As Russia continued a full-scale attack on Ukraine on Thursday (Feb. 24), Baptist leaders called for prayer for Ukrainian Christians and the escalating conflict.
The Russian invasion began shortly before dawn, and dozens of soldiers and at least 10 civilians are already reported dead.
“Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted.
International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood said, “With the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, we join all those in Eastern Europe in praying for peace.”
“We know that God is sovereign in all situations, and Scripture reminds us that He is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” he said. “We keep our focus on Him, asking for His protection of the innocent and trusting that His justice will prevail. Pray with us that Jesus Christ would be glorified through the crisis in Eastern Europe, and that Southern Baptists would remain vigilant in meeting the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of those who are suffering.”
See related story on Send Relief, which is already on the ground responding to the crisis in Ukraine and is the combined compassion ministry effort of the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board.
Russia began its assault on Ukraine around 5 a.m. local time. Reports say missiles of various types have been launched on at least 18 sites across the country. Ukrainian officials believe Russia plans to overthrow the elected Zelensky and install a pro-Russian government. Zelensky enacted martial law as the attack got underway.
Reports also say Ukraine has lost control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, scene of the worst nuclear disaster in world history. Early reports say at least 40 people died in an intense battle.
The U.S. and other Western nations condemned Russia’s actions, which have followed weeks of denials by Moscow that it was planning any such action. More than 100,000 troops had been building near Ukraine’s border as the world watched and waited to see what Russian President Vladimir Putin had in mind.
In retaliation, the U.S. and its allies have announced sanctions on Russian financial institutions and technology sectors, along with banning exports into the country. U.S. President Joe Biden said the sanctions were “purposely designed” to “maximize a long-term impact on Russia and to minimize impact on the United States and our allies.” Biden has vowed no American troops will be sent to Ukraine, though U.S. troops are positioned in Europe to support NATO allies.
Lead-up to attack
Russia’s invasion follows weeks of warnings from the U.S. and other Western nations that an attack against Ukraine was imminent — and weeks of denials by Moscow that it planned any such action.
Russia has been amassing a significant number of troops, vehicles and tanks in Belarus near the border with Ukraine. The two countries have held joint military exercises, some of which were near the Belarus-Ukrainian border. But when the attack came, it came from every direction, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told CNN.
Podolyak said a “full-fledged large-scale war has begun in Europe. … The West must act today.”
Baptist work in Ukraine
Once called the “Bible Belt” of the Soviet Union, religion was suppressed in Ukraine under Soviet rule but has grown since the nation became independent again. The dominant religion in Ukraine is Eastern Orthodoxy. Protestants make up about 1.9% of the population, according to World Atlas.
Nearly 90% of Baptists in Ukraine are part of the All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian-Baptists, which in 2017 reported 2,272 churches, 320 missionary groups and more than 300,000 weekly attendees in member churches. The union includes three seminaries, two universities and 15 Bible colleges.
In a video posted today, Vyacheslav Nesteruk, president of the Union, said “what we prayed for God not to happen has happened today.”
“We urge everyone, above all, to continue and intensify our prayers. This is our weapon in times of war [and] military confrontation,” Nesteruk said.
He encouraged Ukrainian Baptist ministers to “give a message of hope from the word of God to all the faithful” as believers seek the peace of the Lord, so that they “do not have panic, fear, ill-considered actions [or] unforeseen decisions that could harm us personally and our ministry in Ukraine.”
Preparing for refugees
Nesteruk urged church leaders to be prepared to help those fleeing conflict zones and acknowledged that there are “many unanswered questions” about the Russian invasion.
“Only by moving step by step can we understand that we can take the next step,” he said. “Therefore, we ask you to be able to organize this at the church level. Our churches must become centers of service to our people in times of adversity.
He added, “We ask all Christians not to spread unverified information but to share the information that you have witnessed and know exactly about its authenticity, to turn it into prayer. We also pray and ask you to pray for the organization of our coordination center because in the office here near Kyiv, we continue to serve, we continue to organize all the work now. … We believe that through us, God wants His Kingdom to spread today, even in times of war. We pray for the protection of our country and firmly believe that God will bless Ukraine!”