: Mcip

 On 17 May 2024, following a court decision, Ukrainians demolished the so-called Church of the Tithes located on the grounds of the National Historical Museum in Kyiv. So-called because this chapel of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) was situated near the foundations of the original Church of the Tithes (Desiatynna tserkva), built at the end of the 10th century by Prince Volodymyr the Great, known worldwide as the baptiser of Kyivan Rus. 

The history of this "small architectural form," as this structure was officially classified, has been fraught with scandals, violations, and manipulations since its illegal construction in 2007. Even now, clergy directly subordinate to Moscow are attempting to distort the facts and present this demolition to the world as persecution of believers.

The appearance of this chapel and the very presence of the Moscow Patriarchate on UNESCO-protected territory is closely linked to the politicians of independent Ukraine. Both President Leonid Kuchma (1994–2005) and President Viktor Yanukovych (2010–2014), who were previously Prime Ministers of Ukraine, along with much of their entourage, strongly supported the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate due to their pro-Russian policies and personal ties with the Russian President and Patriarch. During their tenures, various Orthodox properties, including the main Ukrainian shrine, the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, were gradually transferred to the use of the Moscow Patriarchate.

From 1994 to 2013, almost 50% of the National Kyiv-Pechersk Historical and Cultural Reserve was handed over for free use to the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (ROC-MP). Despite Lavra's UNESCO protection, Moscow's clergy spent nearly 20 years constructing restaurants, cafes, hotels, and candle factories, destroying unique structures and the cultural and historical heritage of the Ukrainian people. In January 2014, a month before the bloodiest shootings on Maidan, Russian intelligence officer Igor Girkin, responsible for the capture of Donetsk and Luhansk regions and the downing of Malaysian Boeing MH17, was seen at the Lavra. It was here that militants, later found in the so-called "republics" of the Ukrainian Donbas, were prepared. Until the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Lavra became a stronghold of the "Russian world," including not only the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra but also the Pochaiv and Sviatohirsk Lavras.

With absolute support from state authorities, in 2004, the then-director of the National Museum of History of Ukraine, Serhiy Chaikovsky, granted the UOC-MP parish permission to establish a chapel on the museum grounds. First, a tent was set up for the Easter service, which was supposed to be taken down afterwards, but it remained standing. Later, it was replaced by a wooden chapel. In May 2011, trucks with construction trailers arrived at the museum site at night, and despite police prohibiting crane work, unidentified individuals proceeded with the construction without presenting any documents. Activists immediately contacted the prosecutor's office, but Kyiv's chief architect at the time, Serhiy Tselovalnyk, falsely assured that the trailers were for architects working on the excavation of the original Church of the Tithes. The wooden pavilion was then bricked up, decorated with stucco, and began to be called a "church." 

In 2012, the parish obtained ownership of the structure through the courts but not the land. The illegal "small architectural form" (SAF) sparked significant local opposition and scientific protests. In 2018, two Ukrainian architects even attempted to set it on fire to draw attention to the illegal construction and "land grab by Moscow clerics" of a site of immense importance to Ukraine. The same year, the National Museum of History of Ukraine filed a lawsuit to declare the illegal structure's ownership invalid. In 2021, the museum again filed a lawsuit to dismantle the illegal building, and only in September 2023 did the Northern Commercial Court of Appeal uphold the previous court's decision to remove the illegal structure. However, due to the war and lack of funds, implementing the court's decision was difficult, despite many volunteers willing to do it themselves. The National Museum of History of Ukraine announced a fundraiser for the SAF's demolition, and Ukrainians raised the required amount of 772,000 hryvnias within 24 hours, even exceeding the goal with 885,000 hryvnias.

The overnight demolition of the illegal structure triggered a significant reaction on social media – had it been done during the day, it would have been challenging to fend off those eager to participate in the process.

Historical Background


Photo: Fragment of the diorama "Volodymyr's City" in the Archeological Museum of Kyiv, Source: Wiki

The Tithe Church, or the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was erected in 989-996 by the order of Kyivan Prince Volodymyr Sviatoslavovych. In 988, Volodymyr the Great baptized Rus', making this church one of the first Christian structures in the territory of modern Ukraine. The name "Tithe" comes from the "tenth part" of the profits that the prince allocated for the construction of the church. Although there is a legend that the residents of Kyiv were also required to provide a tenth part of their income for the construction of this church. It was here that Volodymyr the Great, his wife Byzantine princess Anna, and the remains of Princess Olga from Vyshhorod were buried.

The Tithe Church suffered the most damage from the horde of Batu Khan. In the first half of the 17th century, Metropolitan Petro Mohyla began the reconstruction of the Tithe Church. According to modern researchers, Mohyla's reconstruction was the conservation of the authentic building, with only a small part being a new addition. Unfortunately, in the 19th century, the Tithe Church was taken over by the Russian landowner Alexander Annenkov from Kursk, who practically destroyed the historic building, replacing it with a new construction. Annenkov's contemporaries believed that he purchased the land under the Tithe Church solely to search for treasures from the princely era. Many artifacts found by him were lost forever, with only some preserved in various museums, including the Metropolitan Museum (New York, USA). In 1936, the church built by Annenkov was destroyed by the Soviet authorities, which by then had taken root in Kyiv.

The Tithe Church was located in the territory of the then princely city - Kyiv Dytynets. Accordingly, the entire area around the church has great historical and scientific significance. Unfortunately, during the Soviet period, not only churches but also any material traces of Ukrainian cultural and architectural heritage were destroyed - palaces were demolished, the remains of princes disappeared from graves, valuable Ukrainian artifacts were exported and never returned to Ukraine. In 2012, the Tithe Church Museum was created, and you can see how the church itself looked on a 3D model.



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