Christians in Ukraine ask for prayer as tensions with Russia escalate

Seized Ukrainian military vessels are seen in a port of Kerch, Crimea, Nov. 26, 2018. Russian forces boarded and captured the ships Sunday. Credit STR/AFP/Getty Images.
Seized Ukrainian military vessels are seen in a port of Kerch, Crimea, Nov. 26, 2018. Russian forces boarded and captured the ships Sunday. Credit STR/AFP/Getty Images.

.- As the Ukrainian parliament voted to introduce martial law after Russian forces seized three of its naval vessels, Christians in the country are asking for prayer and solidarity to de-escalate the conflict.

Russia captured three Ukrainian vessels together with their 23 crew members Nov. 25 in the Kerch Strait, between Crimea and Russia's Taman Peninsula. Crimea, a Ukrainian territory, was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Ukraine's parliament voted Nov. 26 to impose martial law in 10 oblasts, most of them bordering Russia, for 30 days beginning Nov. 28. Martial law allows military rule and the restriction of rights, including the freedoms of assembly and expression.

In response to the situation, the Baptist Union of Ukraine has asked that Christians around the world pray for Ukraine, for its protection and for the protection of ministers who serve in areas of occupation and military conflict.

“We don’t know all the details of what happened,” said Igor Bandura, First Vice President of the Baptist Union of Ukraine, or what are the intentions of Russian president Vladimir Putin. “But the situation is extremely serious. We are asking for your prayer for our situation in Ukraine as we believe in our Christian solidarity.”

Some have noted the religious dimension of Russian actions.

“The Russian Orthodox Church has broken off relations with Constantinople and is ready to defend its 'canonical territories' by any means,” said Michael Cherenkov, Mission Eurasia’s Executive Field Director.

“Ukrainian Baptist churches in the occupied territories are outlawed as extremists. And in Russia itself, the persecution of evangelical believers is intensifying. All of this suggests that Russia is preparing for a big war in which the religious factor will have a major role,” Cherenkov observed.

Ukraine called the Nov. 25 incident in the Kerch strait an “act of agression” on the part of Russia.

The three vessels captured were going from Odesa to Mariupol, in the Sea of Azov – a seaport only accessible by the Kerch strait. Russia claimed the boats had illegally entered its territorial waters, and fired on the Ukrainian vessels. Three Ukrainian crewmen have been hospitalized, according to the Kyiv Post.

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have been fighting government forces since April 2014, shortly after the Russian annexation of Crimea. The conflict has killed more than 10,000 people, and displaced more than 1 million.