DONETSK, Ukraine (BP) — Christians gathering to pray near a political rally site in one of Ukraine’s eastern cities have come under numerous attacks — even gunfire — from protesters.
Prayer tents have ministered to people in the midst of Ukraine’s political revolution. Euromaidan protests began late last year when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych backed away from a trade deal with the European Union in favor of accepting financial aid from Russia. Euromaidan, the conflict’s nickname, is Ukrainian for “Eurosquare.”
In the city of Donetsk, Christians have persevered in the face of harassment and violence, evangelical pastor Sergey Kosyak said.
Kosyak said he and others who gather to pray at a busy city intersection in Donetsk have frequently faced opposition since erecting their prayer tent three months ago. Often it is the Ukrainian flag that flies above the tent that has provoked pro-Russian supporters to attack.
It is not uncommon for people to throw eggs, rocks and bottles — even large cement pieces — at the tent. Earlier this week, two men wearing gas masks and military helmets and carrying clubs forcibly removed the group’s flags.
“The Ukrainian flag they threw into the river,” Kosyak said. “And the flag of the Donetsk region they kept to take with them.”
As the men reached the middle of a nearby bridge, a car pulled alongside them.
“Two guys got out very professionally and in a few seconds our offenders were pounded down like otbivne [Ukraine’s version of schnitzel],” Kosyak said. “They brought us one of the flags and apologized that it was smeared with blood. Then they left.”
Then two men from the prayer team approached the men who had attacked the tent.
“Their faces were all covered in blood with broken noses,” Kosyak said. “Our men brought them to the tent where they gave them first aid. They washed them, prayed for them and handed them New Testaments.”
Regardless of what happens, Kosyak said, his group will continue to pray each day for the city and for Ukraine.
One evening following their time of prayer, the group was harassed by rioters. One young family was able to escape in their car, but not before someone began shooting at them with a pistol. Shots broke the windows of the car and one bullet lodged in the body of the car.
The next day, Kosyak asked the family how they felt in the aftermath of the attack. “They told me, ‘We will be there tomorrow to pray,'” he said. “And they came back here the next evening with their 17-year-old daughter. That event did not stop them from coming.”
In cities across Ukraine, similar prayer tents have been erected, but most have not fallen victim to attacks from political demonstrators.
Evangelicals erected a prayer tent in Kiev’s Independence Square, where they gather each day to pray and distribute Bibles and other Christian literature. Volunteers have been operating that tent daily for more than three months now.
“Our tent is still here,” Victor Gutsalo, a retired Ukrainian army officer who comes to the square each day, said. “The fires burned all around us [during the Euromaidan demonstrations], but the tent was unharmed. God’s hand of protection has been on us.”
In the eastern border city of Kharkiv, believers gather each morning to pray in the city’s central square, which also features one of the largest statues of Lenin in Europe.
The group said they have not been victims of harassment during their prayer meetings.
“We were asked to move from one part of the square to another,” Joy Burnett,* a Christian worker in Kharkiv, said. “They [government officials] realized that we were here to pray and not to protest. So they asked us to move away from where protesters usually gather.”
Back in Donetsk, Kosyak said church leaders have discussed making their place on the street corner a regular place of prayer, even after the political crisis is over.
“We are standing on our knees,” he said. “The only weapon that we have is prayer.”
*Name changed. Marc Ira Hooks is an IMB correspondent based in Europe. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).