Churches in Ukraine Robbed and Shut Down as Conflict Divides Communities
Suspected separatist militia robbed an Evangelical-Baptist church in Kadiivka, around 30 miles from Lugansk in eastern Ukraine, on the night of 27 March 2018.
Several people in military-style clothing arrived at the church in two cars and entered the empty building after 9:30 p.m. At 11 p.m. two trucks arrived and the men in uniform began to strip the church and load property, furniture and fittings on to the trucks.
The entire church was stripped bare. Barnabas Fund’s contact stated they “literally took everything”, from the pulpit, sound equipment and musical instruments, to the kitchen sink and refrigerator. They even took the interior doors, curtains, and light switches, and pulled the tiles off the bathroom walls. After emptying the church attic and shed they drove away. Church representatives reported the robbery and vandalism of the church to police and city administration the following day, who promised to get back to them “within two weeks”.
The Lugansk region in eastern Ukraine is a “grey zone”, where Christians are trapped between the Ukrainian army and Russian-backed separatists . Protestant churches in the conflict-racked region have been targeted by separatist elements, as they are perceived as pro-European.
In February 2018, authorities in the autonomous region of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic adopted regulations "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations", requiring the mandatory registration of religious organisations within six months. Organisations not registered by August 2018 will be considered to have ceased their activities. Small religious gatherings are permitted in homes, but any religious organisations which receive money or assistance from foreign citizens will be required to submit a full report of their activities.
An Orthodox church in the village of Ptycha in government-controlled western Ukraine was shut down by police on 3 April, after a mob wearing balaclavas invaded the church and evicted two elderly women parishioners who were inside. The church building in Ptycha is used by two Ukrainian Orthodox congregations, one of which is aligned with the Moscow Patriarchate, whose members have been targeted for being seen as pro-Russian; Orthodox churches of the Moscow Patriarchate have been seized and attacked across western Ukraine.
A minister from the Moscow Patriarchate congregation in Ptycha told OSCE monitors that the two congregations would cooperate to hold (Orthodox) Easter services in the church garden.