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A view from Ukraine’s forgotten war

'Christians have changed,' says one church member in the conflict zone, struggling to serve his fellow believers.

Avdiivka, Ukraine —Sundown. I am perched alongside Ukrainian soldiers on a rooftop overlooking a minefield. On the other side are the pro-Russian separatists who seized the city of Donetsk.

From a rooftop in the eastern Ukrainian town of Adiivka, Jeff Abrams surveys the war-ravaged region, where fighting continues despite a recent cease-fire agreement.As the darkness deepens, tracer fire streaks across the sky. Tanks, machine guns and rocket launchers fire. Bombs burst. The ground trembles.
This is what a cease fire sounds like.

It’s been more than two years since the separatists seized parts of eastern Ukraine and renamed it the Donetsk People Republic. This conflict, forgotten by most of the world, has claimed some 10,000 lives. Those unable or unwilling to flee westward struggle to meet their basic needs.
‘Since the conflict began, many of our brethren have fled. Some have died. Others have disappeared.’
This region, once home to thriving Churches of Christ, is now a land of broken bodies, broken infrastructure, broken hearts and broken promises. Ukrainians feel that Western powers aren’t honoring the Budapest Agreement of 1994 by defending them from outside aggressors. Russia denies involvement in the uprising. Nonetheless, people here refer to the shrapnel and shell casings that line school playgrounds as “gifts from Putin.”

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Christianity flourished here. Believers from the U.S. and Ukrainian Christians planted hundreds of Churches of Christ.

Jeff Abrams | VoicesSince the conflict began, many of our brethren have fled. Some have died. Others have disappeared.

Here in Avdiivka, about 30 souls once worshiped with the Church of Christ. Now this small town, about 15 miles north of Donetsk, is part of what Ukrainian forces call the Anti-Terrorist Operation, or ATO, zone.

Only three believers remain.

Money — and warm clothing for orphans — are scarce. Some teachers and nurses haven’t been paid in a year. In the territory controlled by separatists, militias have seized church buildings and told followers of Christ that the Russian Orthodox church is the only legitimate faith.

In Donetsk, “we pray for God to allow us continue our ministry here, to protect us from the evil one and to allow us to preach the Gospel freely,” a Christian named Arthur tells me in a recent message from the troubled city. The believers who remain pray “that no one takes away our church buildings, so that we can get together to worship openly.”

Churches once supported by Christians in the U.S. are cut off from those funds, he added. As a result, “it is a time of testing for the ministers that have to work two or three jobs to provide for their families and feed God’s people.”

****

After a night of tracer fire and fear, sunrise brings blessed silence in Avdiivka. Soldiers rest and reload.

The Donetsk Airport before and after (PHOTOS PROVIDED)There are small signs of hope in the new normal here. Children still go to school. Their parents replace broken windows. A few even plant flowers.

In western Ukraine, Christian refugees from the east work alongside their brethren. Together, they have revitalized once-dying Churches of Christ there. Here in east Ukraine, Good Samaritans have risen to help their neighbors, putting into practice the words of the Bible they have studied since their nation’s independence 25 years ago.

In Donetsk, “Christians have changed,” Arthur writes. “The Scriptures sound different to us now. We praise God for this. He has allowed this to happen for a reason.

“He still reigns! He is still the almighty El Shaddai and Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who provides.”

JEFF ABRAMS, pulpit minister for the Tuscumbia Church of Christ in Alabama, has made multiple trips to eastern Ukraine to work with Churches of Christ there. Contact him at [email protected].

Filed under: International

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