By Mark Ellis –
President Vladimir Putin’s Faustian bargain with the Russian Orthodox Church has allowed persecution to steadily increase in Russia.
In 2017, the U.S. Commission on Intl. Religious Freedom classified Russia as one of the world’s worst violators of religious liberty, for having “continually intensified its repression of religious freedom…and expanded its repressive policies….ranging from administrative harassment to arbitrary imprisonment to extrajudicial killing.”
Five years ago, Russian Special Forces parachuted into Crimea and took over the government, which caused conflict to erupt between Russia and Ukraine.
After Russia annexed Crimea, 38 out of 46 Ukrainian Orthodox Church ceased to exist; in three instances the Russian authorities seized them.
“In Russian occupied Crimea, prosecutions of religious believers have doubled and continues rising. Any believer not belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church such as Protestants, Jehovah Witnesses, or Muslims, are in danger,” according to a report by Mercy Projects.
In 2014, after invading Crimea, Russian forces secretly moved into eastern Ukraine, which caused one million refugees to flee from four key cities. While Russian forces retreated from two of the cities, they continue to maintain a hold on Donetsk and Luhansk. Border skirmishes are still happening almost every day.
A Ukrainian believer named Evgeniy, affiliated with Mercy Projects, has been caught in the crossfire in Eastern Ukraine and imprisoned twice by pro-Russian separatists while attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to the afflicted.
“The first time I was captured was in May 2014, in Slavyansk,” Evgeniy told Mercy Projects. “It was occupied during this time and we brought humanitarian aid and took ill people who couldn’t move themselves. The separatist forces took our cars and said we weren’t allowed to take away these ill people.”
As punishment, they put Evgeniy in jail for 15 days. “Then they found a Bible in my car and said I was an American spy,” he told Mercy Projects.
“If you are a Christian or a spy it’s the same! It’s not possible to change people. You should be killed!’” they told Evgeniy.
But then God did something amazing.
“During my second time in prison, it was a miracle, but on the third day we somehow escaped. It was like the book of Acts when an angel opened the doors of the prison cell,” he told Mercy Projects.
“It was a miracle. Today, I am grateful that God continues to use me in this ministry. We can laugh now but it was very dangerous and very serious.”
Another believer helping Mercy Projects, Sergei, considers himself a
missionary to displaced families. When Donetsk came under siege, he fled with his wife and children. “For people who live close to the front lines it is a very traumatizing situation,” he told Mercy Projects. “They hear bombs and bullets and get displaced. Sadly however, most people in other parts of Ukraine don’t notice the war anymore.”
“Many displaced people, and soldiers as well, are inspired when they hear that we too were impacted by the war. We are from Donetsk. We fled, but we continue to live near the front lines and help people. We do not hate Russians living in Ukraine as refugees. Our attitude shows them God’s love, and this is more important than the things we bring,” he said.
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