Ukrainian Orthodox Church leader Volodymyr dies

Kiev (AFP) - The head of Ukraine's Moscow-linked parish of the Orthodox Church died Saturday, the ex-Soviet country's largest Church said.

Metropolitan Volodymyr -- the leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriachate -- passed away in a Kiev clinic after suffering internal bleeding, local media said.

"Volodymyr has gone to the Lord," the church said in a statement.

Volodymyr, 78, had a long battle with cancer and Parkinson's disease.

He headed the Ukrainian wing of Russia's Orthodox church since 1992 and was seen as an inclusive figure during the recent upheavals in the country.

In Ukraine, Orthodox Christians make up the largest denomination but the faithful are split between two Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, one loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate and the other to the Kiev Patriarchate, set up following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Moscow-linked one is believed to be the largest, with more than 11,000 parishes, although it operates as a semi-autonomous Church that has resisted calls to return to the full jurisdiction of the Moscow patriarchate.

The pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine has deepened the country's religious divide but Volodymyr was perceived to be steering a middle course and not simply towing the line of the pro-Kremlin leadership of the parent church in Moscow.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate separated from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1992 following Ukraine's independence and has so far remained in bitter opposition to the Moscow Patriarchate.