According to religious persecution watchdog Release International, Russian occupying forces have closed down Ukraine’s three largest evangelical Protestant churches in Melitopol and other churches in Mariupol.
“It’s no surprise that the Russian occupying forces are closing Protestant churches and detaining pastors,” said Paul Robinson, CEO of Release International. “They’ve been doing the same since they seized and illegally annexed Crimea in 2014. This has set the pattern for what has followed.
“In Crimea and other occupied territories, they have raided places of worship, closed churches, banned missionary activity, fined people for leading worship meetings, seized religious literature and forced religious communities to re-register with the state, refusing re-registration to the vast majority. And now we are seeing churches raided, sealed and shut down, and the disappearance and detention of pastors in the occupied areas.
“Ukrainian Christians have been here before. They are being driven back to the underground churches of the Soviet era. Yet the message of history should be clear to Russia: The Christian faith has survived 70 years of Soviet totalitarian rule, and it thrives today in China under similar conditions. Persecution can only strengthen the church.”
In August, Russian forces shut down Melitopol’s largest Protestant church, Melitopol Christian Church, known for its 1,000-seat auditorium.
Release International associates said Russian forces tore down the church’s cross and have turned the building into a “cultural sports entertainment complex.” That same month, they also closed Melitopol’s Word of Life Church.
And on Sept. 11, Russian troops raided Grace Baptist Church in Melitopol while a worship service was underway.
Hyun Sook Foley, co-founder and president of the Voice of the Martyrs Korea, described the raid:
“They entered the sanctuary while the congregation was singing a hymn, halted the worship service, registered the names of all present and detained several ministers,” she said.
Foley also said the church’s senior pastor, Mikhail Brisyn, was given just 48 hours to get out of the city.
There are reports of Russian soldiers raiding churches in Mariupol as well and detaining Christian pastors.
This all comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a destructive missile barrage into Ukraine this week, firing 83 missiles that deliberately hit civilian targets in major Ukrainian cities.
“There is only one terrorist state here and the whole world knows who it is,” tweeted Ukrainian advisor Mykhailo Podolyak.
Photo: Sergei Malgavko/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom