MOSCOW (RNS) A hospitalized Orthodox priest in western Ukraine hasabandoned his 49-day hunger strike after a bedside visit by the localmayor, who reached a compromise with the cleric over a property disputebetween two churches, the priest's son said Thursday (Dec. 6).

Father Stefan Derkach, 46, a priest in Chervonograd with theUkrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, broke his fast Wednesdayafter getting word that the Chervonograd city council voted to provide ahalf-acre plot for construction of a new church on the edge of the cityof 90,000 near the Polish border.

Derkach, who lost over 31 pounds while on the hunger strike, willlikely remain in the hospital for another week or two as he recovers,his son Ihor said.

"He is still in critical condition," said Ihor Derkach in a Thursdaytelephone interview, explaining how his father will only gradually beable to eat solid foods. "First he drank juice with water, then straightjuice and then just a spoonful of kasha."

Derkach's hunger strike, along with lesser hunger strikes by 60parishioners, was designed to get the city administration to grant theUkrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate the right to use St.Stefan's Church, a structure constructed in 1992 and now under thecontrol of their archrivals, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-KievPatriarchate.

According to Ihor Derkach, Moscow Patriarchate parishioners wereforcibly evicted by police in January 2000. Since then, worshippers havebeen holding services in a nearby four-room apartment or on the sidewalkin front of their old church.

On Dec. 3, Chervonograd Mayor Petro Olynik visited Stefan Derkach inhis hospital room and said he would call an emergency session of thecity council and ask council members to allot land for the constructionof a new church. The half-acre plot is exactly the same size and locatedabout 100 meters from another plot granted earlier to another parish ofthe Moscow Patriarchate, headed by Father Georgy Yakubvinsky.

"The mayor said he doesn't want Father Georgy to be able to say thatFather Stefan went on a hunger strike and got a better piece of land,"Ihor Derkach said.

Since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has been thescene of numerous bitter property disputes as Christians seek to set upparishes independent of the Moscow Patriarchate, the dominant,state-sanctioned faith under the Communist regime.