As Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, Open Doors joins with others across the world in being shocked and saddened by the news, images and videos emerging from the country highlighting the awful suffering facing millions of innocent people. It can sometimes be difficult to know how to pray, so we have put together five prayer points that you may find helpful…
Please pray for an end to the violence and tension, and that leaders on all sides will pursue diplomacy and peace in a way that allows people of all faiths to live in freedom and peace.
2. Protection and provision
Ask the Lord to guard people from harm – both those in Ukraine and those travelling to places of refuge – and provide for all their needs. Pray for a greater respect of human rights.
Ask that God would open the hearts of leaders in Russia and in areas of Ukraine under Russian control, that they would not restrict the ability of believers to worship God freely.
4. Persecuted believers
Pray that believers facing pressure for their faith in Russia and Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine will be encouraged and strengthened in their faith, and guarded from harm (see below for more information).
5. Powerful witness
Ask the Lord to use His church in Ukraine and Russia in powerful ways during this crisis. Pray that Christians in both countries will be bold, united and strengthened in their witness.
Ukraine achieved independence from the USSR in 1991 and there is religious freedom in most of the country. However, in Russia and Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine, religious freedom is increasingly in decline.
Russia has appeared in the top 50 of Open Doors’ World Watch List in the past, as recently as 2020. In the current list, the country lies just outside the top 50. The persecution largely stems from localised pressure and violence against believers in Muslim-majority regions, such as Dagestan and Chechnya.
Since 2016, following the introduction of the Yaravoya law (also known as the ‘anti-missionary law’), opposition against Christians actively sharing their faith has intensified. This applies not only to Russia but to regions in Ukraine under Russian influence and control, such as Crimea.
The U.S. Committee on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) found that, ‘in Russian-occupied Crimea, the occupation authorities continued to enforce Russia’s repressive laws and policies on religion, which has resulted in the prosecution of peaceful religious activity and bans on groups that were legal in Crimea under Ukrainian law’. In fact, USCIRF even recommended that Russia be placed on the State Department’s list of “Countries of Particular Concern”.
Russia’s support of breakaway regions is also troubling for Christians in Ukraine. Luhansk and Donetsk – two regions that have declared independence – have imposed rules requiring religious organisations to register. Complying with the rule has been difficult for many Protestant churches – for example, a December 2019 list of 195 registered religious organisations by the Luhansk authorities showed that no permission had been granted to any Protestant community.
In June last year, three Protestant churches were banned by authorities in Donetsk and others had their buildings confiscated. In August, books by Charles Spurgeon and Billy Graham were placed on a list of banned ‘extremist’ literature by a court in Luhansk.
Consequently, as far as Ukraine is concerned, while most believers can freely express and share their faith, there are some areas where Christians are feeling the pinch of persecution.
How is the church responding to the crisis? Despite pressure and persecution, and the wider crisis facing Ukraine, believers are united and determined. “Those [churches] that are in 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,” explains Yarsolav ‘Slavik’ Pyzh, president of the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary.
Looking ahead, Yarsolav adds, “I think that we will rearrange, reorganise, and still do what we always do: still preach the gospel.”
Open Doors does not currently work in Ukraine, as there is religious freedom in most of the country. However, we are gravely concerned for the wellbeing and safety of all involved in the invasion of Ukraine and are closely monitoring the situation on the ground. We will continue to share the latest news and prayer requests as we receive them, to help the church here to pray for the country and for the Christians there.
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:18-20)