As Russian invaded Ukraine today, a Baptist home was destroyed and a seminary shaken by nearby blasts, though local sources told CT that no churches or Christian buildings have been attacked so far.
President Vladimir Putin announced his forces were targeting only military installations. He also asserted that Ukraine does not truly exist as a nation.
Igor Bandura, vice president of the Baptist Union, the largest Protestant body in Ukraine, heard about collateral damage to the home of a Baptist in Donetsk during a Zoom call with his 25 regional superintendents.
Minus one. On the front lines of the eastern Donbas region, the Baptist leader from the occupied territory of Luhansk was unable to join.
But from the town of Chasov Yor on the front lines in neighboring Donetsk—in an area then still under Ukrainian government control—Bandura learned the local assessment.
“People don’t want to be under Russian control,” he was told. “But they feel helpless. What can ordinary people do?”
Pray. And remain calm.
This was the message put out by the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (UCCRO), a day after its appeal to Putin went unanswered.
Ukraine’s chief rabbi invited Christian leaders to recite Psalm 31 together.
“We urge you to remain calm, not to give in to panic, and to comply with the orders of the Ukrainian state and military authorities,” stated the UCCRO. “The truth and the international community are on the Ukrainian side. We believe that good will prevail, with God’s help.”
Thousands of Ukrainians fled west as Russian missiles hit targets throughout the nation. Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs reported nearly 400 instances of shelling.
As he called for an international no-fly zone to be established over Ukraine, Yuriy Kulakevych, foreign affairs director of the Ukrainian Pentecostal Church, echoed the interfaith statement.
“I and all ministers stay in Kyiv,” he said. “We continue our intercessory prayers, talk to people to reduce panic, and help those in need.”
In Kamyanka, 145 miles south, Vadym Kulynchenko of Our Legacy Ukraine reported that his church had already started to receive refugees from the east. Temporary shelter will be provided, and the main needs are food, medicine, fuel, hygiene products, and air mattresses.
Bombs hit three infrastructure centers in his city.
“Please pray for disciple-making in the country, safety for our people, and generosity in the midst of war,” Kulynchenko asked. “And also for discernment, as there is a lot of fake news.”
Kyiv Theological Seminary (KTS) issued a general warning.
“Generating panic through the spread of manipulative false information is exactly what the enemy seeks,” it said. “This war is not as much for our territories, as it is for our soul and our mind.”
Students at Ukraine Evangelical Theological Seminary outside Kyiv were instructed to shelter in place as military battled at a nearby airport, according to the school’s director of English language services, Josh Tokar. Those on campus are scared but not panicked, he said. The seminary president sent out a message from Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear?”
Bandura did not resonate with the call for calm.
“Who are you to say our nation doesn’t exist?” he said of Putin’s rhetoric. “The truth is with us, and God is with us. We want to live in peace, but if Russia wants to take this from us, let’s fight.”
While some Ukrainians favor Russia, he said, half the population is ready to personally defend their nation.
Pictures have circulated of grandmothers with guns.
The Russian Evangelical Alliance (REA) conveyed its support to the UCCRO’s appeal for peacemaking initiatives.
“All evangelical Christians pray every day and ask the Almighty to give wisdom to all,” stated Vladimir Vlasenko, REA general secretary, “to preserve the fragile peace and not to plunge our countries into fratricidal conflict.”
In Rivne in western Ukraine, local officials directed all churches to remain open, with church leaders staying in touch with residents to help coordinate aid as well as military equipment as needed.
Many in Ukraine are showing resilience.
Staff at New Life Radio in Odessa, on the Black Sea coast, watched missiles fly past their homes. They are taking actions to hide equipment and preserve broadcasting, in case the station is raided in the near future.
Vasyl Ostryi, pastor at Irpin Bible Church, 18 miles northwest of Kyiv, has also decided to stay.
“When this is over, the citizens of Kyiv will remember how Christians have responded in their time of need,” he stated. “We will shelter the weak, serve the suffering, and mend the broken. And as we do, we offer the unshakable hope of Christ and his gospel.”
Photos have circulated showing Ukrainians kneeling in prayer in city streets.
Rick Perhai, director of advanced degrees at KTS, said the international church he pastors in Kyiv has several leaders recommending the congregation continue its worship this coming Sunday. Some of their expat members have fled; others want to stay and join the fight.
He laments that the enemy is seeking to destroy Ukraine as its Christians grow more and more poised to carry the gospel to surrounding nations. Nonetheless, he is praying for the Russians, asking for God to grant them repentance.
But his petition is also imprecatory.
“Pray that the nation of Russia would tire of their tyrant’s rantings at home and abroad,” Perhai said, “and that they would remove him.”
Western nations have roundly condemned Putin, and readied sanctions. Reports circulated of Russians lining up at ATMs to withdraw their cash, fearful the nation would be cut off from the international banking system.
Meanwhile in Donetsk, where 25 missionary teams have been working to establish churches, gas lines require a wait of hours for a rationed supply of five gallons. Grocery stories suffer empty shelves, as Ukrainians stock up on emergency food and water.
Bandura conveys his supervisor’s two main prayer requests.
“First, to stop the aggressor,” he said. “But then for peace of mind, to respond with Christian character and not from human hate.”
Editor’s note: This article is still being actively reported and will be regularly updated. With reporting by Rachel Pfeiffer.