As Russia launches a military assault on Ukraine, our Ukrainian church family asks for prayer. Many Christians have not forgotten the persecution they suffered under the Soviet Union only decades ago, but they are determined to keep sharing the gospel. Please pray for them as this situation unfolds.
Churches in eastern Ukraine are prepared to go underground if Russia succeeds in taking control of that part of the country.
Russia has begun its invasion of Ukraine, and churches in the western part of the country are preparing themselves, according to the president of the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary, Yarsolav “Slavik” Pyzh. “Churches already agreed,” he says. “Those that are in the western part of Ukraine… told our brothers and sisters in other parts of Ukraine [that] if something happens, we will open our homes and our churches to you.”
Church has not forgotten persecution under Soviet Union
Persecution is not new to the church in Ukraine. Pyzh shares, “You have to understand that historically we had that experience before under the Soviet Union. So the church did not forget what it means to be persecuted, and I think that we will rearrange, reorganise, and still do what we always do: still preach the gospel.”
Open Doors ‘calls on all parties to actively protect religious freedom, which includes recognising and protecting the right of all Christians – Orthodox and non-Orthodox – to gather and worship freely, in private or in public, en masse or individually,’ a spokesperson said. “We urge authorities in all regions to provide legal recognition of churches regardless of their registration status or size of their congregation, allowing them to function peacefully with equal access to all resources.”
Church under pressure in eastern Ukraine
Churches in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region have been under increasing pressure since 2014 after anti-government protests led to a Russia-backed uprising in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, where rebels established self-proclaimed independent republics.
Authorities in both self-declared republics have imposed rules, requiring religious organisations to register. Complying with the rule turned out to be extremely difficult for churches other than those aligned with the Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox Church. A December 2019 list of 195 registered religious organisations by the Luhansk authorities showed that no permission had been granted to any Protestant community.
In November, the European Evangelical Alliance declared Donbas to be the area in Europe ‘where the church suffers most’ because of conflict and religious freedom violations.
“As in the old days of the Soviet Union, the obligation to register with the authorities is being used to make certain Christian activities illegal. No registration means no access to gas, electricity or water – hence making church activities virtually impossible,” said Rolf Zeegers, persecution analyst with Open Doors’ World Watch Research.
As the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics are not officially recognised by the international community other than by Russia, they are not bound by international human rights law.
Please pray for our church family in Ukraine.