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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
KYIV, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)-- Ukraine's interim President Olexander Turchynov has warned two regions in eastern Ukraine that Sunday's referendums on declaring independence could lead to their destruction. His comments came while Christians were distributing Bible books to help ease tensions, following deadly clashes between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces.
Pro-Russian separatists said however they will hold the Sunday ballots anyway, to seek approval for declaring sovereign people's republics in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The referendums come despite calls from even Russian President Vladimir Putin to postpone voting in the areas. He spoke amid deadly clashes between pro-Russian militants occupying government buildings and
Ukrainian security forces.
In the latest fighting, Ukraine’s interior minister Arsen Avakov said some 20 insurgents, who he called “terrorists”, and one policeman were killed in the eastern port of Mariupol.
He claimed the killings happened as armed pro-Russian separatists tried to seize the local police headquarters.
Video footage showed Ukrainian forces using heavy weaponry as well as tanks and at least some unarmed people appeared to have been injured from gun shot wounds.
Tensions are also rising in the strategic town of Slovyansk where a local resident criticized Ukraine's government.
"All people of our town want peace," a woman said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "But we only see the violence and aggressiveness from our authorities in Kyiv."
Amid the turmoil, a Christian mission group said it would distribute hundreds of thousands of 'Gospel of Luke' Bible books in the area to promote reconciliation amid fears of a new world war.
Russian Ministries (RM) told BosNewsLife it already printed 200,000 copies of the Gospel of Luke in the Ukrainian language and would print another 200,000 copies in the Russian language "for use in Russian-speaking, eastern portions of Ukraine."
"These special editions of the Gospel of Luke also contain prayers for salvation, comfort for individuals and families, healing for the nation, and hope for peace," added RM's President Sergey Rakhuba. "Some speculate [the tensions] could spark World War III."
Distributing the Bibles isn't without risks, he cautioned.
"Recently our 'School Without Walls' [project] students [and] graduates took copies of Scripture to soldiers on the front lines of Ukraine, understanding that they could be the first ones to face eternity," he added.
However, "We will continue to work with local evangelical churches to distribute the Word of God as widely as possible." He said Bibles are also being distributed among Russian troops stationed near Ukraine's borders.
Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed this week he had begun withdrawing forces from the area, but the NATO military alliance said as many as 40,000 Russian troops remain near Ukraine.
The leaders of France and Germany called Saturday for a visible withdrawal of those forces and threatened Russia with further sanctions if Ukraine's presidential election on May 25 fails to go ahead.
(BosNewsLife (2004-2014) is the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians. It has been 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since May 2004).
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