A closer look at religious targeting in Ukraine crisis

By April 28, 2014
(Image courtesy Sergey Rakhuba via Facebook)

(Image courtesy Sergey Rakhuba via Facebook)

Ukraine (MNN) — Rhetoric was ramping up on all sides of the Ukraine crisis going into the weekend. Ukraine’s Prime Minister accused Moscow of escalating the conflict even further and undermining their efforts to move forward. At the same time, Russia announced a new round of “military exercises” on the Ukraine border and warned interim leaders about military action against citizens.

With the help of Russian Ministries, MNN is taking a closer look at religious targeting in the region.

“Today that part of the world–where Russia is interested in the Ukrainian part–is truly a troublesome area because the Jews are beginning to feel this pressure, discrimination,” states Wally Kulakoff with Russian Ministries.

“The Jews are feeling pressure to somehow pick up their roots and leave, and join their relatives in Israel, in Europe.”

Controversial flyers distributed a few weeks ago in Donetsk, requiring Jews to register with the government or face punishment, are only the tip of an anti-Semitic iceberg.

In Ukraine, Russia, and Europe, “There is a growing set of Nazi and neo-Nazi movements that are very difficult for Americans to absorb as real,” Richard Brodsky told NPR on Friday. Brodsky is a Senior Fellow at the U.S. public policy group, Demos.

“The evidence across Europe, Russia, and particularly Ukraine, is that this stuff is real, it’s growing, and it’s got to be first identified and then spoken about.”

In Crimea, the letters U-S-S-R and this symbol were spray-painted in red on the Holocaust Museum. (Photo cred: Hugo via Flickr)

In Crimea, the letters U-S-S-R and this symbol were spray-painted in red on the Holocaust Museum.
(Photo credit: Hugo via Flickr)

According to Brodsky, antisemitism has existed in the region for some time but is now getting more attention because of the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

Both Russia’s and Ukraine’s governments blame the other for Donetsk’s anti-Semitic flyers, but that’s not the only city where discrimination is taking place. In Crimea, the letters U-S-S-R, along with a hammer and sickle, were spray-painted in red on the Holocaust Museum. In Dnepropetrovsk, vandals spray-painted swastikas on the tomb of a well-known Jewish figure.

“In 1926, there were over 3 million Jews [in Ukraine],” Kulakoff observes. “Today, in 2014, there are just over 60,000 Jews.

“I think we will see not only the business-drain but the brain-drain …[as] Jews will slowly leave that part of the world where they’re not welcome.”

Jews in eastern Ukraine aren’t the only religious group being picked on. According to Kulakoff, evangelical Christians in Russia are under fire, too.

“There’s a new term that I heard in Russia: a Baptist is a terrorist. When you begin to include an evangelical as an extreme wing, I think that’s very dangerous,” he says.

The interim President of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchynov, is known to be an evangelical Christian affiliated with the Baptist denomination. Russia adamantly denies the validity of Turchynov, as well as his entire administration.

For “anyone who belongs to a Baptist church, they [Russian officials] claim that he has some ties with Ukraine, some ties with anti-government feelings, anti-government actions. And that is very, very frightening,” adds Kulakoff.

Baptist missionaries in Russia have already been interrogated by authorities.

Anti-Semitic graffiti in Lithuania.  (Photo cred: Beny Shlevich via Flickr)

Anti-Semitic graffiti in Lithuania.
(Photo cred: Beny Shlevich via Flickr)

Russian Ministries has an office in Kiev, and Kulakoff says their contacts are greatly concerned by the latest developments. This week, there is a forum in Kiev on Jewish Evangelism, he adds, and there will be much discussion on helping Jews who are coming out of Crimea because of pressure from Russian extreme forces.

“Our contacts in Ukraine are telling us that these times will be hard times,” states Kulakoff.

“But it will be a time of spiritual awakening across Ukraine because people are forced on their knees. People are coming to the Lord, and so we as an organization need to be ready because Ukraine will experience a spiritual awakening like we have never seen before.”

See how you can help families in Ukraine through Russian Ministries.

“Let’s pray for families,” Kulakoff suggests. “Let’s provide for them and let’s petition for them.”


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