(CP) Around 400 Baptist churches based in the occupied parts of Ukraine cease to exist due to the Russian invasion, according to a seminary president who lives in the Eastern European nation.
Yaroslav Pyzh, president of Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary in Lviv, told the Baptist Press in an interview published Monday that "about 400 Baptist churches" had been "lost."
The seminary leader confirmed the number of lost congregations to The Christian Post and outlined how he arrived at that estimate.
"This estimate comes from territories that have been occupied or are occupied," he explained to CP. "As well, it includes some of the churches where I pastor and people just move out of the country. Also, this is the number that Baptist Union of Ukraine is using."
Pyzh defined "lost" as meaning "the churches that ceased to exist because of war-related circumstances," with this sometimes meaning the "buildings are destroyed," but ultimately that in "all cases people left," either being "displaced in Ukraine" or moving to "other countries."
The seminary president suggested that the denominational affiliation of the churches may have been a factor in the hostility they faced since Russians have been known to consider Baptists to be "agents of the West."
"But in most cases, people were leaving because it is impossible to live in the war-torn territories," Pyzh added.
On Feb. 24, Russia invaded its neighbor Ukraine, claiming it was seeking to protect territory in eastern Ukraine that had declared independence. Since then, the United Nations estimates that over 10 million refugees have fled Ukraine.
Although the Russian military has superior numbers and resources, the Ukrainians have offered stiffer-than-expected resistance under the leadership of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Many churches have been damaged or destroyed due to Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine.
In June, it was reported that All Saints Monastery of the Svyatogorsk Lavra, a historic Orthodox monastery that has existed since the 1500s, was destroyed by Russian artillery.
Dan Upchurch, a missionary with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention who serves in Eastern Europe, told CP that some churches have disbanded due to the war" but "other church leaders who have relocated and are working to establish or re-establish churches, including leaders working to gather scattered believers."
"Despite the chaos the war has produced, many churches across Ukraine have seen new people coming to faith over the past six months and being baptized this summer," Upchurch asserted.
Pyzh believes the "biggest challenge of this war" will not be "rebuilding buildings and infrastructure" but rebuilding "leadership capacity."
"I believe that God placed UBTS in the right spot in the right time with the right people," stated Pyzh. "This crisis also brought a lot of new opportunities. A lot of new people will step into the position of leadership. For UBTS, [the] mission [is] as clear as ever to train and equip leaders. This is what we will do."
As indicated on its website, UBTS "has halted classes and is now using all of its facilities to provide humanitarian aid to people who are fleeing west to L'viv – most of them women and children."
UBTS has provided more than 250 metric tons of humanitarian aid to 10 regions in Ukraine, in addition to serving more than 10,000 refugees in Lviv and serving more than 420,000 meals in since the invasion began.