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Leonid Krezhanovsky, center, stands in front of the former home of the Petrovsky Church of Christ in Donetsk, Ukraine, flanked by the pro-Russian separatists who seized the building in 2014. Krezhanovsky was an elder of the church. He visited the separatists to maintain a “friendly, working relationship,” he told Al Jazeera. “I tell the boys that I love them all the time, just as I love the Ukrainian soldiers,” he said. “We’re all brothers, and killing each other is against what the Bible says.”
Photo by Francesca Volpi

Heroes, Satan and Ukraine

In separatist-held Donetsk, a Church of Christ elder ministers to the soldiers who seized his church's meeting place. 'I tell the boys that I love them all the time,' he says, 'just as I love the Ukrainian soldiers.' ”

KIEV, Ukraine — Heroes live here — more than I can count.

I’ve talked to so many people in this Eastern European nation who inspire me — and make me laugh.

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As pro-Russian separatists have taken their homes and threatened their lives, our brothers and sisters in Christ have maintained their faith and their sense of humor. 

One minister, held hostage by separatists, somehow convinced his captors he was an Orthodox priest. So they listened as he preached to them. Before his release, armed militants were bringing him gifts and asking him for blessings. (I’m told the story is even funnier in Russian.)

On my previous visit here in 2011, I witnessed baptisms in the Black Sea during a gospel seminar in Crimea. Then my hosts from Eastern European Mission drove me to Donetsk to see the amazing TV ministry of Sasha Prokopchuk.

Now Crimea flies the Russian flag, and Donetsk is under the control of the separatists. Some say they want to establish an Orthodox state — and think that, “if we’re supported by Americans, we’re spies,” one Ukrainian minister told me.

I didn’t attempt to enter Donetsk, but reporters from VICE News and Al Jazeera America did. 

A separatist fighter carries a live artillery shell through the former meeting place of the Petrovsky Church of Christ in Donetsk, Ukraine. Militants seized the building in October 2014 and renamed the region the Donetsk People’s Republic. (PHOTO BY FRANCESCA VOLPI)

They interviewed Leonid Krezhanovsky, an elder of the Petrovsky Church of Christ, once the largest congregation in the city. Militants seized the church’s building, but the elder visits them to maintain a “friendly, working relationship,” Al Jazeera reports.

“I tell the boys that I love them all the time, just as I love the Ukrainian soldiers,” Krezhanovsky said. “We’re all brothers, and killing each other is against what the Bible says.” 

Many of Petrovsky’s members moved westward as the violence increased, but Krezhanovsky stayed behind to serve the church, which meets in apartments scattered across the city. The reporter for VICE News attended a worship service and asked the elder if he was afraid that the militias would stop them from meeting.

“We’re not afraid,” he replied, “because the first Christians were also persecuted. And they weren’t afraid to preach Jesus Christ.”

As he addressed the congregation huddled in the apartment, Krezhanovsky urged them not to take up arms, reminding them of Jesus’ words on the cross: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”

“Right now Satan is trying to put hate and anger into our hearts,” he said. “We have to keep the peace.”

Members of the scattered Petrovsky Church of Christ meet in homes. (VIDEO STILL VIA YOUTUBE/VICE NEWS)

I long for the day when I can shake his hand and tell him how humbled I am by his faith. That faith is alive in Ukraine — in Christians living as exiles in Kiev and under threat of violence in Donetsk. 

Scattered like the first century church, they are spreading the true Gospel, blessing the lives of the people they encounter.

I pray — and I believe — that the conflict in Ukraine will be remembered as one of Satan’s greatest failures.

And that’s no joke.

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Filed under: Headlines - Secondary International

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