Orthodox monks pray next to soldiers in Balaclava. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)
The crisis in Ukraine continues to escalate and there is no clear path to ending it.
We asked two prominent Ukrainian evangelicals to help the international community make sense of the crisis and offer thoughts on what the global church can do.
Pavel Unguryan served as a member of Parliament from 2008-2012 and currently is the Vice Minister of Environment and Natural Resources.
Anatoliy Glukhovskyy is the International Deputy Director of Lausanne Movement for Eurasia and is a founder of the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary and recently Recon Media School
Why has this crisis erupted?
Glukhovskyy: For Ukrainians, it is a third chance to do something with its destiny. God gave Ukraine freedom from Soviet Russia in 1991 when 90.32% of people voted for independence and that time not even one person was killed.
In 2004, Ukraine made worldwide headlines with the “Orange Revolution” during the 2004 presidential race that overturned the results of the election. With close to a million people in downtown Kiev, not even a drop of blood was shed.
Unfortunately, it is not the case this time. Why is Ukraine paying such a high price today?
The first reason for this failure is the strong division among leaders who are more focused on personal agendas, unwilling to stay united for the common good and to create a vision for a better future.
The ethnic make-up of the Ukraine’s population is: Ukrainian (73%); Russian (22%); Jews, Poles, Hungarians, Greeks, Romanians and others account for the remaining. The majority of Ukrainians and even Russian-speaking citizens do not want to have a part in any ‘Russian world’ empire that is still using tanks as part of their argument.
During the last two months of 2013 and until this day, the conflict between post-Maidan Ukraine and Putin’s Russia has grown into an unannounced war. The map of Ukraine is under pressure to be altered. The annexation of Crimea and the war with pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Lugansk provinces of Ukraine is leading toward even bigger geopolitical changes.
How has this affected Protestant Christians in the conflict regions?
Unguryan: Religiously, Eastern Orthodoxy and irreligious are the majority. Only 3.9% of the population is Protestant, who suffered severe persecution under Communism.
Several months ago four ministers in Slavyansk Pentecostal church were dragged out of the church by the violent armed rebels, accusing these ministers of being American spies who are aiding the Ukrainian army.
The separatists took possession of their vehicles and drove these brothers away in an unknown direction. Parts of their tortured bodies were later found and identified.
Very frequently the Christian ministers are humiliated, tortured, kidnapped and even killed for their Christian ministry and commitment to the principles of Jesus. Because the church has demonstrated boldness, unity and love to the people, the trust to Christians and churches has become incredible. The churches are crowded with new people who saw Christians in actions and were drawn to different congregations despite the threat of being prosecuted.
The armed separatists repeatedly broke into the churches or believers’ homes and furiously shouted: “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. 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.
How have Christians been a force for good?
Unguryan: On Wednesday, June 11 the members of parliament and international guests gathered for the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast which has become a tradition for Ukraine.
While one part of Ukraine in the East saw shooting and violence as a result of severe confrontation and clashes of the military troops with the armed separatists, the capital of Ukraine saw politicians and government leaders humble themselves in prayers to God for peace. It was a unique gathering where politicians from different parties could put aside their differences and hostility and unite in the spirit of Jesus.
The Prayer Breakfast was a historic event not only because it took place during the historic times but also because now after the “Revolution of Glory” we witness the formation of the new Ukraine with the rule of law, true democracy and Christian principles. The National Prayer Breakfasts are the long-standing tradition of the U.S., Germany and European countries whose delegates came to support Ukraine in its struggle for closer ties with the West.
The group regularly meets to read the Scripture, pray and have fellowship around the name of Jesus. This is an incredible phenomenon especially at the place which still has some communist symbols and where not so long ago the laws were passed to promote atheism and suppress Christianity. The prayer groups’ activity is aimed to promote spirituality, morality and Christian principles. It also exists to fight for the purity of Internet and television, to oppose the spread of tobacco smoking, alcoholism, drug addiction, child pornography, prostitution and other negative phenomena.
The Prayer Breakfast took place under the auspices of Ukraine’s Parliament President – Dr. Olexandr Turchinov. He is known as a preacher of one of the Kiev Churches and a strong political figure who has been appointed as an interim President after bloody revolution in the country. Our prayer group which exists in the Parliament since 2008 has been a moving force for the Prayer Events and Gathering in the Parliament of Ukraine.
What is your message to the global Church?
Glukhovskyy: The war is terrible, but at the same time, it is an opportunity for a nation to take on the challenge of change. The torturous choice between Russia/CIS and Europe/USA is not about geographical change, but has to do with theological and even more with moral, ethical and spiritual challenges.
Maybe it is not about Ukraine only. While the Western elite are not united in their understanding about what to do with Russia, many have the courage to say that only a transformed Ukraine could be an answer to its Russian neighbor’s future. Only a truly free Ukraine might be able to help Russia become democratic to the point of believing and living according to eternal core values.
Things will not get better apart from God. The present circumstances have made it clear that the church can no longer remain in isolation but ought to be impacting and engaging society. Some items for prayer and action:
- Food banks and help with medical treatment is an urgent need in Ukraine.
- The evangelical church in Ukraine would deeply appreciate advice and assistance in developing a strategic map for the spiritual, cultural and intellectual development of the nation.
- The Western world could provide significant impact through offering cash, credits, and diplomacy. The Global church could help immensely by initiating regular consultations on cutting edge challenges under the umbrella of WEA or Lausanne.
- Terrorism should not give reasons for believers to panic and create fear.
- Russian Evangelicals cannot understand why Ukrainians want to be independent. A ministry of reconciliation between two Slavic nations and churches would not be possible without experienced mediators (leader, organization, teams) through other nations.
- The Local church should not be far from the global church during this age of new media. Working together means celebrating together, and even crying together for awhile (Habbakuk 3:17-19).
Unguryan: During the last 12 months our nation has undergone many trials, saw lots of tears and lost many innocent lives. Such sufferings united us and made us turn to God for help and redemption.
Every day people die in the East of Ukraine where armed insurgents and hired terrorists fight with Ukrainian army to split the country apart and ruin our unity. The war leaves the entire villages and town blocks in ashes. Churches are getting destroyed, the homes of believers are getting burned down and the Christians are targeted by pro-Russian separatists. The destruction is indescribable and it will take years to restore the infrastructure and renew the people’s lives.
Today more than ever we need your prayers and support of the Global church. We ask you kindly to keep praying for Ukraine.
Today the global community joins efforts to stop the spread of violence in Ukraine. As Christians we know that only God who is a Prince of Peace is capable to give peace to Ukraine. We ask all the leaders to pray fervently to the Lord and ask His intervention. We are also 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.
To learn more and to find ways to engage:
Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC) has been broadcasting the gospel in Russia since the late 1940s and in Ukraine since the 1990s. Rebel forces in eastern Ukraine have taken down the towers of their two radio stations in the fighting. Four volunteers were kidnapped and murdered. To learn how to more specifically pray for and support the work of FEBC, visit their website dedicated to work for peace in Russia and Ukraine.
The Pacific Coast Slavic Baptist Association (PCSBA) is collecting funds for humanitarian aid in Ukraine. For more information, contact Nickolay Bugriev, President.