31st July, 2014
On Sunday 20 July a service was held in the city of Slavyansk, in the volatile Donetsk region, in memory of four Christians killed by pro-Russian separatists on 9 June 2014.
Pastor Peter Dudnyk wrote: “Our brothers have been murdered… The funeral service is today. All the Evangelical churches of the city came together at the funeral service, cancelling their regular worship services. They shot the brothers for believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The four murdered Christians were Reuben Pavenko (born 1984), his brother Albert Pavenko (born 1990), Viktor Bradarsky (born 1974) and Vladimir Velichko (born 1973). The men were kidnapped on Sunday 8 June after a festive Trinity Sunday service at the Transfiguration Church in Slavyansk, and were taken to the former offices of the Security Service of Ukraine in Slavyansk, which is 145km from the Russian border.
At that time the strategic city was under rebel occupation, which lasted for three months until government forces retook it on 5 July. During the occupation militants in Slavyansk seized several church premises, including those of the Orthodox Church. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on 7 June, “Blindfolded and bound parishioners are being used as human shields.”
Tortured and shot dead
The men’s families did not know what had happened to them, and could only wait and pray. It was some weeks before it emerged that, on the night of the kidnapping, the terrorists abused and tortured the four men. In the morning they let them go, and the Christians left by car, driven by one of them. Once they left the city, however, the terrorists chased after them in a vehicle and shot at their car. Three of the Christians jumped out to try to escape, but were shot dead immediately. The driver was killed also, and his body was burned when the militants set the car on fire. They took the bodies and buried them in a mass grave with bodies other victims murdered during the occupation of Slovyansk and bodies of militants killed in clashes with government forces.
The four Christian men leave wives and at least eleven children between them.
For the past few months, church leaders in eastern Ukraine from various Christian denominations have been threatened, kidnapped, beaten, arrested and even killed, allegedly by pro-Russian separatist militants. Some pastors have fled to western Ukraine. The Pavenko brothers were sons of the church pastor, and one of the other murdered men from Slavyansk was an elder.
A spokesman for Christian Aid Mission said rebels are targeting Christians because they support the Ukrainian government and its security forces, and suggested that the abuse of pastors might be retaliation for congregation members giving food and clothing to Ukrainian soldiers. The relatives of the four murdered Christians from Slavyansk say they had no involvement in politics.
In May, Archpriest Pavel Zhuchenko of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate was shot dead near a roadblock in the Donetsk region. Pro-Russian rebels were blamed for his death. Days later the national bishop of the Ukrainian Church of God was abducted in Slovyansk and held overnight. Militants seized his church building to use as a base for their operations.
Evangelical Church Leaders’ Statement
On 8 July a statement was issued in Kiev, signed by the members of the Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches of Ukraine:
“Since the onset of the activisation of the East Ukrainian separatist movements and the so-called proclamation of the Donetsk and Luhansk ‘people’s republics’ (DNR and LNR), Christians in the eastern regions, especially evangelical religious denominations, are increasingly the victims of religious persecution.
“Targeted attacks have been carried out by armed militants against evangelicals, accompanied by abductions, beatings, torture, threats of execution, pogroms in places of prayer meetings, seizures of houses of worship, rehabilitation centres and other places of worship along with support facilities, with bodily harm inflicted on pastors and priests and damage to their personal property.
“There is factual documentation of the capture and beating of evangelical pastors and ministers occurring in May – June 2014 in Slovyansk, Gorlovka, Donetsk and Druzhkovka. DNR and LNR terrorists not only have been preventing the religious activities of evangelical Christians, they are also taking over the houses of worship to accommodate their own staffs, hospitals and gun emplacements. These incidents have occurred repeatedly in Donetsk and Gorlovka, as well as in Slovyansk, Shakhtersk, Druzhkovka, and Torez in the Donetsk Region and in Luhansk.
“Moreover, on June 14 in a terrorist attack on the bridge in Mariupol, DNR militants killed Pastor Sergey Skorobagach from the Vivification Church, who also served as the Chairman of the City Council of Churches.
“The Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches of Ukraine condemns any discrimination and religious persecution of believers in the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions… We call upon the international community, including the monitoring missions of the UN, OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Union to make efforts to prevent the continuation and escalation of religious intolerance in the territories of Eastern Ukraine controlled by armed separatists. We are convinced that the entire world community must condemn the oppression of religious freedom in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which has reached the level of physical violence against those with dissenting viewpoints, including real mortal threats to evangelical Christians in Eastern Ukraine.”
(Christian Aid Mission, International Christian Concern, Irish Times, Mission Network News, Russian Ministries Religious Freedom Blog)