KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian police are stepping up pressure on Russian Orthodox priests and churches in several cities as Kiev pushes for the creation of an independent Ukrainian church.

A police statement issued on Monday said eight searches were taking place at the homes of Russian Orthodox priests and at churches as part of a criminal investigation into inciting hatred and violence.

The properties are located in Kiev and the nearby Zhytomyr region

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Istanbul-based institution that serves as a center of the global Eastern Orthodox faith, has drafted a charter for an independent Ukrainian church - a move Moscow fiercely opposes.

The strained ties between Ukraine and Russia are further deteriorating following a Nov. 25 naval clash in the Black Sea.

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