(Pope Francis (L) poses with Metropolitan Hilarion, the foreign minister of the Russian Orthodox Church, during a private meeting at the Vatican March 20, 2013. Pope Francis urged members of all religions and those belonging to no church on Wednesday to unite to defend justice, peace and the environment and not allow the value of a person to be reduced to "what he produces and what he consumes". REUTERS/Osservatore Romano)

(Metropolitan Hilarion (R), the foreign minister of the Russian Orthodox Church, with Pope Francis (L) at the Vatican March 20, 2013. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano)

A top cleric from the Russian Orthodox Church said he was refused entry to Ukraine this week amid an escalating stand-off between Moscow and Kiev over separatist unrest in Ukraine’s east.

The church’s Department of External Relations said its head, Metropolitan Hilarion, was turned back on Friday at the airport in the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk where he came to award a prize to a local cleric.

“I was given no explanation,” Hilarion told Russian state news channel Rossiya 24. “Apparently my name, and possibly the names of other Church hierarchs, are on a list of people who are banned from entering Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian border guard declined to comment.

Ukraine said last month it was introducing stricter border controls on Russian men “of active age” trying to enter the country as Kiev struggles to quell the unrest.