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Ukraine’s parliament changes government, grants amnesty to protesterscomment (0)

February 27, 2014


Ukraine’s parliament changes government, grants amnesty to protesters

After the worst violence in Ukraine since Soviet control, the parliament forced changes in the government, freed prisoners and passed amnesty for all protesters. 

On Feb. 20, security forces fired on numerous anti-government demonstrators in the capital city of Kiev, killing at least 70 people.

But just hours later on Feb. 21, Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych signed an agreement with main opposition leaders that reduced some of his presidential authority and committed to early elections.

Parliament took steps toward reverting to a former version of Ukraine’s Constitution, which also significantly weakens the power of the president. 

An unconditional blanket amnesty to all participants in the anti-government protests also was passed, absolving those in custody or under investigation and prohibiting future prosecutions of any protester. The minister of the interior also was dismissed. 

Parliament then voted to allow the release of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who has been imprisoned for more than two years and was known as one of the president’s most potent adversaries.

It is unclear what sparked the mid-February sudden rise in violence, with each side blaming the other. Protests began Nov. 21, 2013, when Yanukovych backed away from a trade deal with the European Union (EU) in favor of accepting financial aid from Russia. The conflict has now been named “EuroMaidan,” Ukrainian for “Eurosquare.”

Previously on Feb. 18, at least 25 people were killed and hundreds injured as the Interior Ministry demanded that protesters leave Kiev’s Independence Square by 8 p.m. When the deadline passed, riot police dismantled barricades with the help of armored vehicles, water cannons and stun grenades. Some protesters responded by throwing Molotov cocktails and paving stones dug up from the streets. 

EU-related talks over the Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 weekend in Germany gave EuroMaidan protesters resolve to push ahead with demands for Yanukovych to resign. The military’s recent support of the government has further hardened their resolve. 

Eastern Ukraine is strongly Russian in its identity, but the western part tends toward European influence. International Mission Board (IMB) representative Larry Forbes suggested many think Russia will use the connection with the east to justify lending their help to bring order to the country. With a population of 45 million, Ukraine is experiencing tension between an older generation with loyalty to Russia and a younger generation with ties to Western influence, particularly the EU.

Through the violence, many churches have been using a tent-based outreach in Independence Square to pray for individuals, serve hot tea, hand out tracts and share their faith during the three-month upheaval in Kiev.

“Thousands of Scripture portions have been distributed and the prayer tent on Independence Square is very active,” said IMB representative Tim Johnson, who was close to the violence Feb. 18.

Johnson said all IMB personnel in Ukraine are safe and in contact with local believers to support their efforts to share Christ in the midst of the violence. 

Brady Sample, an IMB representative who lives in Kiev, said God is at work even amid the violence. 

“This past month we have seen an amazing outpouring of God’s Spirit,” said Sample, who works closely with the Ukrainian Baptist Union, the largest evangelical association of churches in the country, which is calling for members to pray for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

“God is moving. This event is causing people to pray, and while they are praying for peace in the land, God is trying to bring peace into people’s hearts,” Sample said.

V’acheslav Nesteruk, president of the Ukrainian Baptist Union, asked Christians to continue to pray.

“I encourage each believer to pray to the Lord, that He would stop the violence and bloodshed in our country,” Nesteruk said. “Let us savor Christ in every place. Let us do good. Help those in need. Urge those around us to be at peace. We preach love and forgiveness. Remember that everyone will give account not only to the law of the state, but to God.”

Alabama Baptists remain connected to churches and missionaries in Ukraine through Alabama Acts 1:8 Connections. The missions partnership, officially 2005–2012, saw 46 teams with 357 volunteers participate in missions projects in Ukraine. The partnership was twofold between the Ukrainian Baptist Union and IMB representatives in the country, according to the office of global missions of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.

IMB representatives in Ukraine described a package of legislation suppressing political dissent that was rammed through Parliament in mid-January by Yanukovych supporters was what contributed to the tension. As it is, the legislation categorizes protesting against the government as “slander,” punishable with a 15-year prison term, and it calls organizations that receive funding from outside Ukraine “foreign agents,” penalizing them with a tax, according to Mission Network News.

Michael Cherenkoff, of Kiev-based Russian Ministries, likened the new laws to Stalin’s Soviet Union of 1937. Many of the Christian ministries operating in Ukraine previously operated in Russia but left because of religious freedom concerns, Mission Network News reported. 

Slander is not clearly defined under the new legislation, and Cherenkoff said this is “a very Soviet approach to the church to society.” Usually citizens would be given time to express their opinions about potential new laws, but in this case the president signed the legislation with no chance for discussion. 

At press time, attempts to reach IMB representatives in Ukraine after the Feb. 21 agreement was signed were unsuccessful.

 EDITOR’S NOTE — Names have been changed for security reasons.

(BP, TAB)

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