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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine Jails Leaders Of Brotherhood Cult

COMBINED REPORTS


KIEV -- A Ukrainian court Friday sentenced leaders of the doomsday White Brotherhood religious sect to prison terms for inciting mass disorder and seizing state property.


The decision ended a trial process that lasted for more than two years, and was the first such ruling against a religious group in Ukraine since the collapse of the officially atheistic Soviet Union in 1991.


Cult leader Yury Krivonogov, who proclaimed his wife Maria Tsvigun the Virgin Mary and "living God on earth," was sentenced to seven years in prison.


Tsvigun was given four years, and Vitaly Kovalchuk, a leading brotherhood priest, was sentenced to six years.


Under Krivonogov's leadership, the group urged believers to gather at Kiev's ancient St. Sofia's Cathedral for Judgment Day on Nov. 10, 1993, to witness Maria set herself on fire. She was later supposed to be resurrected.


Some 200 people, about half of them children, gathered at the 11th-century shrine, now a state museum. After a scuffle with police, cult leaders and several followers were arrested.


The three were fined the equivalent of $300 for damage caused to the cathedral when they seized it and sprayed icons with a fire extinguisher during a scuffle with police.


Officials have accused the group's leaders of brainwashing their followers, especially youths and inflicting serious psychological damage. They were convicted Friday of inciting mass disorder, "infringing on the health of citizens for religious rites," injuring four police officers and illegally seizing state property.


The sentences were in line with the Kiev city prosecutor's demands.


The case gripped much of Ukraine, which has witnessed the spread of many nontraditional religious groups since the Soviet collapse.


White Brotherhood, a pan-Slav group which has been active since 1990, was one of the more extreme, and its activities were banned by the Ukrainian government in 1992.


Ukrainian police estimate the group has about 12,000 followers in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics. A few dozen believers attended the sentencing, some of them weeping and protesting. ()