One year since the annexation of Crimea by Russia, Ukrainian Christians say they are facing persecution by separatists.
Evangelical churches have come under severe restrictions in Crimea, and a church leader is warning Ukrainian churches will also lose their religious freedom if the Russians take control of their country.
‘Paul’, a pastor who’s planted many churches in the former Soviet Union, says separatists have accused evangelical Christians in the Ukraine of spying for the West and have confiscated their church buildings.
‘Paul’ – not his real name – is a partner of Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world. He says: ‘In the areas that have been occupied some Christians have been killed. They have been accused of being American spies.’
And he warns the situation can only get worse if the separatists gain more ground, judging by the experience of Evangelical Christians in the Crimea, which Russia annexed one year ago.
‘After annexation, Ukrainian churches [were told] they had no right to exist there,’ said Paul. ‘Every church has had to be re-registered. Some pastors and priests have been forced to accept Russian citizenship.’ Those who refused, he said, were forced to leave.
Release Chief Executive Paul Robinson says: ‘There has been a steady decline in religious freedom across the former Soviet Union in recent years. Separatists have killed Christians in the Ukraine, and the picture in the Crimea under Russian annexation paints a disturbing picture of the future for Christians in Russian-controlled territories.
‘The idea that Christians who do not belong to the traditional Orthodox Church have embraced some form of pro-Western religion and could even be American spies is nonsense. Some other communist or post-communist countries make the same claim.
‘Russia must respect freedom of religion for all faiths and restrain separatist groups from attacking churches and Christians in the Ukraine.’
Through its international network of missions Release International serves persecuted Christians in more than 30 countries around the world, by: supporting pastors and Christian prisoners, and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles; and working for justice.