War between government forces and Russian-backed separatists in two self-declared autonomous people's republics, Donetsk and Luhansk, has ravaged the region for two years. While the situation isn't as dramatic as it was a year ago, it seems to have stalled in a permanent state of conflict.
One of my friends is a pastor who represents an association of churches called Light of the Gospel, with 18 churches in eastern Ukraine – nine in the militarized zone, and nine in the border regions.
This pastor wrote:
The situation is not easy; cities are empty. There is military equipment on the streets and people are armed. There is shooting. The relationship of the new authorities to evangelical congregations is usually negative. We function in a semi-underground way, as it was in Soviet times. It's even more difficult. War is a time of lawlessness, destruction, hunger, and death. But the Lord does not leave us. We believe and know that God is always faithful to those who believe in him. We pray, we repent, and praise him and witness to those around us. We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help the sick … There is a great deal of ministry. Between 30-50 percent of believers have left their churches [to resettle elsewhere in Ukraine or in Russia], but the empty places are occupied by new people who have been helped during this difficult time.
Most of the people left in the militarized areas are those who can't leave, the elderly and the disabled. It's a great satisfaction to me that some financial gifts to Mennonite Mission Network will be used to help channel supplies of food, clothing, and medicine to people who need them. We also provided financial support for a series of training seminars on conflict resolution and peacemaking to be held in Zaporizhzhia (central Ukraine) during the winter and spring.
Thank you for praying with me and for me. Continue to pray for peace. It will take years to overcome the effects of this war. There are many deaths to mourn and there are deep divisions between churches and within churches in both Ukraine and Russia.
In March, The New York Times carried the article, In Ukraine Towns Ravaged by War, Evangelical Missionaries Find Fertile Ground, about Sergei Kosyak and his ministry in Ukraine. This is an accurate picture of life in the "gray zone." Sergei is well known as one of the leaders of the "prayer marathon" that went on for months in the center of Donetsk during 2014.