Donetsk, Ukraine [Adventist Review; CD EUDNews[. Adventist believers in conflict-torn eastern Ukraine can recount stories of horror and brushes with death, but more importantly, they say, their faith has grown as they lean on Jesus and share His peace with neighbors.
Hundreds of Adventists have fled the violence that is thought to have killed more than 1,000 people since pro-Russia rebels seized parts of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions in April.
Still, Adventist pastors and many other members have stayed in their communities, caring for neighbors, sharing religious literature, and even baptizing new believers.
None of the 3,500 Adventists who live in eastern Ukraine has been killed or injured in the violence, and no church building or Adventist home is known to have sustained major damage — even as neighboring buildings have been destroyed, church leaders said.
“Thanks to the Lord, we have not received reports of any Adventist church members dying in the conflict,” said Guillermo Biaggi, president of the church’s Euro-Asia Division, which includes Ukraine and many other countries of the former Soviet Union.
“Yet we mourn with families who have lost their loved ones,” Biaggi said. “And we continue to do our best to help people in eastern Ukraine and to pray for a peaceful solution to the conflict.”
It is unclear how many Adventists have fled eastern Ukraine. But the church’s Eastern Ukrainian Mission has evacuated about 180 people who asked for assistance.
In recent days, the Mission has started evacuating Adventists from Donetsk, the regional capital with 1.01 million people, as well as from Luhansk and Horlivka as violence has flared in those cities. At least 30 believers have asked the church for help, and the Mission has provided them with tickets on public transportation and other moving assistance, Mission leaders said.
Earlier, about 150 Adventists were evacuated from Kramatorsk (population 181,025) and Sloviansk (population 129,600) at a cost of 50,000 Ukrainian hryvnia ($4,250), the leaders said. Fifty-four of the people — 45 children and nine adults — were sent to an Adventist sanatorium in the Dnipropetrovsk region, where they were put up for 20 days at a cost of 56,000 hryvnia ($4,765).
Other believers were given shelter in churches or with families elsewhere in Ukraine and in Russia.
Scores of Russian Adventists have also fled eastern Ukraine and received sanctuary across the border in Russia. The Euro-Asia Division, working with the local branch of ADRA, the Adventist relief agency, has earmarked 800,000 rubles ($22,800) to meet the needs of the Russian refugees.
Despite the hostilities, 34 people have been baptized in eastern Ukraine in the past six months, including three men in Luhansk on July 13.
Armed men stopped the Adventists after the July 13 baptism and demanded to see their documents, church leaders said. After questioning, the Adventists were allowed to leave.