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Baptist family flees eastern Ukraine

LUHANSK, Ukraine (BP) — As the 13:38 train from Luhansk pulled into Kiev’s Central Station on June 5, hundreds fleeing political and military unrest in the eastern part of the country spilled onto the platform.

Among those evacuating the country were a young Baptist mother and her two small daughters.

Only days before, the Ukrainian Air Force unleashed more than 150 missiles on the city of Luhansk in an effort to rid the area of separatist forces. The action left nearly 200 dead and 300 wounded.

Since then, officials have urged civilians — especially women and children — to leave the region.

Those in support of the Ukrainian government flee west to Kiev and beyond, while many who support the opposition go to neighboring Russia. All hope it will only be for a short while, but the future is uncertain.

As Olga Goncherova and her two daughters, aged 4 and 7, stood on the platform waiting for the next train to Mukachevo, she spoke of the turmoil she left behind. “The situation is difficult right now in Luhansk,” she said. “For a week we have heard shooting going on. I want my children to have some time out of town, [away from] the situation that is going on in Luhansk.

“We have to go,” she said.

According to Goncherova, dangerous times have fallen on many of the churches in the eastern part of the country, with members being threatened. Some speculate they are targeted because of their visible prayer meetings calling for a united Ukraine and because the interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov, is a Baptist lay preacher.

Goncherova is a member of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Luhansk.

“There are churches that gather every day in order to pray together, to support each other,” she said. “As for our local church, we are not touching this matter of political concern, but we just pray.”

Tanzilya Kayumova is also from Luhansk and a member of Emmanuel Baptist Church. She works for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry for the Luhansk Region. She too has just arrived in Kiev, fleeing the danger.

“Unfortunately the situation in Luhansk right now is very unsecure and very dangerous,” she said. “People have guns, and they are in control. They are pro-Russian, not from local places, and they are hired. They say they are there to protect, but we don’t know whom it is they want to protect. We didn’t ask them [to come], but they just showed up from nowhere.”

Kayumova said families were asked by the government to evacuate the area. “[The government] pleaded with them to take their children and leave,” she said. She asks for prayer for those families who are separated and face an unknown future.

Before Goncherova and her two children boarded the train for Mukachevo, Kayumova, Shannon Ford, International Mission Board strategy leader for Ukraine, and others joined them on the platform to pray for their travels.

Ford urged Christians around the world to continue to pray for Ukraine and pray for families who are now being separated by the conflict.
Charles Braddix is an IMB writer based in London. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Charles Braddix