A call for 'urgent prayer and fasting' for Ukraine

In light of escalating violence, Christian leaders are calling for church solidarity

Activists build a barricade in central Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday Jan. 26, 2014. Ukraine's opposition called off a massive rally planned for Sunday because of the funeral for a protester killed in clashes with police last week, underscoring the rising tensions in the country's two-month political crisis. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Christian leaders in Ukraine are calling for "fervent and unceasing" prayer and fasting as the political conflict across the country intensifies.

Demonstrations began in the capital city of Kiev in November following the Ukrainian government's decision to reject an accord with the EU, choosing instead to deepen their relationship with neighbouring Russia.

This angered many Ukrainians, particularly those in the western regions of the country, who believe that stronger ties with the European Union would strengthen economic prosperity.

In January the protests became violent, with at least four deaths and hundreds of casualties. The government passed new legislation banning the blockading of public buildings, the wearing of masks during demonstrations, and setting up unauthorised tents and stages in an attempt to end the protests, but this only fuelled the discontent and fighting has intensified.

Thousands of pro-EU Ukrainians have since taken to the streets of the capital in an attempt to coerce President Viktor Yanukovych to accept the accord, but he has so far refused. Protests have now spread beyond Kiev, and though the next democratic elections in Ukraine are not scheduled to take place until 2015, opposition parties are now calling for an immediate election to be held.

On Sunday protestors seized the justice ministry building in central Kiev in a wave of fresh violence as opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk rejected President Yanukovych's offer to appoint him prime minister, with other senior positions open for his pro-EU supporters.

In light of this escalating civil unrest, the head of the Ukrainian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (UECB) has urged the international Christian community to stand with Ukrainian churches in solidarity.

Pastor Vyacheslav Nesteruk has asked for increased prayer, calling for Christians to "unite...for the end of hatred and violence".

"We call on all churches and pastors to assume spiritual responsibility for the situation in Ukraine," he said.

"We urge individual pastors to determine days of fasting and prayer in your churches, as well as daily intercession, making known to... 'God your desires with prayer and supplication' (Philippians 4:6), standing in the gap for our nation with united hearts."

Pastor Nesteruk is joined in his appeal by fellow UECB leaders Igor Bandura, Valery Antonyuk and Nikolai Kasprov, and together they have asked for prayer specifically that the violence will end, that the country's leaders will be given wisdom so that a peaceful political resolution can be found, and that the Ukrainian people will turn to God.

"We believe that Ukraine will come out of this conflict, and that God will send a new blessing for our country," they assert.

"We believe that freedom and justice will be affirmed in our society, and that faith in God and Christian values will be an integral part of the lives of our nation."

The appeal concludes with a passage from 2 Chronicles 7:14, in which God promises: "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

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