Christian leaders 'killed, tortured and disappeared' in occupied Ukraine

(Photo: Unsplash/Markus Spiske)

Christian leaders are being "killed, tortured and disappeared" in parts of Ukraine that are occupied by Russia, a Christian religious freedom charity has said. 

Paul Robinson, CEO of Release International, said, "As President Putin begins his fifth term our partners describe growing pressure on the Church." 

Partners report that in February, 59-year-old Ukrainian Orthodox priest, Stepan Podolchak, was found dead in the streets of Kalanchak, in Russian-occupied Kherson, his body showing signs of torture. 

The tragic discovery was made two days after he was seized and hauled away by what is believed to have been operatives belonging to the Russian Interior Ministry's Centre for Countering Extremism.

Forum 18 reports that prior to his abduction and murder, he had resisted pressure to leave the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and join the Moscow Patriarchate. 

"Increasingly, denominations other than President Putin's Russian Orthodox are being regarded as extremists," said Release International. 

Podolchak is not the only Christian to have suffered this fate after Anatoly Prokopchuk, a Pentecostal deacon, and his 19-year-old son son Aleksandr, were kidnapped, mutilated and shot in Kherson last November. 

According to Forum 18, "Russian occupation forces have also kidnapped, tortured, and killed other Ukrainian religious leaders since the Russian invasion."

Release reports that others have disappeared or been deported to Russia, some after refusing to accept Russian citizenship.

Yet there are also signs of hope, with people filling churches in Kherson and showing a hunger for the Gospel. 

"In the face of fear, insecurity and oppression, hunger for the gospel is growing. We hear reports of churches packed to overflowing and many giving their lives to Christ," said Robinson. 

An associate of Release International said: "People flock to the word of God and convert to Christ, in whom they find their only hope in the conflagration of war."

Release International is working to support Christians who have remained within Ukraine and those who have sought safety elsewhere.

Robinson continued, "In our work with persecuted Christians we find time and again that oppression concentrates the mind and cause people to think deeply about the meaning of their lives,' says Paul Robinson of Release International.

"When everything else is stripped away, people face up to the really important questions: "Why am I here? And what is my purpose?"

"While persecution is a terrible thing, we find that God is powerfully present to restore hope and meaning. Our partners are working in Ukraine to serve a Church which is being refined by fire – and where the gospel is preached, that Church is growing."

Republished from Christian Today UK.