September 16, 2014
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Prayer draws 'God's wing of protection' over Ukrainian city
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A statue of Lenin towers above Kharkiv's city square, where up to 200 Christians have gathered daily for more than 130 days to pray for their nation, sharply divided by politics, language and culture.  IMB file photo.
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A woman bows her knees and lifts her head in prayer during a daily prayer meeting on Independence Square in Kharkiv, Ukraine. These prayer meetings have been a daily occurrence since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine.  Photo by Marc Ira Hooks/IMB.
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"We are standing on our knees." Kharkiv residents say God has honored the prayers of those who have gathered daily to pray for peace in their city. Though Kharkiv was supposed to be one of the first cities to fall to pro-Russian separatists, it has remained relatively peaceful.  Photo by Marc Ira Hooks/IMB.
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A woman wipes tears from her eyes as she sings, "Prayer for Ukraine" at the conclusion of the daily prayer circle on Kharkiv's main square.  Photo by Marc Ira Hooks/IMB.
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Located 20 miles from the Russian border, many anticipated Kharkiv would have been the first city overtaken by pro-Russian separatists. Instead, it has been spared much of the conflict experienced in other eastern Ukrainian cities. Many attribute this to the fervent daily prayer of believers meeting in the main square.
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Posted on Jul 30, 2014 | by Marc Ira Hooks

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KHARKIV, Ukraine (BP) -- "Our city is under God's wing of protection," Nadia, a Ukrainian believer, said.

Nadia said she feels it when she goes to the main square of Kharkiv each morning to pray for the city and for Ukraine.

The eastern Ukrainian city, located just 20 miles from the Russian border, was expected to be one of the first to fall to pro-Russian separatists. But even though major cities in neighboring areas are controlled by separatists and embroiled in bloody battles, today Kharkiv remains relatively peaceful and residents say public demonstrations on both sides have all but subsided.

For more than 130 days, believers in Kharkiv have started each morning on their knees in prayer. They believe God has honored their prayers.

"This is not about us," Nadia said. "It is not about our prayers. But God has been faithful to hear our prayers and to keep our city peaceful and safe."

The Kharkiv "prayer circle" began at the onset of the EuroMaidan revolution in Kiev. Started by a small group of evangelical believers -- mostly Baptist -- the group has grown and some days swells to nearly 200 people.

Joy Burnett*, an International Mission Board worker based in Kharkiv, said the group has been faithful to meet regardless of weather or other conflicting factors.

"In the days between the Maidan revolution and when violence broke out in the east, we were not sure what would happen here in Kharkiv," Burnett said. "There was lots of fear and uncertainty."

And for a time Burnett left the city as tensions between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian army rose.

"I really missed being with the group during that time," Burnett said. "I may have been living somewhere else, but at seven o'clock each morning my heart was always with my brothers and sisters in Kharkiv. I really wanted to be with them on the square praying."

Nadia said she believes this time of prayer each day is special and different from the prayer times they have in their church.

"It is a privilege for us to kneel here praying [to] Him," she said. "There is something special about when we pray outdoors. Heaven touches earth when we pray here (under the open sky)."

In addition to the group's growing numbers, it is not uncommon for Baptists to be praying alongside Ukrainian Orthodox, Pentecostals and even Messianic Jewish believers, Nadia acknowledges.

"There were always barriers between us in the past," she said. "But now those barriers are much less. We greet each other in the love that comes with being fellow believers, and we pray openly with each other. It is very sweet."

Victoria, a Kharkiv native who is studying at an American university, returned to Ukraine to spend the summer with her family. She and other students regularly attend the morning prayer meetings.

She said she believes the daily gathering is a witness to non-Christians who pass by every day on their way to work. "They see us praying here," she said, "and they understand that we believe in something that is bigger."

Nadia said, "These students understand that they are fighting for their future on their knees."

When the group began praying together they thought it would last only a few weeks. Now, many like Nadia hope they will continue meeting daily to pray -- even after the conflict ends.

"I would like to come here every morning," she said. "Maybe even until the Lord returns."

For more information about ministry in Ukraine, contact rebirtheasternukraine@gmail.com.
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Marc Ira Hooks is a writer for the International Mission Board 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).
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