KIEV, Ukraine (AP) _ The leader of Ukraine's Orthodox church was attacked Friday by a crowd of people armed with iron bars after a ceremony at a site where a new cathedral was to be built.

Ukraine's Interior Ministry said nine people were injured in the incident, but did not mention whether Patriarch Filaret was among those hurt.

Filaret's office said followers of a rival Orthodox church were responsible for the attack, which it said injured ``dozens of people,'' including Filaret and his secretary.

Filaret suffered unspecified injuries and was under doctors' supervision, his office said without elaboration. Filaret's secretary was hospitalized and his car was destroyed, his office said.

Officials of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, which is allied with the Russian Orthodox Church, were not available for comment, said a monk answering telephones at the patriarchate.

Ukraine, a mostly Christian Orthodox nation of 50 million people, has been torn by church conflicts over property and believers since the religious revival that preceded the 1991 Soviet collapse.

Friday's incident highlighted the bitter rift between the larger Moscow-affiliated church and Filaret's Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate, which broke away from Moscow seven years ago.

An Interior Ministry statement said Filaret and eight priests from his church were attacked by 80 followers of the Moscow-linked church. Five of Filaret's supporters and four foes were injured in the scuffle but none were hospitalized, it said.

A spokesman at Filaret's office said President Leonid Kuchma had ordered a criminal investigation.

The conflict in Mariupol, a town in southern Ukraine 400 miles from Kiev, appeared to be the most serious incident since 1995, when police forcefully dispersed Kiev Patriarchate followers as they tried to bury Filaret's predecessor in Kiev's ancient St. Sophia Cathedral.