Ukraine (MNN) — Western leaders are calling the most recent referendum on separatism in Ukraine a sham. Pro-Russian insurgents reject the election fraud allegations in Ukraine’s Donetsk region and are declaring victory asking to join Russia, Monday.
The pro-Russian side claims the hastily-arranged vote claimed 90% of those who cast ballots Sunday in Donetsk and the neighboring Luhansk region backed sovereignty.
George de Vuyst is with the Christian Reformed World Mission, a partner of Russian Ministries, and is serving in Kiev, Ukraine. He says this was far from a fair vote. “Voting was done at gun point. It was not a free or fair election.”
de Vuyst says television reports indicated that they had intercepted a telephone call between separatists Russian authorities last week. “The discussion was about what percent they should announce for the results, and 89% was exactly what was said in the intercepted telephone transmissions.”
Reports on the ground indicate something different. “There was a very low voter turnout because everyone opposed to joining the separatists movement basically didn’t show up. And there were large areas where there wasn’t any balloting at all.”
Those areas included the northwestern part of Donetsk region, or the northern part of Luhansk region. They weren’t able to vote at all, and nobody voted there.
Other irregularities include 100,000 votes that were cast early, ballot box stuffing, says de Vuyst. “Even the television reports show that people were allowed to vote pretty much at will. They didn’t have to show ID. They didn’t have voter rolls to compare names with. People could vote for their neighbors. And they even allowed one reporter from the other side of the country to vote.”
de Vuyst adds, “It’s clearly not a legitimate referendum. In Kiev, the attitude is that it’s pretty much a farce.”
What does all this mean for ministry? de Vuyst says, “A lot of [ministry] is on hold right now because we just don’t know how these situations are going to develop. And then, now opportunities for ministry are also coming up, and the churches have been responding very well with the refugee situation.”
It’s been easy for foreign Christian workers to minister in Ukraine. But de Vuyst says they’re concerned. “How safe is it for us as expatriates to remain? When does it get to the point where we really need to evacuate for the safety of our families and our ministries? We need a lot of wisdom.”
Prayer is important. “We need truth to come out. We need peace to happen. We’re also praying daily for Putin and for his government that God would open their eyes and see the error of their ways, that God would work a miracle of change in Putin’s heart. The desire is for him to be saved.”
de Vuyst is also asking you to pray for the Ukrainian church that they’ll be responsive to the community’s needs, both spiritually and physically.
[Edited for personal information] Thank you for the interview and also for bringing attention to the situation in Ukraine. One think that we didn’t speak of was the situation for evangelical Christians and the fear they have of a Russian takeover. Russia does not have a very good religious freedom record. One of the reasons that the protests turned violent in January was that Yanukovych passed a “foreign agent” law, amongst others, that would crack down on any organizations that received funds from abroad. This is used to control the churches.