Protestants One of the Most Pro-Ukrainian Groups in the Donbas
March 24 – Moscow commentators have focused on what they view as the
anti-Russian activities of the Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox
Church and the Uniates, but it turns out, several observers say, that one of the
most pro-Ukrainian and thus anti-Russian groups in the Donbas are leaders and members
of Protestant denominations there.
Shapoval’s words, “the Protestants in the East have turned out to be one of the
most patriotic social groups,” something that experts say is “not accidental.”Mikhail Cherenkov, a professor at the
Ukrainian Catholic University and himself a Protestant, notes that “the Donbas
was always the most Protestant region in Ukraine.”
major contributing factor was that during the Soviet period, people from across
the USSR came to work in that Ukrainian region. As a result of intermixing, “the
level of traditional Orthodox religiosity was lower than in the rest of
Ukraine,” according to Kirill Govorun, a former senior hierarch of the
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
when the region went into a deep depression in the 1990s, the number of
Ukrainians who turned to Protestantism grew significantly.When the Ukrainian economy improved in the first
years of this century, Cherenkov says, many of those who had done so turned
away from the Protestant denominations.
he suggests, the chief “misfortune of Ukrainian Protestantism” is that it
experiences the greatest growth when times are tough.
intervention has thus produced an increase in the number of people in the Donbas
who are participating in Protestant groups and an increase in the activity of
them and their church leaders in order to help defend Ukraine against Russian
intervention and Moscow-sponsored secession.
forces have acted in ways that have contributed to the growth of pro-Ukrainian
Protestantism in the east: During the course of 2014 alone, the pro-Moscow
militants killed seven Protestant pastors, seized 40 church activists, and
confiscated the buildings and land of 12 religious communities.
pro-Moscow militants operated on the principle, Petr Dudnik, the past of the
Church of the Good News, that “there is only one true faith, Russian Orthodoxy,
and all the rest, is an American faith. This means that we are accomplices of
Shapoval points out, is “a legendary figure” in the Donbas. When the pro-Moscow
militants occupied Slavyansk, he led 4,000 Ukrainians out of the line of fire;
and later, he and his parishioners did the same for another 12,000 Ukrainians
from Debaltsevo, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Gorlovka.
it is not just the bestiality of pro-Moscow forces that is leading to a growth
in Protestant activism in eastern Ukraine, Shapoval says. It is also the fact
that Protestants see the spread of Russian power in the region as heralding the
return of “the ‘red dragon’ – Stalin, Lenin, and the entire Soviet-communist
horror” under which they suffered in the past.
anti-Sovietism is clearly in evidence, the Ukrainian journalist says, in their
active involvement in efforts to tear down statues to Lenin and other Soviet
leaders. In many cases, it has been Protestants who have taken the lead in
are also many Protestants in the Ukrainian forces in the region, and their
Protestantism reinforces their commitment to defend their country against
Russia. As one of them tells Shapoval, Christianity does require turning the
other cheek, “but when one is talking about war, there is nothing like that” in
enemy who can kill you or bring harm must be destroyed,” he says.