Crimean tension stirs call for prayer, Bibles
CRIMEA, Ukraine (BP) -- Crimean pastor Kostya Bakonov said he believes the conflict in Ukraine is not only a political battle, but a battle for souls as well, calling for more Bible and more prayer.
In the middle of what some are calling the biggest crisis between Moscow and the West since the Cold War, Ukrainian Christians are not panicking, but are on the offensive by praying.
Last week, Ukraine ordered a full military mobilization in response to the buildup of Russian forces on the Crimean peninsula, an autonomous republic within the border of Ukraine.
Ukrainian's new Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, has warned that the country is "on the brink of disaster," with Crimea's multiethnic population battling over decisions concerning its future while NATO and Russia stand on opposing sides.
Bakonov, who leads a church in the Crimean city of Simferopol, said that all across Ukraine churches are calling for prayer vigils to ask God for peace in their country and for His name to be glorified.
"In our church we have a prayer chain 24/7," he said, asking believers worldwide to join them in praying for their country. "I fervently believe the crisis in Ukraine is not only about the political stability in the country and region but also for the souls of men."
After protesters in Kiev saw president Viktor Yanukovych removed in late February, the Russian majority of Crimea began challenging the authority of Ukraine, seeking to return to the 1992 constitution in which it briefly had its own president and foreign policy.
It only heightened the discord when one of the first decisions of the interim Kiev government was to revoke a law that permitted Russian to be recognized as the official language in Crimea. About 97 percent of the population speaks Russian as their first language, according to a Kiev International Institute of Sociology poll.
Russian president Vladimir Putin has maintained his right to defend the Russian people of Crimea and was asked to do so by Yanukovych, whom Putin claims is the rightful Ukrainian president. Ukrainian and Western governments support the legality of the current government and have warned that Russia's action on Ukrainian soil is a declaration of war.
Crimean citizens are divided on whether they want to be independent, remain part of Ukraine or become part of Russia.
Despite differing views, believers in Crimea are sticking to the bigger issue.
In the face of escalating tension and increased media speculation, Bakonov said his motto has become "less news and television, more Bible and prayer."
"Yes, we are concerned about the situation in Crimea, but I encourage our congregation of 800 believers by the Word of God," he said. "I continue to preach the Gospel to the people of Crimea and beyond."
Despite constant changes and rising tensions, Bakonov is most concerned for the spiritual outcome of this time of unrest. He was encouraged that, during the Maidan protests, churches in Kiev ministered in the center of the unrest and helped Ukrainians find peace in the midst of the conflict.
He said many people in the country are spiritually open because of the ongoing hostilities.
"Many people in Ukraine have been searching for answers and are seeking the answers from churches and ministers. We praise God that He is opening hearts to reveal Himself," Bakonov said.
He asks for prayer for peace in the region and for the leaders involved in decision-making, including Putin and Ukrainian president Alexander Turchynov.
Bakonov said Turchynov is a strong believer in Jesus and prays that Turchynov will boldly and righteously lead the country and seek Godly counsel. Turchynov is a Baptist lay preacher who frequently speaks in local churches.
"Our team believes that the changes going on in Ukraine are a second chance from God for the people to turn to God and seek Jesus as their Savior," he said.
Nicole Lee is an IMB writer based in Europe. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).