Protestants – one of the most pro-Ukrainian groups in the Donbas

Pastor Sergey Kosyak at an interfaith prayer marathon with his son, praying for the unity of Ukraine

Pastor Sergey Kosyak at an interfaith prayer marathon with his son, praying for the unity of Ukraine 

2016/03/25 • Analysis & Opinion, Politics, War in the Donbas

Moscow commentators have focused on what they view as the anti-Russian activities of the Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Uniates, but it turns out, several observers say, that one of the most pro-Ukrainian and thus anti-Russian groups in the Donbas are leaders and members of Protestant denominations there.

There are some 20,000 Protestants in eastern Ukraine, Yekaterina Shapoval writes, who actively support the territorial integrity of Ukraine by directly supporting Ukrainian forces, providing humanitarian assistance to the population, helping people to evacuate, and tearing down statues of Lenin.

In Shapoval’s words, “the Protestants in the East have turned out to be one of the most patriotic social groups,” something that experts say is “not accidental.” Mikhail Cherenkov, a professor at the Ukrainian Catholic University and himself a Protestant, notes that “the Donbas was always the most Protestant region in Ukraine.”

A major contributing factor was that during the Soviet period, people from across the USSR came to work in that Ukrainian region. As a result of intermixing, “the level of traditional Orthodox religiosity was lower than in the rest of Ukraine,” according to Kirill Govorun, a former senior hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.

And when the region went into a deep depression in the 1990s, the number of Ukrainians who turned to Protestantism grew significantly. When the Ukrainian economy improved in the first years of this century, Cherenkov says, many of those who had done so turned away from the Protestant denominations.

During the course of 2014 alone, the pro-Moscow militants killed seven Protestant pastors, seized 40 church activists, and confiscated the buildings and land of 12 religious communities.

Indeed, he suggests, the chief “misfortune of Ukrainian Protestantism” is that it experiences the greatest growth when times are tough.

Russian intervention has thus produced an increase in the number of people in the Donbas who are participating in Protestant groups and an increase in the activity of them and their church leaders in order to help defend Ukraine against Russian intervention and Moscow-sponsored secession.

Pro-Moscow forces have acted in ways that have contributed to the growth of pro-Ukrainian Protestantism in the east: During the course of 2014 alone, the pro-Moscow militants killed seven Protestant pastors, seized 40 church activists, and confiscated the buildings and land of 12 religious communities.

Pastor Sergey Kosyak after being tortured by mercenaries in the Russia-occupied territory of Donbas.

Protestant pastor Sergey Kosyak after being tortured by Putin’s mercenaries in the Russia-occupied territory of Ukraine.

The pro-Moscow militants operated on the principle, Petr Dudnik, the pastor of the Church of the Good News, that “there is only one true faith, Russian Orthodoxy, and all the rest, is an American faith. This means that we are accomplices of the US.”

Dudnik, Shapoval points out, is “a legendary figure” in the Donbas. When the pro-Moscow militants occupied Slavyansk, he led 4,000 Ukrainians out of the line of fire; and later, he and his parishioners did the same for another 12,000 Ukrainians from Debaltsevo, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Horlivka.

But it is not just the bestiality of pro-Moscow forces that is leading to a growth in Protestant activism in eastern Ukraine, Shapoval says. It is also the fact that Protestants see the spread of Russian power in the region as heralding the return of “the ‘red dragon’ – Stalin, Lenin, and the entire Soviet-communist horror” under which they suffered in the past.

Lenin's monument, largest in Ukraine, taken down in Kharkiv

Lenin’s monument, largest in Ukraine, taken down in Kharkiv.

Their anti-Sovietism is clearly in evidence, the Ukrainian journalist says, in their active involvement in efforts to tear down statues to Lenin and other Soviet leaders. In many cases, it has been Protestants who have taken the lead in these efforts.

There are also many Protestants in the Ukrainian forces in the region, and their Protestantism reinforces their commitment to defend their country against Russia. As one of them tells Shapoval, Christianity does require turning the other cheek, “but when one is talking about war, there is nothing like that” in the Bible.

“An enemy who can kill you or bring harm must be destroyed,” he says.

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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Vlad Pufagtinenko

    Russian Orthodoxy is the faith of Satan.

    • Quartermaster

      I wouldn’t go that far, but it is certain the Russian Orthodox Church has been hijacked and diverted away from the mission of the Church that Jesus Christ established. It has become, once more, a church simply used to control people on behalf of the criminal Russian Regime. That Kirill loves that sort of influence places his organization directly inside the tradition of what the Roman Catholic Church had become by the Protestant Reformation. Kirill will be judged very harshly when he stands in front of Christ, and I will not be at all surprised if he is condemned to the lake of fire for his horrific sins.

      • Vlad Pufagtinenko

        Where is it we disagree?

        • Quartermaster

          The ROC is at least nominally Christian and there are probably many in it that are sincere and hate what is going on.

      • Ukrainian girl

        Unlike any other Christian Church, throughout its entire history from the late Middle Ages until present day the Moscowite (or ‘Russian’ from the beginning of the XVIII century) Orthodox Church has been subordinate to and serving the State rather than God and its own people and, therefore, can only remotely be defined as a “Christian”, to begin with. I am not an advocate of Western Catholicism, but the equation of the two lacks the balanced factual support.

        • Quartermaster

          I haven’t equated the two, it’s merely a comparison of relative position. The Roman Catholic Church by the time of the Reformation had sold its soul for political power and influence. That it saw itself above the state in Europe places it in a much different position that the Russian Orthodox Church, which became a tool of the state. In both cases, the actual mission of the church was ignored for the mission it set for itself., or was set for it, in the case of the ROC.

  • Neckto

    Kremlin views basic human rights is one of the anti-Russian activity.