As the war in Ukraine has passed its seventh month, a shift has occurred. Ukrainian forces have reclaimed parts of occupied territories causing Russian state rhetoric to become even more extreme and desperate. Fighting has intensified in the east and south as both sides vie for ground before winter sets in.
And just (last) week, retaliation has come with blasts across the country, including in major city centers, sending many back into underground bunkers. Baptists in Kyiv commented, “It feels like we are back on Feb. 24.”
Continually caught in the crossfire are innocent civilians — hundreds who have perished or been injured and thousands more trapped in increasingly desperate and dangerous circumstances. Among the victims and despite the fighting, our Baptist brothers and sisters continue to serve as witnesses of hope in the desperation.
As we have shared over the past seven months, Ukrainian Baptists have been living in the middle space between deep grief and thanksgiving during these challenging times.
They grieve the loss of 46 damaged or destroyed church buildings and the 200 scattered congregations that are no longer meeting with no certainty that they will ever meet again.
They grieve the fact that 120 pastors and deacons have been called into military service, leaving churches without leaders. These men are some of the 250 total pastors and leaders who have had to leave their churches.
They grieve the pain that the 400 churches in occupied territories or recently liberated areas feel on a daily basis.
They grieve the recent loss of a pastor killed in the Kharkiv region.
They grieve the church in the Zaporizhzhya region that was shut down as Russian soldiers stormed into an evening service and collected all the congregation’s information.
They worry for the lives of a pastor and his wife who were kidnapped on Sept. 21 in Mariupol; sadly representing a pattern of suppression of religious freedom that Baptists have been regularly facing since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
They grieve the loss of stability and certainty that their country is safe.
Yet, by God’s grace, Ukrainian Baptists express deep gratitude for God’s continued work in Ukraine.
They celebrate the four new recently ordained pastors in Chernivtsi and Polyvanivka. They celebrate the retreats that were able to occur over the summer — more than 300 camps for children from occupied or liberated territories occurred with up to 39,000 children, teenagers and young people participating. Numerous retreats for missionaries, pastors and couples occurred, including one with more than 100 volunteers who have been serving constantly since the war began.
They are grateful for the ways they have been able to serve thousands of people with food, water, energy, transportation to safety, and pastoral care, but they are most grateful for the opportunities the aid brought.
Thousands of people have come to Christ through the witness of Ukrainian Baptists; 2,300 baptisms have happened over the last three months, with 15,000 starting to visit churches. Hundreds of youth made professions to Christ over the summer at camps, and one church in Nikopol had to hold an evangelistic event three times on a single Sunday in September because 600 people showed up to the church that could only hold 200.
In the midst of the suffering, God is at work.
Across the country and in the neighboring countries, the looming question is how to heat homes and churches to continue caring for displaced peoples. As winter approaches, Baptists in the west of Ukraine are preparing to welcome an expected wave of up to 500,000 people from the east who have no way to heat their homes during the winter time or whose homes have been damaged. Many may spill out into the neighboring countries as well where Baptists are preparing to welcome new displaced peoples.
“Baptists in Ukraine and the neighboring countries have served an estimated 500,000 people over the past seven months.”
In total, Baptists in Ukraine and the neighboring countries have served an estimated 500,000 people over the past seven months in comparison with the roughly 250,000 Baptists in the whole area. Although fewer refugees are coming across the border now, increasingly the ones staying in Baptist care have higher needs and have no other long-term solution of where to go.
Many Baptists did not expect to be so involved for so long, but as leaders in Moldova commented recently, “We learn to trust in God, to depend on him, to be perseverant, to love him and the people in spite of all the challenges and threats.”
The European Baptist Federation is the lead agency from the Baptist Forum for Aid and Development responding to the war in Ukraine. For more information about EBF and the ways Baptists in and around Ukraine are serving go to ebf.org.