Ukraine's corruption overshadows Putin's plan to stamp out its evangelical churches

Ukraine's corruption overshadows Putin's plan to stamp out its evangelical churches

Ukraine's corruption overshadows Putin's plan to stamp out its evangelical churches

Russia became an easy villain to identify during the Cold War thanks to the KGB and the Berlin Wall, and now Ukraine has become a difficult victim for many to embrace.

Ukraine's government is not considered a democracy in its truest form, and corruption is rampant. The Biden administration has sent $75 billion of U.S. taxpayers' money there, and earlier this year Ukraine’s security service reported – amid a bid for the country to gain entry into the European Union and NATO – that defense ministry officials were part of a $40 million embezzlement scheme of money meant for war supplies.

All of that has left a divide on how conservatives feel about continued financial assistance to a country where its decimated military is now retreating and Russia's troops are advancing. 

Against that backdrop, a former Ukraine parliament member is warning of overlooked terrorist acts by the Russian military including direct assaults on Christian people and places.

Only the Russian Orthodox Church, which is a tool for the government, is given freedom of worship, Pavlo Unguryan said on Washington Watch Wednesday.

“They are specifically targeting Evangelicals and other independent religious groups,” he told show host Tony Perkins.

Many Christian leaders and pastors have been killed or imprisoned and tortured, Unguryan said.

“Many of them are in prison. It’s not just Baptists but also Pentecostals, Adventists, Greek Catholics are there. They just move them to the Russian Orthodox Church, or they call them American agents and say they need some secrets from America. It’s not a new narrative. It was used by the KGB in the Soviet time. They call Evangelicals American CIA agents against Russia,” he said.

Putin himself was active in the former Soviet government. He was a KGB foreign intelligence officer for 16 years, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel by 1991.

“Every day it continues,” Unguryan said. “Just the other day a beautiful church in the Kharkiv region was bombed. A few weeks ago it was the missile strike in the city of Kupyansk. They killed the pastors there at the Pentecostal church and destroyed the church building.”

As of December, the Institute for Religious Freedom had documented at least 630 Ukraine religious sites (see a related map here) that were damaged or looted as a result of the Russian invasion.

Many other abuses have been documented. A Ukraine pastor told Human Rights Without Frontiers of the existence of a “black list” for Evangelical pastors “known for their patriotic position.”

Pastors’ fears of ‘liquidation’

The pastors feared the “physical liquidation of some religious figures” in Ukraine before the Russian invasion began.

“The first phase of the war was started 10 years ago. Immediately when they invaded into Donbas, the eastern part of Ukraine, they started targeting different groups including Evangelicals. Just a week ago it was 10 years after four Evangelicals were killed in the city of Sloviansk. They are specifically targeting Evangelicals and other independent religious groups,” Unguryan said.

Unguryan said the historic attack by Iran against Israel had its beginnings in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Israel and a handful of other responding nations last Saturday repelled more than 300 drones and missiles with a 99% success rate, the Israel Defense Forces reported. It was the first time Iran itself attacked Israel without the use of a proxy.

Unguryan said North Korea and Iran have banded with Russia against Ukraine, and Ukraine has been a training ground for Iran’s war-making drone technology.

“Northern Korea is sending ballistic missiles and artillery weapons for Russia, but Iran is sending them thousands and thousands of drones. Every single night Iranian drones have massive attacks in Ukraine. Iranians have trained themselves the last two years how to operate these drones in the battlefields for the future attack in Israel, and it happened just a few days ago in the holy land of Israel,” he said.

Conservatives who hope to see continued funding for Ukraine say it’s necessary to stop Putin’s push into more sovereign nations.

“Absolutely, next it will be Romania, Moldova or Baltic countries or Poland. We right now are like a wall of security. Actually, it’s been our role a long time but first of all in this time,” Unguryan said.

A Christian hot spot in Europe

Ukraine has an interesting history with Christianity. The gospel reached the country roughly 1,000 years ago when King Vladimir I was baptized and saw to it that his sons were as well.

The sons were not as passionate as the father, and their subsequent governments included fragmentation of the empire, infighting and wars.

Ukraine continues to hold the largest Evangelical population in Europe and is an active training ground that sends missionaries out into the continent, Unguryan said.

“Right now, in Ukraine, we have more than 10,000 Evangelical churches. More than 60% of Russian pastors are Ukrainian missionaries. This is why the Kremlin hates us,” he said.