Ukraine Church Seeks Peace as Protests Turn Violent
Ukraine is a country in crisis. What began as peaceful political protests two months ago turned into a battle at the barricades last week.
Downtown Kiev turned into a war zone as police and protestors battled throughout Independence Square.
Right in the middle of it all are the country's Christians, standing up for freedom while calling for peace.
Demonstrations had been focused in the capital, Kiev, but that changed when protestors stormed government offices in several western Ukraine cities, forcing one governor to write a letter of resignation.
***What role are Christians playing in the Ukrainian upheaval? Evangelical church leader Sergey Tymchenko skyped from Kiev with Christian World News to talk about this and more, Jan. 24.
The situation in Kiev had been simmering for two months before boiling over last week.
Peaceful protests began when pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych abruptly rejected an agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia, a move that many Ukrainians fear means a return to the bad old days of Russian control over their nation.
Sergey Rakhuba was raised in Ukraine and today is president of Wheaton, Ill.-based Russian Ministries.
"Young people believe allying themselves with Russia will take them a step backward," Rakhuba told CBN News. "So it will mean more control, more dictatorship, more regulations, more oppression, probably. And as we see in Russia today, issues of religious freedom and human rights are very much violated."
Their fears seemed realized when Yanukovych's government passed a batch of draconian laws aimed at ending the protests, sparking violent confrontations with police and calls for the government to back down.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of Opposition Fatherland Party, laid out his demands.
"The president is to sack the government and to repeal all unconstitutionally passed package of dictatorship laws," Yatsenyuk said. "If we get this result, I strongly believe that we can resolve the crisis."
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, with the Udar Party, told protestors if the talks are unsuccessful and their demands are not met, he will lead them in an attack.
He has already accused the government of having the blood of protestors on its hands after four deaths were reported in clashes this week.
"All I can say, we will do everything we can, I will do everything I can to stop the escalation and the deaths," Klitschko said.
But Ukraine's prime minister says while his government is willing to work with the opposition, the ultimatums they've given are unconstitutional.
Rakhuba said that the anti-protest laws are having a negative impact on the church.
"One of those points mentions that all non-governmental organizations that receive support from abroad will be registered and labeled as foreign agents," Rakhuba said.
"For a post-Soviet mindset, society, a foreign agent means somebody that's outside of our internal values," he explained. "So this definitely will seriously impact overall mission work in Ukraine as it does in Russia."
In the meantime, Russia's evangelicals released a statement calling churches to work for peace and encouraging members to be "salt and light" to society at this dangerous time.
Some members of the European Union are already condemning the anti-protest laws, and the United States is threatening to impose sanctions if violence is used against protestors.