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Biden announces Russian sanctions; Christians urge prayer

President Biden announced U.S. sanctions against Russia in an address at the White House Feb. 22. Screen capture from C-Span

DONBAS, Ukraine (BP) – President Joe Biden announced Tuesday (Feb. 22) that the United States will impose sanctions against Russia, following the movement of Russian troops into eastern Ukraine Monday (Feb. 21).

Putin designated two pro-Russia regions in Ukraine as independent and began moving troops into those regions.

“To put it simply, Russia just announced that it is carving out a big chunk of Ukraine,” Biden said from the White House Tuesday.

“Today, I am announcing the first sanctions to impose costs on Russia in response to their actions yesterday. These have been closely coordinated with our allies and partners who will continue to escalate sanctions on Russia.”

The U.S. response so far includes heavy sanctions on Russian banks, sanctions on Russian sovereign debt and sanctions on Russian leaders and their families.

Many believe Putin’s actions are only the beginning.

“There is no plausible legal or moral justification Vladimir Putin can offer for his open defiance of international law with this invasion of Ukraine,” said Brent Leatherwood, acting president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Everyone should feel a deep sense of urgency and indignation in light of the actions taken by the Russian president.”

In an email interview with Baptist Press, Daniel Johnson, founder of New Life Radio in Odessa, Ukraine, described the mood in Ukraine.

“Our station manager reports that there appears to be great fear in the city,” Johnson said. “Few people are on the streets, and likely people are getting ready to vacate. We are checking to see if the banks are giving out any money or dollars (people are withdrawing their dollars and banks may shut them off soon) as I am trying to get funds to the station. Ukrainians now are fearful after hearing Putin delegitimize their government.”

Yarsolav “Slavik” Pyzh, president of Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary in Lviv, said Ukrainian Christians are prepared to minister amid the unrest.

“Believers across the whole country are praying,” Pyzh said in written comments. “They do all the needed preparation to receive refugees from [the] eastern part of Ukraine. Many churches and organizations are preparing humanitarian aid and other forms of relief. People are in constant prayer, and they try to encourage each other. Overall people are scared; the level of anxiety is very high; many feel lost. Sadly, everyone realizes that Putin will not stop at Donbas and will do everything to take over the country.”

Pyzh said some areas of Ukraine can be hostile for Baptists, especially areas sympathetic to Russia and Putin, who Pyzh said is “strong on [Russian] Orthodox identity.”

“Baptists on the Ukrainian side are very active,” he said. “We have several students who are currently planning churches less than one mile away from a separation line. They are living under tremendous struggle. Yesterday I spoke to a couple of them and they’re considering moving their wives and young children away from that area because of heavy bombardment. … I’m sure that if things remain the way they are or if everything will intensify people will be forced to relocate. People in Western Ukraine already made all the needed preparations to receive our brothers and sisters. Our seminary will become a humanitarian and logistical hub for a lot of them. We started to work with several organizations to secure needed funds and resources for possible crisis because we believe things will intensify.”

All three men urged U.S. Christians to pray for the situation.

Leatherwood: “As Christians, we should grieve because we know innocent and defenseless lives are in harm’s way. Let us turn to the Lord with earnest prayer in this dark moment for, once more, as has too often been the case in world history, those who are made in God’s image are imperiled by a brutal tyrant and the light of freedom only grows dimmer as a result.”

Johnson: “Christians in America can play the most important role in this crisis by supporting every effort to partner with those ministries that communicate the Gospel and essence of the Christian faith to the people of Russia and Ukraine. This is more important than any function the American government can assume via negotiations or sanctions, and only the influence of the Gospel  can make any meaningful change in this situation.  We urge Christians in America to pray for peace and resolution between these nations, and for prayer that the Christian community might rise up and demand their leaders apply Christian principles to their political actions.

“What we witness now between America, Russia, and Ukraine are nations whose political leadership have neglected the teachings of Christ and His Church with the inevitable result of sin pervading and influencing decisions that lead to war and destruction. But we have Christ to lean on, to depend on, and as united Christians investing in the proclamation of the Gospel, our efforts will eventually be rewarded as GOD has the ultimate victory.

Pyzh: “We need prayers of Southern Baptists, prayers for people, prayer for victory over this evil regime. We also need humanitarian aid and support. Many people mistakenly believe this crisis will come; the truth is the crisis is here. Many people already lost their jobs, lost income and have limited ways to support their families, and it’s our responsibility as a church to support those people. Please pray for this and get involved in this. Another thing that I think that Southern Baptists can do is to relay to the U.S. government to be strong and stand against the Putin regime. With God’s help we will overcome this evil.”