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By Corey Bailey and ICC Staff

8/14/2014 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) — Amid escalating violence in eastern Ukraine, evangelical Christians have increasingly found themselves caught in the deadly crosshairs of separatist rebels. These separatists, who claim to be defenders of Orthodox Christianity, are determined to purge Ukraine of any perceived threats to their Orthodox principles. Time and again, they have shown that they have no qualms with using abduction, beatings, and murder to achieve their aims. As the battle for Ukraine continues, persecution of Christians increases day by day.

Enemies of a Religious War

According to Sergey Rakhuba, president of Russian Ministries, the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine are suspicious of any Western or “foreign” influence that they deem to be immoral. Consequently, they count anyone who does not identify as Orthodox – especially evangelical Christians – as an enemy.

Rakhuba recalled an incident where the separatists raised the Orthodox flag atop a building in a town they had captured. “They announced publicly that their war is a religious war,” said Rakhuba. “[They] said they would fight any heretic, any Protestant, anyone who represents any Western immoral values.”

Brutally Murdered

In recent weeks, we have seen an uptick of church seizures, kidnappings, and brutal murders targeting evangelicals. Two recent events have been especially troubling to Ukrainian Christians.

In late July, four volunteers with Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC) were captured by pro-Russian rebels and ruthlessly beat to death. FEBC, which has been engaged in Christian broadcasting in Ukraine for two decades, said that these men were “passionately helping to spread the Gospel throughout Ukraine,” and were killed because of their Christian faith.

On June 9, armed separatists stormed into a church in Slavyansk during the Sunday morning service. They threw four young ministers into the back of a truck and drove away. Weeks later, members of the church discovered the bodies of the four men in a massive grave behind a pediatric hospital. Investigations from the local police revealed that the young men had been executed and then put into a car that was set on fire to eliminate evidence of their deaths.

Peter Dudnyk, the pastor of the church, later grieved over the incident in writing: “They shot the brothers for believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, teach us to forgive those who cause us harm and to pray for those who hate us!”

“I Cannot Abandon My Flock”

Though violence continues and worsens in war-torn Ukraine, many pastors have refused to leave the region. Even as separatist militants train their weapons on evangelicals and especially ministers, Rakhuba says that hundreds of pastors remain in order to continue caring for their congregations.

One pastor stated his reason for staying simply: “I’m staying here because I cannot abandon my flock. I cannot abandon those who are trapped here.”

Corey Bailey, Regional Manager for International Christian Concern, said, “The tide has turned against Evangelical and Protestant Christians in Ukraine. As long as Russian Separatists remain a strong presence in the country so will Christian persecution. Kidnapping, beatings and murder because someone does not share the same faith as you is unacceptable and should raise an outcry from the International Community. Religious Freedom is basic human right and must be defended.”

FOR INTERVIEWS CONTACT: Corey Baily, Regional Manager for Central Asia: [email protected]