Eastern Ukraine: 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.
In April 2014, shortly after invading Crimea, Russian forces secretly moved into eastern Ukraine to initiate the incursion there. One million refugees fled out of the areas of Kramatorsk, Donetsk, Slavyansk, and Luhansk. Eventually the Russian forces were forced to retreat from Slavyansk and Kramatorsk, but maintained their hold on Donetsk and Luhansk. Border skirmishes are still reported daily but the media does not usually report on this ongoing conflict.
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.”
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 eventually showed up!
“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. We can laugh now but it was very dangerous and very serious. It was a miracle. Today, I am grateful that God continues to use me in this ministry. And thank you for these medical supplies!” he said.
Pastor Vadim and Sergei minister regularly to soldiers at checkpoints and near the frontlines.
Vadim Vero is a pastor, serving at the Word of Life Church in Dobropilya, near Kramatorsk, a former occupied area. This tough-looking Greek/Ukrainian looks more like a boxer than a typical pastor. His infectious laugh and bear hug reveal his love for God and people.
“At the beginning of the war, God called us to minister to the military when they came to our town,” explains Vadim. “It was a very difficult year for our army. They didn’t even have uniforms or enough food. Our church collected money and even clothes and gave them to the soldiers.”
Vadim continues, “Today, because we were there from the beginning, we continue to have a good relationship with some of the military. Many of them are open to the Gospel, but you need to be near them because the friendship helps them to open their hearts.”
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,” Sergey said.
Since Sergey began taking vital aid to vulnerable families and the military on the front lines, he has relied on a battered old van to get him around. After spending countless hours driving through pot-holed roads however, the old van finally gave up the struggle.
Mercy Projects handed a new Van to help Displaced Families and Prisoners.
“I can’t believe this,” Sergey said, when we handed the keys to him. “Mercy Projects always supports us,” he said.
To learn more about Mercy Projects, go here
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