UPDATE: Multiple media report Yanukovich has fled Crimea to ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia. Watch MNN’s Facebook page for the latest updates.
Ukraine (MNN) — While Independence Square seems to have calmed a bit in Kiev, things are heating up on the other side of the country.
Recently-ousted president Victor Yanukovich fled to Crimea in Eastern Ukraine from which he appealed to Russia. Slavic Gospel Association spokesman Joel Griffith explains, “He’s issued a statement that he’s asked for Russia to secure his personal safety. He maintains that he remains the lawful president of Ukraine. And the actions that are going on in Ukraine right now by the Parliament and acting President: he considers those to be unlawful.”
Why Crimea? “Ukraine is probably the country that would be culturally and emotionally tied with Russia the most. Ukraine itself could be roughly divided down the middle. The Eastern half of Ukraine identifies linguistically and culturally with Russia more, while the Western half of Ukraine typically wants to identify more with Europe.”
Meanwhile, armed men seized government buildings in Crimea and raised a Russian flag over a barricade. At the same time, the Kremlin ordered 150,000 troops to test their combat readiness. Griffith acknowledges the tension but says, “I think many of us are hoping and praying that cooler heads will prevail. The acting president Turchinov issued an appeal to Russia for restraint and, in his words: ‘not to abuse its navy base rights on the peninsula by moving troops around.’”
Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchinov is also well aware of the minefield he has assumed responsibility for. He warned against “dangerous signs of separatism” in parts of the country, amid anger over the ouster. “At this point, it seems more like it may be more saber rattling than anything else, but the situation remains very fluid. We just really have to lift this matter up in prayer. Ukraine is a very unique country, and a lot of places have very strategic interests in it.”
And yet, who better to espouse peace and reconciliation than a follower of Christ? SGA’s Sergei Gladishko described the situation and sent thanks from Ukrainian believers to all who have interceded in prayer for their country:
We are very thankful to you for your prayers and encouragement. We praise God for your faithful partnership in ministry. We are very thankful to God for leading us through a difficult political situation. Now the process of forming a new government has begun. On February 22, the deputy chairman of Ukraine’s “Motherland” party, Alexander Turchinov, was appointed as Chairman (or Speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, which is called the Verkhovna Rada). Later in the day, parliament voted to remove President Viktor Yanukovich, declaring him constitutionally unable to carry out his duties. Next, the parliament set May 25 as the date for a special presidential election. In the meantime, Alexander Turchinov was appointed as acting president of Ukraine. He has also been authorized to sign laws adopted during this transitional period. Alexander Turchinov is a good Christian man. He belongs to one of the largest Baptist churches in Kiev. We are praying, and [we] ask you to pray with us that God will grant wisdom to our brother and to the other elected officials to head the country.
Because of the former government, the capital city of Kiev has not had a mayor for two years. May 25 has also been set for a special mayoral election. Please, join us in praying a good mayor to be elected. We are trusting that God will grant us an honest and worthy president, new government, and new mayor.
Given the severe persecution of evangelical churches that has taken place, the fact that an evangelical believer could be named to the Ukrainian presidency in an acting basis is truly amazing. Griffith notes that “we’ve always said that the churches over in the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) tend not to be involved in political matters. They want to focus on the Gospel. But what we’re seeing in Ukraine now is that it may well be true of the Church corporate, but we obviously do have individual evangelicals being very involved.”
Their teams will keep moving the Gospel forward, but they’re asking prayer in unsettled times. Griffith shares, “This is ‘a time to mend, a time to heal.’ That’s the message we’re seeing out of our brothers and sisters in Christ over there. That’s certainly the message that we support, and we hope that that actually takes place.” Please keep praying that peace and calm would continue to hold, and that God will guide in the momentous decisions ahead.