Rebel leaders in the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic, seized from Ukraine in 2014, have declared all unregistered religious groups illegal.
Protestant, Seventh Day Adventist and Pentecostal churches have all had their applications rejected: the 48 Baptist churches in the region did not apply to register on principle.
Baptist leaders say that they are complying with the ban because they fear that their services will be raided or they will be arrested. Other churches have closed too and some pastors have reportedly left the region. Local Christians believe they are under surveillance.
Already, certain Baptist leaders have been targeted for persecution. Pastor Anatoly Tolstenko, who is 82, is on trial for leading ‘illegal worship’ after rebel fighters raided his Path of Salvation Church in Luhansk last month. Militants say they found banned ‘extremist’ literature at the church: local Christians say it had been planted there.
Russian-backed rebels control about a third of Ukraine’s Luhansk Region and about half of neighbouring Donetsk Region.
Sources: Forum 18, Release International
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