We are writing to you with an urgent call to prayer for our Christian brothers and sisters in the occupied territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine. Since the outbreak of war between Ukraine and the Russia-backed DPR and the neighboring Lugansk People’s Republic, religious freedom has been rapidly deteriorating for non-Orthodox churches and religious organizations in these occupied territories. All non-Orthodox churches and religious organizations in the DPR were given the deadline of March 1, 2019 to “register according to the laws of the republic.” However, none of the non-Orthodox religious organizations in the DPR that applied for registration were approved, and now that the March 1 deadline has passed, all non-Orthodox churches are considered “illegal” by the DPR.
This means that the unregistered churches are not permitted to engage in any kind of mission work or other public activity—they could even face punishment for gathering in small home groups. Punishment could entail fines, property seizure, arrest, or physical assault.
We have already seen these types of harsh punishments happening in the neighboring Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR), where all evangelical groups and organizations have been banned after their attempts to re-register were denied, and the Baptist denomination has been labeled an “extremist group.” Tragically, the current situation in the DPR has laid the groundwork for a very similar scenario that will negatively impact more than 550 Protestant religious organizations, in addition to hundreds of other minority religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, Muslims, and Ukrainian Orthodox churches (which have declared independence from the Moscow Patriarchate). The only legal, state-registered church in these occupied territories is now the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Several places of worship have already been seized in the DPR, including a Baptist church, which you can read more about at Forum 18.
These harsh restrictions on religious freedom in the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine are in the same spirit as the anti-missionary “Yarovaya law” passed in Russia in 2016, which Mission Eurasia has been regularly monitoring and reporting on. Russia considers independent religious activity to be a threat to its social and political power, and the government has gone to great lengths to label missionaries as “extremists” and restrict their activity. The Russia-backed Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic are now following the example of the Russian government and enacting even stricter religious freedom restrictions in these occupied territories.
On behalf of the thousands of suffering believers who are trapped in these occupied territories by this tragic war, we ask for your prayer and support. Mission Eurasia works in these occupied territories, delivering humanitarian aid, training young leaders, and serving churches, and so we are fervently praying for God’s protection and strength for the pastors, leaders, and ministry partners we serve alongside in these challenging regions.
Please join us now in heartfelt prayer as we ask God to be at work in this grievous situation in the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine. Prayer is the most powerful resource available to us as believers, and we call on our faithful God to protect His people in eastern Ukraine and everywhere in the world where believers suffer for their faith. Thank you for standing with us in support and solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters in eastern Ukraine as they face increasing threats to their faith and freedom. We will continue monitoring this situation and sharing updates and calls to prayer on our social media channels. We are grateful for your much-needed support and prayers for our fellow believers in eastern Ukraine! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Mission Eurasia.
If you would like to read more about this situation, we have included a list of resources:
- In partnership with Mission Eurasia, the Institute for Religious Freedom in Ukraine recently published a detailed analytical report on the current situation regarding religious freedom and religiously motivated persecution in the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine. You can read and download the report here.
- The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has declared that Russia is responsible for religious crimes in the Donbas region of Ukraine and Crimea due to its control of these occupied territories. You can read the USCIRF report on Russia as a country of particular concern here.
- Forum 18 is an excellent resource for news related to international religious freedom. They have published several articles regarding religious persecution in the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic, and you can read more articles about the seizure of churches and places of worship, registration denials, worship bans, fines, and raids in the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine here.