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Head of Ukraine's Orthodox Church dies at 78 after over 20 years as leader

The head of Ukraine's Orthodox Church has died at 78 after leading it for more than two decades.

The church announced online Saturday that Metropolitan Volodymyr, who has been credited with stabilizing the church during the tumultuous post-Soviet period, died Saturday "after a long illness."

In his more than 20 years as head of the country's largest church, Volodymyr weathered the breakaway of two groups that declared themselves independent of the Moscow Patriarchate that incorporates the Ukrainian church. Observers say he succeeded in preventing even more splits.

Recently, Volodymyr often reflected pro-Russian opinions in Ukraine, where fighting between the Kiev government and a separatist insurgency in the east of the country has claimed over 400 lives.