By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
KYIV, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)– Non-Russian Orthodox Christians in eastern Ukraine feared for their lives after pro-Russian separatists in the east rejected a presidential peace offer.
President Petro Poroshenko said late Friday, June 20, that a ceasefire would last till June 27 when he signs the European Union association agreement.
Dressed in uniform, Poroshenko told his troops in eastern Ukraine that the coming seven days “will be a short opportunity for those who fight the legitimate Ukrainian authorities to give up their arms and leave occupied buildings.”
Yet the rejection of his 15-point peace plan, came as a setback for Christians hoping to see the and of a battle that killed hundreds of people since the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in April.
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Churches and priests as well as Protestant Christians have been targeted by pro-Russian rebels who view them as government supporters, missionaries told BosNewsLife.
Mission group Russian Ministries said attacks against especially
non-Russian Orthodox Christians, pastors, and churches “have become more frequent and violent.”
This week alone, “two Protestant churches in the town of Gorlovka in eastern Ukraine were broken into and vandalized by armed separatists, who also threatened church members,” RM President Sergey Rakhuba told BosNewsLife. “On Monday, June 16, separatists, armed with machine guns, forced their way into the Next Generation Church in Gorlovka,” a strategic town in the east, he added.
“They destroyed the offices, forbade further worship services to be held in the church,
and declared that they would find and destroy all similar churches.”
He said, “Church members now fear for their lives”.
Also on June 16, a worship service at the Word of Life Church in Gorlovka was interrupted by militants who said they would use the building as their headquarters and there would be “no Protestant churches in the town,” Christians said.
Last month, the Church of Christ was also seized by militants in May.
Additionally, armed militants seized a church-run rehabilitation center in the Donetsk where some 27 people underwent treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, RM’s Rakhuba said.
They were reportedly briely held as hostages along with two staff members before being released.
Rakhuba said he had urged prayers for protection of Christians, churches and the estimated
34,000 people who have fled the region.
Clashes erupted in April after the ouster of Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych.
Yet Russia’s United Nations ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow understood the separatists reluctance to accept Poroshenko’s peace offer.
“He [Poroshenko] repeatedly said that the entire world has embraced this initiative [and that] also President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov have supported it. I double checked and I’m authorised to say that it is not true,” Churkin told reporters at the United Nations in New York.
“It’s premature to talk about our support for President Poroshenko’s initiative,
at least for the reason that we have not seen it yet, ” he added.
Kyiv has accused Moscow of fuelling the unrest by supplying tanks or other equipment to rebels and sending thousands of troops to Ukraine’s border, allegations Russia denies.