Christians in west of Ukraine prepare home already for refugees


Eastern Europe


Archive photo of refugees from the east of Ukraine in 2015. Photo AFP, Sergei Supinsky

If war breaks out in the east of Ukraine, Christians in the west will open their homes to give shelter to others. Baptists around Lviv are already making preparations.

Yaroslav “Slavik” Pyzh is president of the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary (UBTS) in Lviv, a city in the country’s west. Pyzh has studied in the USA and is interviewed therefore in the Baptist Press.

“If Russia invades, they will invade in the eastern part and northern part, and a little bit of south,” says Pyzh. “Churches already agreed. Those that are on 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.”

Anti-terror laws

Yaroslav Pyzh. Picture upfmissions.org

Suppose Russia enters Ukraine and occupies parts of the country. In that case, churches there will have to deal with the so-called Yarovaya legislation. This is the name for anti-terror measures taken in 2016. Part of that is that all outdoor evangelising is perceived as a threat to public safety.

Many churches beyond the Russian Orthodox Church are seen as non-official and, therefore, a sect. Especially Evangelical churches are suspected of being “foreign agents”. In that sense, it is not different from Soviet times. The Baptists were seen then as American spies already.

Split in Ukraine

The Lviv theologian Pyzh tells Baptist Press that a Russian occupation would lead to a split of Ukraine into two. Western Ukraine would remain as the residual body. It is not expected that Russia is coming that far.

Independent local churches in the (then) occupied east will go underground, Pyzh expects. “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.”

At his seminary in Lviv, there are about 400 of the 1,300 students from the eastern part of Ukraine, Pyzh says. The Ukrainian Baptist Union is an umbrella organisation for about 100,000 believers in 2,000 churches.

Church suffering in Donbas

In the separatist regions in Eastern Ukraine, Donbas and Luhansk, the church has been oppressed for some years already. The Dutch newspaper Nederlands Dagblad quotes the chairman of the Russian Evangelical Alliance, Vitaly Vlasenko. He says that the Donbas “is the region where the church suffers most”. In Luhansk, just a few Evangelical churches have been registered, whilst this seems to be easier in Donetsk.



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