Pro-Russian separatists are increasingly targeting evangelical Christians in eastern Ukraine—beating, torturing and even killing them.
Such has been the escalation of attacks in recent months in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Evangelical leaders have issued a statement calling out religious persecution and calling on the international community to prevent the situation from worsening even more.
The attacks include the killing of four Baptists, who were dragged out of their church in Slavyansk in June and whose bodies were found in a mass grave in July.
The statement, signed by nine church leaders, including Valery Antonyuk, chairman of the Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian-Baptists, describes the “purposeful attacks of armed militants against Evangelicals.”
The incidents “have occurred repeatedly,” the statement continues, carried out by the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.
They include “abductions, beatings, torture, threats of execution, pogroms at the places of prayer meetings, captures of prayer houses, rehabilitation centers and other places of worship and ancillary facilities, inflicting harm on personal health and personal property of pastors and clerics.”
Calling on the international community to step in, the leaders state, “We are convinced that the whole world community must condemn the oppression of religious freedom in the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions, which reached up to the level of physical massacre … including the real threat to the life of Evangelical Christians in the east of Ukraine.”
“We ask believers all around the world to join our prayers for peace in the east of Ukraine, for stopping terrorism and bloodshed, for restoration of normal life and wholeness of the rights and freedoms of the citizens of Ukraine who live in Donetsk and Luhansk Regions, regardless of their nationality, religion, language and worldview.”
The worrying situation was confirmed by Baptist Pavel Unguryan, who is currently vice minister of environment and natural resources of Ukraine.
He explained that they are being targeted for several reasons, such as helping wounded Ukrainian soldiers and an association with the West.
“Unfortunately, the incidents are becoming systematic and create a real threat to the lives of Christians,” Unguryan said. “The armed separatists are repeatedly breaking into the churches or believers’ homes and furiously shouting, ‘Our faith is Orthodox and you are traitors. You are American subjects and agents so we are going to eliminate you.'”
“They are intimidating Christians because they are the ones who render most of the assistance to the wounded, hungry and hurting people,” Unguryan said. “Even when Christians from different denominations come together on central squares to pray, they are also attacked and threatened with severe punishment if they continue. It seems like even the prayer irritates the separatists, who claim that they are protecting the people from Ukrainian Western government.”
Unguryan said in many places the Christians, motivated by their faith, are actually helping the insurgents.
“They equally treat Ukrainian soldiers who need medical care and the insurgents who are bleeding or need help. This kind of love bewilders insurgents and separatists and conquers them more than any weapon.”
“The local people see the authentic love and dedication to the Lord and as a result are drawn to the church despite the threat of being prosecuted,” he said.
Unguryan, who coordinates the prayer group in the Ukraine Parliament, urged Baptists to “pray fervently to the Lord and ask his intervention. He is the only one who is capable to bring about peace and stop the bloodshed.”
Second, he said, “we are in need of humanitarian and financial aid to provide shelter for the refugees, feed and clothe the people, treat the wounded, rebuild ministers’ homes and destroyed churches.”
Paul Hobson is the news editor of The Baptist Times, the online newspaper of The Baptist Union of Great Britain. A version of this news article first appeared on The Baptist Times website and is used with permission. You can follow the Baptist Times on Twitter @BaptistTimes and the Baptist Union @BaptistUnionGB.
Editor’s note: The European Baptist Federation reported in late July that Donetsk Christian University had been forced to evacuate its buildings by pro-Russian separatists who took over the campus.
Paul Hobson is editor of The Baptist Times of Great Britain, the online newspaper of the Baptist Union of Great Britain.