Reasons for Hope in Eastern Ukraine
A Moscow pastor reports on his visit to Lugansk
M o s c o w -- During a meeting with Moscow Baptist pastor Vitaly Vlasenko on 14 December, Lugansk Metropolitan Mitrofan stressed that “Evangelical-Christians, Baptists and Pentecostals belong to the traditional confessions within our region”. The Orthodox cleric promised to do everything in his power to normalize relations between Protestants and the breakaway “Lugansk People’s Republic” (LPR) in war-torn Eastern Ukraine.
Since 15 October, all 48 Protestant congregations within Lugansk region are officially unregistered. None of them had by that date met the LPR’s strict requirements for re-registration. Consequently, gas has been cut off from most church buildings and a blockage of electricity may be in the offing. As a consequence, an increasing number of evangelicals are meeting in private quarters. As non-registered entities, visiting orphanages and any other forms of social or public outreach are barely feasible. Fines of 5.000 Russian rubles (currently 67 Euros) have been levied for infractions and repeated infractions can result in detention.
Following the meeting with Mitrofan, the guest from Moscow was also hosted by Dmitry Sidorov, the LPR’s youthful “Minister for Culture, Sport and Youth”. Sidorov assured the visitor that law-abiding evangelicals had nothing to fear and that they should attempt once again to attain registration. The stipulations for re-registration require the signatures of 30 congregational members having a clean legal record with the LDR’s 2014-installed government. According to Vlasenko, only 32 of the region’s 48 congregations have the required number of members; the remaining 16 did not even attempt to register during the first go-around. At a meeting between local evangelical leaders, it has been decided to attempt re-registration on as large a scale as possible.
The guest from Moscow describes the LPR’s evangelicals as being in a state of despair, trying to find their course “between two fires”. Both the local authorities and church leadership across the frontier in far-away Kiev are demanding gestures of loyalty. Concessions to the local government can lead to cries of betrayal from pro-Kiev elements. Church diplomats arriving in Donbass from Russia and attempting to achieve accommodation are accused of interference and meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs. Yet it is only bi-partisan and pro-Kremlin Ukrainians and Russians who possess the chance of achieving an understanding in Lugansk or Donetsk. Only they have ready access to LPR-offices.
Commentary from Yoder
In a response to the Facebook report of 15 December on this visit, a Ukrainian residing in Washington state/USA asked rhetorically how a legal agreement can be reached with an illegal government. The politically-active evangelicals of Kiev do not apply Romans 13:1 – Christians being subject to all governments - to the two break-away governments of Eastern Ukraine. They will justify their stance by pointing to the unconstitutional and therefore illegal creation of these states through military force. Yet the Kiev government also cannot be understood as legal, for it is a result of the violent street protests which overthrew the constitutionally-elected government of Viktor Yanukovich in Feb. 2014.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Gvardeysk, 27 December 2018
A journalistic release for which the author is solely responsible. It is informational in character and does not express the official position of any church organisation. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #18-13, 488 words.
Letters from Readers
On 15 Jan.2019, Wilmer Otto from Illinois/USA wrote:
you kindly report how the government of Yanukovich was a legal government, when outside observers reported widespread fraud in his purported election.
Further, he effectively ended his presidency by removing himself from his duties, and therefore a legal process was undertaken to replace him.
Quite a surprise that you deemed the government an illegal government in the face of most of the rest of the world, including the United Nations, recognizing it as the legitimate representative of Ukraine. Please explain.
Joachim Willems from
Berlin wrote on 2 January:
Mit großem Interesse und Gewinn lese ich seit Jahren Ihre E-Mails. Ihren Kommentar zu Lugansk/Donezk und Kiew möchte ich allerdings nicht unwidersprochen lassen: Die Kiewer Regierung ist durch mehr oder weniger freie Wahlen legitimiert, die 'Regierungen' von Lugansk und Donezk sind das Ergebnis einer völkerrechtswidrigen Invasion eines ausländischen Staates. Um es mit einem Beispiel aus Deutschland zu sagen: Es gibt einen Unterschied zwischen der Weimarer Republik, die das Ergebnis einer Revolution war, dann aber die Legitimation durch Wahlen nachgeholt hat, und der Annektion von Deutschland benachbarten Gebieten durch die Nationalsozialisten. Und wer ist eigentlich die legitime Obrigkeit in den USA? Die britische Krone? Oder die traditionellen Führer der first nations? Oder sind Washington, Lincoln, Carter, die Bushs, Obama, ja sogar der nach Stimmen unterlegene Trump nicht durchaus legale und legitime 'Obrigkeit'?
Yoder‘s response: The election of Yanukovich in 2010 was deemed legimitate by international election observers. See for ex. exit polls and „The Guardian“ from 8 Feb. 2010: „Observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) said there were no indications of serious fraud and described the vote as an ‚impressive display‘ of democracy. ‚For everyone in Ukraine this election was a victory‘, (said) João Soares, president of the OSCE's parliamentary assembly.“ Yes, Yanukovich proved afterward to be a very corrupt president – perhaps even more so than the current one.
Wilmer Otto states that “a legal process was undertaken to replace him”. But the violent street riots were not legal and the initial, ensuing vote in Verkhovna Rada did not attain the legally-required majority. The country has long been divided roughly 50-50 in its politics – see the election results between 1990 and 2014. Maidan 2014 was essentially the successful “putsch” of the Western half against the Eastern half. The result was a sad but understandable splitting of the country.
I believe it is also incorrect – see Willems – to reduce the events in Donetsk and Lugansk to an invasion from Russia. Local folk were very much involved in the „changes of government“ in Donbass. All maps on voting patterns indicate that Donbass and Crimea always voted heavily pro-Russian. Granted: Regular Russian troops were active during the battles for Ilovaysk (August (2014) and Debaltsevo (Februar 2015).
In conclusion: The creation of many states can be deemed “illegal” according to international law. Both critics are correct in assuming that illegally-created states (the USA for ex.) can be granted legal status afterward through foreign or international bodies. That has happened regarding Kiev – not though regarding Donetsk and Lugansk. The inception of all three states can be deemed “illegal”, but the last two illegalities were a direct result of the initial illegality.
But I do not enjoy moralistic games which insist that one government is “less sinful” than another. It is usually humanly impossible to measure the sins of one state vis a vis another. Who possesses the proper machine for calculating relative guilt? That is an extremely subjective undertaking. So let‘s put the „illegality“ charge to rest.
Much more important are questions regarding the future: How can the war in Ukraine be stopped? That is the
true issue now. The negotiating table is the only moral option.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Berlin, 9 April 2019