UKRAINE: Church Leaders Targeted by Russian Forces

01 March 2023

UKRAINE Church Leaders Targeted by Russian Forces
Source: Release International, Forum 18

Church leaders in Ukraine are being singled out for persecution by Russian forces in occupied areas.

Evangelical pastors have been arrested, interrogated, tortured and even expelled from their towns by the Russian military and their supporters.

Occupying forces have confiscated church buildings and Christians have received harsh treatment at Russian military checkpoints.

According to reports, Russian forces broke into a Baptist worship meeting in occupied Berdyansk in Zaporizhzhia. After checking the identity of everyone present, they searched the church and sealed it. The next day they seized another Baptist church nearby. Later that month, Russian forces seized a priest of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in occupied Kherson.

Before the war Pastor Ivan led a growing congregation of more than 200 people in a town in the Kharkiv region. He also supported a thriving network of five evangelical churches in the area.

Last spring when the Russian military was poised to take the town many fled, including families with young children. Only some elderly people remained. Pastor Ivan and his wife Viktoria stayed behind too. They felt called by God to serve the elderly and vulnerable in their occupied town. So, they did what they could to provide those who remained with food, prayer, and comfort from the Bible.

But the Russian forces came to Pastor Ivan’s home to arrest him. They threw him into prison and tortured him, accusing him of being an American spy. They are suspicious that evangelical pastors are agents of the West. Enduring their beatings, Pastor Ivan tried to talk about God with them. And when he was stuck in a tiny cell with eight other prisoners, he prayed for them.

Two days later the Russian soldiers interrogated him again and beat him so badly he thought he would die. “After that second interrogation, I thought I was dying. Other prisoners tried to help me and called for help. The Russians sent me to a hospital, which I believe was divine grace and intervention. I believe God saved my life through the Ukrainian doctors who helped me.”

After two weeks, Pastor Ivan was allowed home where he recovered slowly. As the Russians tightened their grip Pastor Ivan and Viktoria left for Poland. However, as soon as their town was liberated by Ukrainian forces, they returned.

According to Paul Robinson, the CEO of VOM’s partner ministry, Release International “Pastor Ivan is again leading a congregation of more than 300 people, many of whom are new to church. God is using him and others like him to share the gospel and to help people in practical ways in the liberated areas of eastern Ukraine.”

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