Four Protestant churches are currently experiencing harassment by officials in areas now under Russian control, Voice of the Martyrs Korea has confirmed. The organization is also investigating reports of two pastors from the region currently being held without charge in unknown locations.
“Three churches in the Donetsk Region–Central Baptist Church and the Church of Christ the Saviour in Mariupol, and a church in Manhush—as well as a church in Vasilievka in the Zaporozhye region have recently been visited by officials or soldiers who conducted searches, confiscated equipment, demanded documents, and in one case even forcibly evacuated church members from their building,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr Hyun Sook Foley.
Voice of the Martyrs Korea operates “Голос Мучеников – Корея”, a Russian language edition of its popular Facebook page on Christian persecution. Representative Foley says the organization also maintains private channels of communication with Christians and churches who are currently in areas of armed conflict, including those in the Donetsk and Zaporozhye regions.
Representative Foley says that church leaders in the region are asking for prayer.
“Back in March, Central Baptist Church in Mariupol buried two martyred church members who were part of a group of five whose van was hit by a grenade as they were doing deliveries and caring for 200 people living in the church basement as the city came under attack,” said Representative Foley. “Now the city is under Russian control. The church building itself was destroyed. Only the basement remains. On Sunday June 12, the remaining church members, less than a hundred, were gathered together for worship. Armed men came with threats and demanded the church’s registration documents. Unfortunately, the armed men were given the original documents, which they took with them.”
Representative Foley says Voice of the Martyrs Korea also received a report that on June 15 or 16, officials came to a minister of the Church of Christ the Saviour in Mariupol and asked to see the church’s registration. “The minister told the officials that the leader of the church had the documentation but was not presently in the city,” says Representative Foley. “The officials then directed him to visit their office regarding the church registration. He visited, and fortunately at this point the officials have told him they have no further questions.”
Representative Foley says the outcome was more severe in the village of Manhush, 30 km away from Mariupol. “Voice of the Martyrs Korea received reports that on June 15 or 16, the Russian military drove the believers out of their prayer house and rehabilitation center building,” Representative Foley says.
A minister from the church in Vasilievka similarly reported a visit from authorities on June 15-16, according to Voice of the Martyrs Korea. Representative Foley shared the minister’s report: “A few FSB officers came to the prayer house, registered everyone, said that they were closing the church and there would be no further meetings. Then officers went to the presbyter’s house, carried out a search, took away laptops and phones for checking. The official said that this was not all. We need God’s support and protection of our family members and the church.”
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is also investigating reports of two church leaders from the region who have been arrested and are currently being held without charge in secret locations by authorities. “The Defense Headquarters of the Zaporizhia Territory is reporting that Nikolai Zholovan, a Baptist pastor in Vasilyevka, was abducted by authorities on June 18. Also on June 18, Valentin Zhuravlev, pastor of the Melitopol Source of Life Church who is also a local veterinarian, was reportedly taken away by armed Russian soldiers while he was participating in a non-political interfaith prayer event in the city square, according to eyewitnesses,” says Representative Foley.
Representative Foley says that churches in these regions continue to operate despite the difficult conditions. “Believers have told us that they are trying to restore their church buildings to usable condition, but it is difficult due to the lack of building materials, electricity, and outside communication,” says Representative Foley. “One church leader told us that the occupying authorities don’t permit humanitarian aid from Ukraine, America, or Europe to enter into Mariupol. But he said that Russian Evangelical Christians are now helping their fellow believers in the city.”
According to Representative Foley, not all churches in the region are being harassed. “One church leader told us that nobody is bothering them at all. They are able to do their worship services freely and are working to help restore the damaged buildings of other churches.”
Representative Foley says, “A church leader speculated to us that the occupation authorities may be focusing on churches that have Ukrainian registration. They may be leaving alone the churches that typically don’t register with governments, like unregistered Baptist churches. Leaders tell us that Ukrainian church registration is simply treated as illegitimate.”
Representative Foley says that one regional church overseer told Voice of the Martyrs Korea that he has advised ministers in the region not to provide the original copies of registration documents if they are demanded by authorities. “Instead, he says churches should make copies of the registration that are certified with the church seal and signed by the minister, and to provide these to authorities upon request. Otherwise, authorities could simply keep the original documents and claim the church is not properly registered,” says Representative Foley.
Representative Foley says that dealing with issues of registration is nothing new for churches in the region. “Since 2014, when so-called People’s Republics were declared in Donetsk and Luhansk, Protestant churches have been required to register with authorities, and to produce copies of their registration upon request,” says Representative Foley. “One church leader told us that worship services are held only where and when officials tolerate them. The leader told us, ‘[Officials] present everything Protestant as American-planted, and only the ROC MP [Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate] has the right to operate’.”
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is providing emergency assistance to local church congregations and individual Christians who are continuing to engage in faithful witness during the present Russia/Ukraine conflict. “Every time the front line of the war moves, we Christians should pray for the churches and individual Christians that are now behind the line,” says Representative Foley. “Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s calling is to help support the tiny churches and Christians that are faithfully witnessing to the priority of the kingdom of God above all earthly kingdoms, despite the likelihood that it may cost them their lives.”
Donations can be made to the Ukraine Emergency Fund at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:
국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303
예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리
Please include the phrase “Ukraine” with the donation.