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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
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KYIV/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– The national bishop of Ukraine’s largest Pentecostal-Charismatic denomination, has been freed after being abducted by suspected pro-Russian separatists, his brother and a mission group leader confirmed Saturday, May 17.
Bishop Aleksey Demidovich, who leads the Ukrainian Church of God (COG) and co-chairs the Ukrainian Interchurch Council, was reportedly kidnapped Friday, May 16, in the city of Slovyansk in the troubled eastern Donetsk region.
“Militants had seized his church [building] and were using it as a base for their operations,” explained Sergey Rakhuba, president of mission group Russian Ministries (RM).
The bishop’s brother, Sergey Demidovich, said “Aleksey” had been released after anxious hours. “They just let him out. Friends, I can’t tell everything, but this is not a joke,” he added in comments sent to BosNewsLife. “He stayed in an isolation cell for seven hours. They didn’t hurt him physically, but we can’t release any more details right now.”
Sergey Demidovich said he appreciated all those who showed support for his brother during the ordeal. “Many thanks to all who prayed, wrote and called,” he stressed in a statement distributed by RM.
MANY CONGREGATIONS WORKING
The abduction came at a time when Demidovich tried to oversee GOC’s more than 90 congregations, including in the country’s volatile eastern regions where dozens have died in recent clashes between armed separatists and Ukrainian security forces.
Despite the turmoil, GOC congregations run what they call “an extensive social ministry”, including numerous orphanages, children day activity centers, drug rehabilitation centers, and “prison ministries”.
The abduction came just days after Archpriest Pavel Zhuchenko of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate was shot dead near a roadblock post in the Donetsk Region.
Ukrainian officials blamed pro-Russian forces, who they described as “terrorists”, but an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the killing of the father of three was still underway on Monday.
Separatists appear to pressure churches in Ukraine’s eastern regions to choose between supporting the central
government backed by Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov, a Baptist pastor, or local pro-Russian authorities, BosNewsLife established.
FORCES ATTACK BASES
The pressure comes while Turchynov has told lawmakers this week that government forces successfully attacked an insurgent base in the city of Slovyansk and another one in nearby Kramatorsk, about 150 kilometers (95 miles) west of the Russian border.
Ukraine’s defense ministry claimed there were no casualties, adding that the army took three insurgents captive, including one who was armed with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
However the death toll continues to rise in other fighting. Besides a priest, dozens of people have died this month alone, including at least seven Ukrainian soldiers soldiers as well as pro-Russian forces.
Additionally, the commander of pro-Russian forces in the Donetsk region had given Ukrainian troops a 24-hour ultimatum to withdraw or face sustained attack.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the tensions underscored Russia’s support for separatists. “What’s happening today in Ukraine is not only a threat for Ukraine. This is a threat to entire Europe,” he said in an interview. “Russia undermined the international law and security. It tries to build up a new Berlin Wall. They finance and support Russian-led terrorists and separatists in southern and eastern Ukraine. It seems that the ultimate goal of the Russian president and the Russian regime is to make Ukraine a failed state.”
CROSSING RED LINES
Yatsenyuk added that Russia has crossed red lines, though Moscow has denied wrongdoing. Despite the difficulties, he said presidential elections would go ahead on May 25th as planned.
“We acknowledge in some areas, in some small areas it would be difficult to hold elections,” the prime minister cautioned. “The reason is very simple. It is difficult to cast your ballot heaving a barrel on your head, mainly pointed by these Russian-led terrorists. But we are absolutely sure that we will pass this elections and that we will have the legitimate president.”
Ukraine’s government says it is trying to ease tensions by holding the first in a series of round-table discussions with religious and other leaders on decentralising power as part of a peace plan. Yet, pro-Russian separatists have not been invited and the initial talks broke up with no sign of a breakthrough, amid more bloodshed.
Amid the turmoil, RM said last week 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.
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.”
CHURCHES ARE PRAYING
Additionally, churches have been praying for peace in this former Soviet nation. In a recent letter to Ukrainian and Russian speaking pastors, GOC’s Regional Superintendent Thomas Rosson warned there was “a very real danger that these tensions will spill over into our churches, often pitting one Christian leader against another.”
And, “even more critical, the message of the Gospel may get lost or even ignored by those who need to hear the Good News the most,” he wrote. Rossen stressed that it was therefore “of utmost importance that we avoid the most horrible of diabolical provocations – that we begin to hate one another.”
“It is not easy, especially in times like these, to love our neighbor who would appear to be on the other side. But that is the quintessence of the Christian Gospel [as written in] Mark 12:30-31.”
Additionally, “let us continue to pray for peace and that there will be no more bloodshed” and “for our secular leaders, for we also know that “The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases,” Rossen wrote, referring to Bible Proverbs 21:1.
“Although the geopolitical issues may be “urgent”, we have a more important and higher calling as representatives of the Gospel,” he said.
(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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