Ukraine Churches Serve as Agents of Peace Amidst Potential Upheaval

The 'revolution' has made an impact on people's behavior said the vice president of Christian Aid Mission in reference to the movement of demonstrators supporting Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

Slavik Radchuk, who is also a native of Ukraine, said that after the nation's rigged presidential election last month prompted thousands of demonstrators to pour into the streets in an 'Orange Revolution', people have become "more patient and respectful, sharing necessities with each other."

"Even drivers are more polite on the busy roads than they used to be," Radchuck added.

As hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in central Kiev to protest results of an allegedly rigged election last month, many feared the protests would lead to disaster. But while emotions ran high, the atmosphere was charged not with anger but with eager goodwill, Radchuk said. Christian Aid reported that demonstrators' moral integrity seemed as strong as their political fervor. "There was an air of celebration, but without the drunkenness one may expect," the mission agency reported. "In fact, stores in Independence Square, where the demonstrations were held, reported extremely low sales of alcohol, despite their expectations."

Many onlookers agreed that the unity and human kindness that was present during the non-stop protests were greatly facilitated by the presence of members of indigenous evangelical churches. According to Radchuk there are now 13,000 Protestant churches in Ukraine, as compared with 12,000 of the Russian Orthodox faith, which are mainly in the eastern part of the country.

During the demonstrations, evangelical church members pitched tents in Independence Square and distributed food, warm clothing and hot drinks to demonstrators. Father's House, a ministry to street children supported by Christian Aid, gave food and shelter to over 100 homeless kids, some of whom were in danger of being injured during demonstrations. The ministry also found 45 of the children places to live.

One evangelical church in the Kiev suburb of Vishneve was reportedly instrumental in diffusing a potentially violent situation. According to Radchuk, certain authorities organized their own counter-protests in favor of Russia-backed candidate Victor Yanukovych. On the third day of demonstrations in Independence Square, buses and trains full of Yanukovych supporters from Russia-leaning eastern Ukraine began to arrive in Kiev. "Many arrived unruly and angry," Christian Aid reported, "having been falsely told en route that Yushchenko supporters were killing eastern Ukrainians in Kiev. A number had apparently been doled alcohol by their leaders and were partially drunk."

When four trains bearing 2000 such people arrived at Vishneve, local residents blocked the crowd from entering the demonstrations, fearing aggressive Yanukovych supporters would provoke open conflict. "The tense situation had the potential to become violent, but members of an evangelical church were on hand to intervene," Christian Aid reported.

"Christians brought food and hot drinks to the disgruntled travelers. They spent time talking with them and distributed medicines to those who had fallen ill in the freezing cold. Some church members invited Eastern Ukrainians into their homes to spend the night."

The agency added that, "Yanukovych supporters were shocked at the kindness they encountered, for they had been told that they would be rejected and abused by Yushchenko supporters."

"They were further amazed to hear local congregations offering prayers for them. Prayer meetings were attended by over 1000 people every night during the weeks of demonstrations."

Christian Aid said the effects of churches' loving care were far-reaching. "Ukrainian Christians praise God for His faithfulness in caring for their people."

According to recent reports, a convoy of Yushchenko supporters - dubbed the "friendship journey" - headed into mostly Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions where Yanukovich draws most of his support.

The Associated Press reports that some 50 cars draped with Yushchenko's orange campaign colors carrying about 150 people--mostly artists and musicians--is traveling around the France-sized country of 48 million trying to show support for Yushchenko ahead of the Dec. 26 presidential re-vote.

The convoy has already encountered several roadblocks put up by Yanukovych's supporters. Fearing violence, the organizers haven't decided yet whether to travel Monday to Yanukovych's hometown of Donetsk.