Areas in eastern Ukraine, now controlled by Russian-backed rebels, have placed increasingly harsh restrictions on any non-Orthodox religious groups. Christians are facing demands to register, as well as orders to stop all religious activities.
In the region of Luhansk, officials have ordered Baptist Union churches to halt public worship or risk punishment. Rebel leaders previously insisted on registration; however, for church leaders who have attempted the process, all applications from Protestant communities have been rejected. The rebels' demands have since escalated, leading to this recent ban.
Fearing arrests and other reprisals, many of the churches have ceased public meetings. Those who are continuing to meet are at risk of raids, which was the case for the Path of Salvation Independent Baptist Church. This church was raided in February and its 82-year-old pastor is now facing charges of leading "illegal worship."
During the raid, literature labelled "extremist" was allegedly seized, though friends of the church claim the books were planted by the officers -- as demonstrated by the fact that some of it was Jehovah's Witnesses material.
In the neighbouring region of Donetsk, religious freedom is likewise deteriorating. All non-Orthodox religious organizations were given until March 1st to register, but none of the registrations were approved, making hundreds of churches now illegal.
Please remember the thousands of Christians in eastern Ukraine who are now being challenged with the newly imposed restrictions and potential punishment for not complying to such demands. Pray that these believers will be able to stand firm, resting in the strength and reassuring peace that comes from God alone. Despite the severe restrictions and political uncertainty, may the Gospel continue to powerfully spread throughout the region.