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Alabama Baptist witnesses memorials for Ukraine's 'Heavenly Hundred,' urges prayer for people of Kievcomment (0)

May 7, 2014

By Brian Harris

I don't believe in happenstance or chance so I know the fact that the rest of my group returning from Ukraine left on an earlier flight was no accident. In the few months leading up to today I must admit I was a little apprehensive to be "stuck" in Kiev for a 6-hour layover.

The rest of the group I traveled with had the opportunity to visit Independence Square on their last medical missions trip to Ukraine in October 2013. Anyone who has watched the news coming out of Ukraine knows that a lot happened in this location recently and that it remains a highly contested and tense area.

I looked at this 6-hour layover as an opportunity. An opportunity to share what's there now. It was worked out that Alexandr, or as he is also known, Sasha, would escort me.

Sasha is a native of Kiev and speaks Ukrainian primarily. He lived in the United States for 5 years basically on his own, going to school, and developing his entrepreneurial spirit that he still possesses to this day.

As I exited the domestic arrival gate in Kiev, there he stood, smiling from ear to ear, wearing blue jeans, a blue t-shirt and a fitted navy sports coat. He quickly greeted me as if he already knew me and we began to talk of our mutual friends.

Sasha escorted me out of the airport to his waiting driver who was also named Alex. Alex drove as Sasha and I learned more about each other and began to talk about the current situation in Ukraine.

Sasha spoke about the historical significance of East versus West Ukraine. East Ukraine had previously been more of a Russian area before being unified as Ukraine. Its people speak Russian and it influences everything including their buildings. West Ukraine with its European influences has its own style and its own language.

The main reason why the areas were ever unified goes much deeper back to religion. Most of Europe has traditionally been more influenced by the Catholic Church, which was different than that of both Eastern and Western Ukraine peoples. The Eastern Orthodox Church’s history and influence runs deeps. The same is true for Russia.

There are now three distinct groups grasping for power. One group would suggest giving up Eastern Ukraine and Crimea since they were never Ukraine to begin with (Sasha would agree with this). This would enable Ukraine to truly be independent. Another group is ready to fight and stay unified; another would have the entire country join with Russia.

Sasha even added that he believes the Russian media has played the entire revolution out as Americans vs. Russia. They see it has America dividing and conquering another country and have cited North and South Korea, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia. The allegations of American and Russian influence run deep and only leave the people of Ukraine in the middle of their own country.

All of these differing opinions and views came to a head here in Independence Square earlier this year.

As we arrived, you could see well-defined blockades still in place. Tires, scrap metal, burned out shells of cars. The bare cement where the passionate fingers of protestors dug to pull out pavers to throw at the police stands as a reminder. The blood of the "heavenly 100,” as the ones who lost their lives were called, is replaced by make shift memorials. Candles line the street. The Ukrainian army stands outside of the blockade at every entrance.

As we walk the streets, militia in their military uniforms move in and out of their tents that they continue to occupy. Life continues for them in a different format, supported by the donations of the Ukrainian people to feed them. We were quickly approached by an older gentleman in a military uniform who was curious about the American standing in the Square. He asked Sasha why I was there and wanted Sasha to relay the true and accurate story of what happened there.

Sasha talked about how he came to Christ while living in the United States and his continued involvement in the local church. He explained how important personal evangelism, small groups and church planting are to him.

Sasha currently works with church planters and other businesses teaching them how to take make enough money to live on as they begin their ministry. He adds, ultimately his goal with each person he works with is to make him or her financially independent from having to receive outside funding to keep the church plant afloat.

I had originally been told of a prayer tent set up in the square for believers to pray together for Ukraine but after asking many people it appears that an actual church building had been erected by the Orthodox Church just up the road. As I headed that direction I passed an Orthodox priest reciting a prayer to the crowds over a mega phone in the center of the Square.

I have personally never experienced standing on the grounds of a revolution that is still so fresh on the minds of everyone there. One of Sasha’s friends, Pavel, that joined us there, who also was an English translator himself and a pastor in Cherkassy about 140km away, asked me, "Did you not know this place is dangerous? What did your wife think (when you came on this trip)?"

I quickly replied, "There are a lot of people praying for me right now while I walk your streets. I wanted to be here so that they will be able to see what the Square has become now and so others can pray for you."

As I left my new friend, he said, "Please pray for us." I smiled shook his hand and promised to remember them, pray for them and that I would ask my friends to do the same.

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