The Ukrainian president has called on an Orthodox Christian leader to recognize the independence of his country's splinter church.

Orthodox Christians in Ukraine are divided between one church that is part of the Russian Orthodox Church and a splinter church under a Ukrainian leader that neither Moscow nor other Orthodox churches recognize.

President Petro Poroshenko on Thursday said he had petitioned Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, considered "the first among equals," to recognize the Ukrainian Church's independence which he said should help to overcome divisions in the country.

A day earlier, thousands of Russian Orthodox Christian pilgrims held a prayer in the capital Kiev at the end of a weeks-long holy procession across the country. Nationalist leaders had blocked the procession, decrying the pilgrims as traitors.