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Church leaders in Ukraine are being singled out for persecution by Russian forces in occupied areas. Evangelical pastors have been arrested, interrogated, tortured and even expelled from their towns by the Russian military and their supporters.

Occupying forces have confiscated church buildings and Christians have received harsher treatment at Russian military checkpoints, say partners of Release International, which serves persecuted Christians around the world.

Churches sealed

According to reports, Russian forces broke into a Baptist worship meeting in occupied Berdyansk in Zaporizhzhia. After checking the identity of everyone present, they searched the church and sealed it. The next day they seized another Baptist church nearby.

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Later that month, according to Forum 18, Russian forces seized a priest of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in occupied Kherson.

In the following account, names have been changed to protect the individuals.

Before the war Pastor Ivan led a growing congregation of more than 200 people in a town in the Kharkiv region. He also supported a thriving network of five evangelical churches in the area.

Last spring when the Russian military were poised to take the town many fled, including families with young children. Only some elderly people remained. Pastor Ivan and his wife Viktoria stayed behind too.

They felt called by God to serve the elderly and vulnerable in their occupied town. So, they did what they could to provide those who remained with food, prayer, and comfort from the Bible.

Pastor tortured

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‘After interrogation I thought I was dying.’

But the Russian forces came to Pastor Ivan’s home to arrest him. They threw him into prison and tortured him, accusing him of being an American spy. They are suspicious that evangelical pastors are agents of the West.

Enduring their beatings, Pastor Ivan tried to talk about God with them. And when he was stuck in a tiny cell with eight other prisoners, he prayed for them.

Two days later the Russian soldiers interrogated him again and beat him so badly he thought he would die.

‘After that second interrogation I thought I was dying. Other prisoners tried to help me and called for help. The Russians sent me to a hospital, which I believe was divine grace and intervention. I believe God saved my life through the Ukrainian doctors who helped me.’

After two weeks, Pastor Ivan was allowed home where he recovered slowly. And, as the Russians tightened their grip Pastor Ivan and Viktoria left for Poland.

As soon as their town was liberated by Ukrainian forces, they returned.

Pastoral care

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Paul Robinson, CEO Release International

Release International’s mission partners have been providing pastoral care and medical help in Kharkiv region.

Says Release International CEO Paul Robinson: ‘Pastor Ivan is again leading a congregation of more than 300 people, many of whom are new to church.

‘God is using him and others like him to share the gospel and to help people in practical ways in the liberated areas of eastern Ukraine.’

Release International has launched an appeal to help Christians in Ukraine and around the world who are suffering oppression for their faith.

Release International is active in some 30 countries. It works through partners to prayerfully, pastorally, and practically support the families of Christian martyrs. It supports prisoners of faith and their families; Christians suffering oppression and violence, and those forced to flee.