Unfurling unrest in Ukraine

Riot police face off with protestors in Kiev’s “Maidan” or Independence Square. (Image, caption courtesy SGA)

Riot police face off with protestors in Kiev’s
“Maidan” or Independence Square.
(Image, caption courtesy SGA)

Ukraine (MNN) — Hope is a scarce commodity after a week of Ukraine’s unrest. With offices in Kiev, Russian Ministries and Slavic Gospel Association are knee-deep in turmoil. They’re pleading for prayer from believers around the world.

“Pray that this conflict would be resolved quickly. Pray for families who are grieving for lost loved ones,” said Russian Ministries on its Facebook page.

While reports vary widely, yesterday afternoon Ukraine’s health ministry confirmed the deaths of at least 60 people and says more than 500 have been wounded.

“Our Ukrainian Baptist leaders in Kiev are now using churches in the city as infirmaries for the injured and sick,” national church leaders told SGA in a recent report. “Christian doctors take turns and are helping those who need medical care.

“We see this as an opportunity to witness our love of Jesus to our neighbors.”

Read the full report here.

Tumultuous times

This is Ukraine’s bloodiest week since breaking away from the Soviet Union in 1991. What began as peaceful protests in November 2013 have escalated significantly.

(Photo courtesy Sasha Maksymenko)

(Photo courtesy Sasha Maksymenko)

Protestors initially took to the streets because Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych favored a move toward Russia instead of a trade deal with the European Union (EU). Tensions spiked toward the end of January, pushing both sides to a ceasefire at the end of last week.

When protestors became aware of the government’s failure to uphold their end of the bargain, they took action. Renewed frustrations resulted in Ukraine’s worst day of violence in modern history. At least 25 people were killed and hundreds more wounded in police-protestor violence.

While Wednesday’s truce was a ray of hope, it didn’t last long. Clashes ramped up again on Thursday amid EU and U.S. sanctions, distributions of combat weapons to riot police, government disintegration, and a greater fortification of opposition strongholds.

Bogdana Matsotska and her father/coach at the Sochi Winter Olympics. (Image found on Faceook)

Bogdana Matsotska and her father/coach
at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
(Image found on Faceook)

In support of their countrymen, two members of Ukraine’s Olympic team decided to pull out of the Sochi Winter Games early and head home.

“My friends are there at the Maidan–people I know, close friends of mine,” 24-year-old Alpine skier Bogdana Matsotska told Reuters Television yesterday.

“To go on the start line when people are dying and when the authorities broke the main rule of the Olympic competition which is peace, I simply cannot do it.”

Ukraine has a total of 43 athletes competing at Sochi. Team officials and some athletes observed a minute of silence in memory of the victims, Reuters reports. In the athletes’ village, black ribbons were added to Ukrainian flags hanging from balconies.

Divisions are deepening

November’s protests brought Ukraine’s divisions to light. Western Ukraine favors freedom and democracy and was pushing for an EU deal. When Yanukovych rejected the deal for pro-Russia alignment, Eastern Ukraine rejoiced while the western region pushed back.

Now, as international voices chime in and violence escalates, those divisions are deepening.

“Ukraine is at a critical turning point, and we realize that only God can prevent the nation from sinking in blood,” penned SGA church associates.

“We urge you to lift up prayers to the Lord in this crucial time for Ukraine’s future.”

Russian Ministries' photo of protests in Ukraine.

Russian Ministries’ photo of protests in Ukraine.

It’s also deepening the East-West divide. As the U.S. and EU use sanctions to push for diplomacy, Russia criticizes the move, describing the sanctions as “blackmail.” Earlier, Russia’s Foreign Ministry described the unrest as an attempted coup.

Though diplomatic efforts are ongoing, some fear the crisis could escalate further.

Pray for a resolute end to the country’s violence. Pray for healing for those injured in Ukraine’s unrest. Pray that God would use young Ukrainian Christians as instruments of His peace and healing.