As Russian forces amass near the border of Ukraine, Baptists there are preparing to aid fellow believers if the crisis worsens.
“Churches already agreed,” Pyzh said. “Those that are on the western part of Ukraine … told our brothers and sisters in other parts of Ukraine [that] if something happens we will open our homes and our churches to you.”
Some 100,000 Russian troops are massed near Ukraine’s border, and U.S. officials fear Russia is preparing to mount an invasion. Moscow has rejected Western demands to pull its troops back from areas near Ukraine, saying it will deploy and train them wherever necessary on its territory as a necessary response to what it called “hostile” moves by the U.S. and its allies.
Russia’s foreign minister said today (Jan. 28) that Russia will not start a war, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has made clear his intent to protect his country’s security interests.
Ukraine’s leaders have reassured the nation that an invasion from neighboring Russia isn’t imminent, even as they acknowledged the threat is real and received a shipment of U.S. military equipment to shore up their defenses, the Associated Press reported Jan. 25.
The U.S. also has put 8,500 troops on alert for possible deployment to Europe as part of an alliance “response force” if necessary. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said he is prepared to send troops to protect NATO allies in Europe.
The U.S. and its allies have vowed to hit Russia with sanctions like never before if Moscow sends its military into Ukraine but they have provided few details, saying it’s best to keep Putin guessing, the AP reported.
The U.S. State Department has ordered the families of all American personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv to leave the country.
In Ukraine, however, authorities have sought to project calm in order not to destabilize the situation and avoid panic, AP reported.
Escalating regional conflict
Putin’s threats against Ukraine occur as he is moving Russian forces into Belarus, which also raises questions about the Kremlin’s plans for invading other neighboring countries, said Tatsiana Kulakevich, assistant professor of instruction at School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies and affiliate professor at the Institute on Russia at the University of South Florida, wrote at The Conversation. These actions threaten security and stability in Eastern Europe, Kulakevich said.
Both Ukraine and Belarus were Soviet republics until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. In 2014, Russia forcibly annexed Crimea from Ukraine.
Columbus State University student John Walker recently returned from a short-term missions trip to Ukraine. Walker observed that everyday life in Ukraine seemed to be unfazed by the escalating political drama.
“I’m sure there must have been tension with people wondering about things,” Walker said. “Where we were, there wasn’t noticeable tension. I didn’t feel unsafe.”
Walker and two other CSU students, Jaxson Wood and Matthew Wacter, focused on sharing the gospel during their trip. (Read more about their trip here.)
Only 1.9% of Ukrainians are evangelical Protestants, according to the World Atlas. About 2,000 churches are members of the Ukrainian Baptist Union, comprising about 100,000 believers. The Eastern Orthodox Church is the dominant religion in the country, though a growing population professes no religious beliefs.
Wood encouraged Baptists to be in prayer for Ukraine, specifically that its citizens open their hearts to the gospel.
“So many people there need to hear the gospel,” he said.
Malcolm Yarnell, who taught Pyzh at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary more than a decade ago, also has asked Southern Baptists to pray for Christians in both Ukraine and Russia.
“I would pray first of all for peace and justice between the two nations,” said Yarnell, SWBTS research professor of theology. “I think that’s important for us to pray for, because we want human beings to be respected and to be treated with human dignity. And in wartime, if war were to happen, human dignity seems to go out the window.”
He described his second prayer request, “for the witness of the churches,” as closer to his heart.
“Both Russian Baptists and Ukrainian Baptists believe firmly in religious liberty,” Yarnell said. “They are respectful towards the state, but … they see themselves as coming under the lordship of Jesus Christ, and they want to serve Christ and they want to witness for Christ.
“Like Baptists in so many places, they have a strong legacy of asking for religious liberty, and this is true of all of the Baptists there.”
Pyzh encouraged churches in the U.S. to reach out to any Christians and churches in Ukraine with whom they’ve already established relationships, to earnestly pray for Ukrainian Baptists and to find ways to provide humanitarian relief in the event of armed conflict.
“I think if U.S. churches will renew their connections with Ukrainian churches, with Ukrainian entities, and ensure that yes, we are with you, yes, we are praying for you, yes, we are ready to step in and help, in case you need that help,” Pyzh said, “that would be a tremendous encouragement for our people, that they are not alone in that.”