GATHERING OF THE HEADS OF THE EVANGELICAL CHURCHES OF UKRAINE ON THE RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION IN THE DONETSK AND LUHANSK REGIONS
Since the onset of the activization of the East Ukrainian separatist movements and the so-called proclamation of the Donetsk and Luhansk "people's republics" (DNR and LNR), Christians in the eastern regions, especially evangelical religious denominations, are increasingly the victims of religious persecution.
Targeted attacks have been carried out by armed militants against evangelicals, accompanied by abductions, beatings, torture, threats of execution, pogroms in places of prayer meetings, seizures of houses of worship, rehabilitation centers and other places of worship along with support facilities, with bodily harm inflicted on pastors and priests and damage to their personal property.
There is factual documentation of the capture and beating of evangelical pastors and ministers occurring in May – June 2014 in Slovyansk, Gorlovka, Donetsk and Druzhkovka. DNR and LNR terrorists not only have been preventing the religious activities of evangelical Christians, they are also taking over the houses of worship to accommodate their own staffs, hospitals and gun emplacements. These incidents have occurred repeatedly in Donetsk and Gorlovka, as well as in Slovyansk, Shakhtersk, Druzhkovka, and Torez in the Donetsk Region and in Luhansk.
Moreover, on June 14 in a terrorist attack on the bridge in Mariupol, DNR militants killed Pastor Sergey Skorobagach from the Vivification Church, who also served as the Chairman of the City Council of Churches.
The Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches of Ukraine condemns any discrimination and religious persecution of believers in the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions, whatever the motives may be to justify them.
Intolerance and hostility on religious grounds are not inherent in Ukrainian society, where over 50 representatives of various faiths have peacefully coexisted and fruitfully cooperated for over 20 years. Freedom of religion is the achievement of an independent Ukraine, thanks to which inter-religious peace and harmony have been established in our country.
We call upon the international community, including the monitoring missions of the UN, OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Union to make efforts to prevent the continuation and escalation of religious intolerance in the territories of Eastern Ukraine controlled by armed separatists. We are convinced that the entire world community must condemn the oppression of religious freedom in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which has reached the level of physical violence against those with dissenting viewpoints, including real mortal threats to evangelical Christians in Eastern Ukraine.
We ask believers around the world to join us in our prayers for peace in Eastern Ukraine, that terrorism and bloodshed may end, and that we see a restoration of normal life and to the fullness of the rights and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens living in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, regardless of their nationality, religion, language and worldview.
Signed by the members the Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches of Ukraine and promulgated in Kiev on 07/08/2014:
- · Anatoly Gavriliouk, Senior Bishop, Center for Independent Charismatic Christian Churches of Ukraine (Full Gospel);
- · Valery Antoniuk, Chairman, All-Ukrainian Union of Evangelical Chirstian-Baptist Churches
- · Michael Panochko, Senior Bishop, Church of Evangelical Christians of Ukraine;
- · Vasily Raychinets, Senior Presbyter, Union of Free Churches of Christians of Evangelical Faith of Ukraine;
- · Sergei Shaptala, Chairman, Brotherhood of Independent Churches and Missions of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Ukraine;
- · Sergei Datsko, Chairman, Association of Missionary Churches of Evangelical Christians in Ukraine;
- · Nicholai Salamakha, Deputy Senior Bishop, Ukrainian Christian Evangelical Church;
- · Vyacheslav Gorpinchuk, Bishop, Ukrainian Lutheran Church;
- · Anatoly Kalyuzhniy, Bishop, Council of Independent Evangelical Churches of Ukraine.
Source: Institute of Religious Freedom, Kiev
By Andrey Dementiev,
Member of the Vladivostok ECB Good News Church
A large fine of 150,000 rubles (about $4,400) has been levied on the Evangelical Christians - Baptists (ECB) Good News Church in Vladivostok, Russia. The presbyter of the church has been fined another 6,000 rubles. The fine was imposed by the State Fire Control Service following a May 23rd inspection of the house of worship. The Vladivostok First of May prosecutors also attended the fire safety inspection on the pretext of verifying there was no church literature with extremist content (a similar verification was carried out last year by the prosecutor's office). In fact, it was agents from the prosecutor's office who led the inspection.
According to the documents received from Gaspodnadzor [State Fire Safety Inspection] which were drawn up 10 days after the inspection, the church was guilty of the following violations:
– failure to appoint a person responsible for fire safety and ensure he or she has gone through the corresponding fire safety instruction;
– failure to provide instruction on fire safety measures;
– failure to provide fire safety training to church staff;
– no logbook for recording the presence and status of fire extinguishers (in fact, there was such a logbook);
– no signs with phone numbers for the fire department (in fact, there were signs of this nature);
– the evacuation plan in the event of a fire that was posted in the house of worship did not meet GOST [state] standards.
Based on the Gospodnadzor inspection, proceedings over an administrative offense have also been opened.
The amount of the fine was determined, as stated in the documents, "with consideration of repentance of the entity guilty of the administrative offense.”
For our small church that operates on a budget comprised entirely of voluntary contributions from the faithful, 150,000 rubles is a large sum. We were given 70 days to pay the fine (after the presbyter submitted a written statement this deadline was extended by another 60 days). If we do not meet this deadline, they are threatening to double the amount, or else to arrest the presbyter for 15 days on administrative charges. When the presbyter suggested that the officials immediately place him under arrest in exchange for exempting the church from the fine, they refused to take him up on his offer. Most likely, we have no option but to call for a special collection of donations to pay off the fine. Incidentally, in his decision to initiate an administrative case, the prosecutor said that this was "in the interests of the congregation."
As noted by A.V. Isakov, the presbyter of the church, in recent years the number of all kinds of inspections by various government agencies has dramatically increased.
Thus, subsequent to one of these checks (conducted last year – also by the prosecutor's office) we, under the threat of the cancellation of our church registration, were forced to make a number of changes to the Charter of the church. The most significant amendment to the Charter was the exclusion from it of any reference to the fact that the Church is guided by the Holy Scriptures (the Bible). The Charter had said that the church operates on the basis of Scripture and the applicable law, but prosecutors felt that we must act "in the same legal sphere" as the prosecutor's office, for which the Bible is not a document of entitlement.
First, the council of brothers for the church, and then the general membership assembly took up the issue of the prosecutor's requirements. After prayer and reflection, we decided that, since the Charter of the church is only a formal document “for the outside world,” we can make such concessions while continuing the internal life of the church built on the basis of the Holy Scripture.
"I know from my communications with other churches that they, too, are undergoing all sorts of inspections," noted A.V. Isakov. "The profusion of these checks jeopardizes the legal existence of the churches. The huge fines exceed the financial abilities of the church's members. In this situation, the churches have no other recourse but to "go underground," opting out of state registration. When the houses of worship are set up as the private property of individual church members, the very same prosecutors or fire safety inspectors show up with yet another inspection that is practically impossible to pass – in accordance with applicable law."
Under Stalin's repressions and the "godless Five-Year Plans" of the 1930s, most ministers (elders, deacons, preachers, missionaries, regents, choir directors) of the Churches of Evangelical Christians and Baptists were either imprisoned or were executed, and almost all the churches were stripped of their registration.
After changes in the state policy on religion during the Great Patriotic War [WWII] some of the churches again renewed their registration.
Then, during "Khrushchev's persecution of religion," many of the previously registered churches were deregistered, and religious life largely went underground. At this time the Council of ECB Churches was formed – an illegal alliance of churches that were deprived of registration. The Council of Churches essentially ignored the Soviet discriminatory legislation on "religious cults," in the network of underground printing houses across the country they printed Bibles and other Christian literature, and also established an illegal supply of religious literature from abroad. During this period, hundreds of believers from the Council of Churches were imprisoned for illegal religious activities.
The height of "Khrushchev's persecution" was at the beginning of the 1960s. Winter. A divine service at the Vladivostok ECB church in the ruins of the house of worship on Selenga St., demolished at the order of the city administration. The church prepares for Communion.
Under the leadership of Leonid Brezhnev, the attitude toward the faithful somewhat softened: churches not only willingly were registered, they even began to compel registration on those who did not want it. This is because believers in registered churches were forced to compromise with discriminatory legislation, and the authorities found it much easier to control them.
In the post-perestroika era, discriminatory legislative provisions were repealed, and churches wishing to register could easily do so.
In recent times, the situation has been declining. Various checks and closures of established churches, as well as rehabilitation centers for drug addicts and alcoholics have all become more frequent. Churches have de facto been deprived of their ability to organize Sunday schools and camps (since the average community is not able to execute all the required documents).
Member of the Vladivostok ECB Good News Church.
Throughout June, terrorists seized the belongings and occupied the premises of Christian evangelical churches and rehabilitation centers in the Donetsk Region of Ukraine. Pastors and their wives and children, and also parishioners have been taken into captivity. They scoffed at those in need of treatment (former drug and alcohol addicts). They raided and plundered the property of churches and the ministers. A Christian orphanage has been ransacked. A pastor in Mariupol was killed by shell fragments. Below is a review of the persecution of Christians by the militants in Donbass in June.
Slovyansk, Donetsk Oblast
June 6 In Slovyansk representatives of the "People's Republic of Donetsk" (DNR) raided the Sails of Hope Christian orphanage for children. According to Pastor Peter Dudnik of Good News Church, who later organized evacuations from Slovyansk, people in military uniforms seized mattresses, pillows and blankets. "Over the past 15 years of serving the orphans, this is the first time that the children are not given beds, rather they take them away. I'll not talk about how the building that was home to up to 50 orphans has been destroyed. I'll not talk about how all the windows are busted out, and the roof is riddled with holes...God have mercy on our Sloyansk," wrote Peter on his FB page.
June 8 During a festive service celebrating Pentecost, pro-Russian separatists kidnapped churchgoers from Transfiguration Church in the besieged city of Slovyansk, in the Donetsk Region. Church member Tatyana Lysenko posted reports on this via Twitter. "Ruvim Pavenko, Albert Pavenko, Victor Brodarsky, Vova Velichko –these brothers have just been taken directly from the service in Transfiguration Church and transported to the former headquarters of the security service in Slovyansk," she says in her posting. As of June 27, these people are still being held prisoner.
According to reports from Slovyansk pastor Peter Dudnik, "firing from heavy weaponry" was underway in the immediate area of the Good News Church. On June 7, Ukrainian Minister of the Interior Arsen Avakov reported on Facebook that blindfolded parishioners were confined nearby for the purposes of using them as human shields.
Gorlovka, Donetsk Oblast
June 16 Armed men demolished the premises of Next Generation Church.
On June 16, armed militants from the DNR interrupted a prayer service and "nationalized" Word of Life Church. "On Monday, at the end of the work day, we held a prayer service in our church. People with guns showed up, and demanded that we open all the rooms. They held us for an hour, then they drove everybody out. They told us that now this was the headquarters for the DNR and the building has been nationalized. We were told that Protestant churches in Gorlovka are a thing of the past,"-said a parishioner of the church.
Slovyansk, Donetsk Oblast
June 14 Pastor Sergei Skorobogach of the Renewal Church was killed by shrapnel when a passing car packed with explosives exploded. He left behind a wife and children, including a six-year-old boy. One of the missiles fired by the terrorists demolished his car, a Honda.
June 17 Militants in Donetsk seized the Evening Light Rehabilitation Center. The terrorists took captive 27 people, and also detained the director and administrative assistant of the center. Donetsk police chief Seleznev helped negotiate the release the illegally detained civilians, half of whom were sick and require daily treatment, two days later. Since then the center's residents have been evacuated to a safe location.
June 19 Word of Life church in Torez was seized. The church is part of the union of Protestant churches overseen by Ukrainian Bishop Sergey Yakovlev. Armed men wearing the insignia of the Cossack Guards storm the church. They order the furniture to be taken out, alleging that these churches are all regarded as sects and will be destroyed. People in the building at the time were threatened with execution if they made a fuss over this incident.
June 21 Armed DNR militants seized the Word of Life church in Shakhtersk. During the seizure, Pastor Nikolai Kalinichenko is detained. Later, the militants release the pastor, but the militants kept his car. They also threatened the pastor, saying that if he continued to engage in religious activity he will be shot.
June 25 DNR militants seized the Rock of Salvation rehabilitation center in Donetsk. Reports on the Grehu.net website tell us that the ministers were confined in a room and no one was allowed out, nor was contact via cellphone permitted. Later, Paster Sergey Kosyak relayed the latest information about events at the Rock of Salvation center on his Facebook page. "According to information from the center, people from the DNR showed up at the center before noon and very politely asked that part of the facility be allocated to them for their use. After brief negotiations, representatives of the rehabilitation center and the DNR fighters reached a bilateral agreement on their mutual coexistence. The center is retaining some outbuildings and part of the complex, while the DNR is situated in a small, self-sufficient building."
June 26 In Druzhkovka, at 10 in the morning, a pastor and his wife are taken captive by the DNR. Sergey Kosyak posted on facebook that a group of armed masked men broke into Victory Church and ordered that the priest be taken. The sister on duty called Pastor Pavel Lisko, who after a while appeared with his wife Vasilina. The armed militants confiscated money, documents from the safe, the office computer, and, together with the pastor and his wife, transported everything to the militant headquarters in a building near the Druzhkovka City Council.
And on June 27, the militants take the illegally detained wife of the pastor, Vasilina, to their apartment, which they ransacked. They confiscated personal belongings, documents and office equipment and transported them back to where the pastor and his wife were being held (a former private security service located near the Druzhkovka City Council). Pastor Pavel and Vasilina are being held in separate cells, apart from each other. Pavel suffers from health issues and must have access to medication, which is not being provided. Currently, refugees are living on the premises of the church, and this fact is being held against him as a crime. In the same manner, collaboration with Amercans is also viewed as a crime.
On Monday, June 16th two Protestant churches in the town of Gorlovka in Eastern Ukraine were broken into and vandalized by armed separatists, who also threatened church members.
After forcing their way into Next Generation Church they destroyed the offices, forbade further worship services to be held in the church, and declared that they would find and destroy all other such churches.
That same day armed men disrupted a service in Word of Life Church. They claimed the church as their property and declared that there would be no more Protestant churches in Gorlovka.
This brings the total number of churches seized by separatists to three, as Church of Christ was seized by militants in May.
Additionally, on Tuesday, June 17th armed militants seized a church-run rehabilitation center in Donetsk. Twenty seven people undergoing rehabilitation for drug and alcohol addiction, along with two staff members were taken hostage and were held in the center's basement overnight before being released.