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Church building in Ukraine
The church in Chkalovo, Melitopol district.
Photo: VOM Korea

As Russian forces continue their invasion of Ukraine, referenda have been held in regions of the country presently occupied by Russian soldiers. Widely dismissed as a "scam," the referenda seek to demonstrate that the people of these regions want to join Russia. The alleged votes would then render any action by the Ukrainian military in these areas an "invasion" of Russian territory.

Christians in these regions can anticipate increased oppression as Russia proceeds with this illegal annexation. Recent actions against churches in the Russian-occupied territory of Crimea demonstrate the persecution that likely awaits Christians living in the areas Russia is poised to annex, particularly against anyone who is not a member of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In the coastal resort city of Yalta, a Catholic priest was fined one month's average wages on August 5th for failing to use the full official name of his church on material that had been produced. Under Russian law, a religious organization must use a name that indicates its religious affiliation, along with its organizational and legal structure. Consequently, the names tend to be very long and complicated, but any use of abbreviations or a shortened name may incur prosecution. The priest, Rev. Tomasz Wytrwal, was sentenced to a fine of 30,000 rubles (about $700 CAD). This is only one of the nine known cases that occurred thus far in 2022. A separate case against a Pentecostal church in Alupka near Yalta is presently before the courts.

On July 1st, three Baptist believers were charged with conducting "missionary activity," as reported in a previously published Persecution & Prayer Alert (see this page). On August 16th, the three Christians were each fined 5,000 rubles (approximately $115 CAD). One of the three, Sergei Gerasimenko, was also fined for failing to register his congregation with the Russian authorities. His church is a member of the "Council of Churches Baptist," a federation that refuses to seek state permission for the exercise of religious freedom.

Within the newly occupied areas of Ukraine, churches are being forced to close by Russian soldiers. On September 11th, the Grace Baptist Church in Melitopol was ordered to shut down during a worship service. This is the third church to be closed in the city during the past two months. In the village of Chkalovo, a local church has been gathering together daily for worship since the war began. On the evening of September 21st, Russian soldiers forced the church service to stop, explaining to the worshippers: "Your feet will not be here after the referendum. We have only one faith: Orthodoxy."

Worship service
The Kurchatov congregation.
Photo: VOM Korea

In Mariupol, the Kurchatov Church was also recently forced to close. The church leader and his wife are currently being held in an unknown location. Additionally, in August, both the Word of Life Church and Melitopol Christian Church were forcibly sealed. The cross was removed from the latter church building which has subsequently been turned into a cultural sports and entertainment complex. For other reports on the persecution of Christians in Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine, go to our country report.

Please pray for the Ukrainian Christians who are presently facing fines for their faith, asking the Lord for the financial provisions they require to adequately cover these costs. As church leaders attempt to deal with the unreasonable demands of governing authorities, may they respond with God's wisdom and direction. Also pray for the believers being held captive by the invading Russian forces, along with those whose churches have been forced to discontinue meeting in their usual places of worship. Overall, continue to prayerfully remember all who are being oppressed throughout Ukraine during this time of war and, in particular, those who are now living in Russian-occupied areas.

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