Ukraine’s violence escalates

KIEV, Ukraine (BP) – Scripture portions helped provide a flicker of faith as violence escalated in Ukraine on Feb. 18. At least 25 were killed and hundreds injured as government forces acted to forcibly remove protesters from Kiev’s Independence Square. The dead include civilians and police officers.

The Interior Ministry demanded that protesters leave the square by 8 p.m. Feb. 18. When the deadline passed, riot police dismantled barricades with the help of armored vehicles, water cannons and stun grenades.

Some protesters responded by throwing Molotov cocktails and paving stones dug up from the streets.

But churches near the mayhem responded differently.

“Thousands of Scripture portions have been distributed and the prayer tent on Independence Square is very active,” said International Mission Board (IMB) worker Tim Johnson*, who was in close proximity to the violence.

Many churches have been using a tent-based outreach in Independence Square to pray for individuals, serve hot tea, hand out tracts and share their faith during the three-month upheaval in Ukraine and its capital city, Kiev.

It is unclear what sparked the mid-February sudden rise in violence, with each side blaming the other. Protests began Nov. 21 when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych backed away from a trade deal with the European Union in favor of accepting financial aid from Russia. The conflict has now been named “EuroMaidan,” Ukrainian for “Eurosquare.”

“Tensions in the center of Kiev are extremely high,” Johnson said. “I was downtown when the metro system was shut down so I joined the ranks of the walkers, trying to find a bus that would stop. Since they were overloaded, there were dozens of people at every stop trying to board, but only one or two might crowd in. I walked two hours from downtown to our apartment, but it was a good time to prayerwalk.”

Johnson said all IMB personnel in Ukraine are safe and in contact with local believers to support their efforts to share Christ in the midst of the violence.

Brady Sample*, an IMB worker who lives in Kiev, said God is at work even amid the violence.

“This past month we have seen an amazing outpouring of God’s Spirit,” said Sample, who works closely with the Ukrainian Baptist Union, the largest evangelical association of churches in the country, which is calling for members to pray for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

“God is moving. This event is causing people to pray, and while they are praying for peace in the land, God is trying to bring peace into people’s hearts,” Sample said. (*Names changed.)