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    KIEV, January 24, 2004. /RIA Novosti/. Russian and Ukrainian Presidents Vladimir Putin and Leonid Kuchma come out for the unity of the Orthodox Church.

    On Saturday Vladimir Putin met with hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra. Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine Vladimir, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, welcomed the Russian leader.

    Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma took part in the meeting.

    The Russian leader thanked them for the chance to visit the Lavra and gave them the brotherly regards of Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexis II. According to Putin, Alexis II has a residence in the most ancient building of the Kremlin and Moscow.

    "After radical historic changes in the 1990s the role and importance of the Orthodox Church has grown a lot," the Russian President stressed.

    Vladimir Putin is aware of the split of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. He has never interfered with church affairs but he knows that Ukrainian hierarchs much suffer from this split.

    "The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is independent having only canonical and spiritual links with the Russian Church. We should preserve this unity for the future generations," Vladimir Putin stressed.

    "We remember and understand that Russia's baptism happened here, on the Dnieper River. This is the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy," the President noted.

    According to Leonid Kuchma, he supports the unity of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. "It would be a great blessing for us," the Ukrainian leader said.

    In his words, the split led to new church trends. Some people go from one church to another, and from the other rostrum proclaim different ideas as it often happens in our parliament, he noted.

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