15 evangelists were temporarily detained and questioned and the group’s leader fined for an evangelism rally in Bogoroditsk, 250 km south of Moscow, on June 9.
According to Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, the group, composed of unregistered Baptists from the surrounding regions of Tula, Smolensk and Tver and led by Brother Kovalevich Yuri Sergeevich, a presbyter from the church in Tula, had been sharing the gospel and handing out gospel newspapers and tracts at an evangelistic rally when police approached in response to a complaint from a Russian Orthodox priest.
“Trinity Sunday was June 12 in Russia, and June 9 was declared Friendship Day in the country, so the group used the opportunity to share a gospel message about friendship with God, along with music from a brass band,” says Representative Foley. “Eyewitnesses say police passed by peacefully during the rally, and that members of the public even called for an encore from the band.”
Representative Foley says that it was during the band’s encore that a man later identified as an Orthodox clergyman disrupted the event.
“Eyewitnesses say he approached the band waving his arms and then snatched from the hands of some of the listeners the Christian materials they had received from the evangelists,” says Representative Foley. “Without reading it, he tore it up and threw it on the ground, shouting that they were sectarians. Then he called the police and left.”
According to Representative Foley, when police arrived, Brother Kovalevich Yuri Sergeevich, a presbyter of the church in Tula, voluntarily identified himself as the person in charge of the event. “Police asked whether they had permission to hold the event, and Brother Kovalevich explained that they were using their constitutional right to confess their faith, play instruments, and distribute registered periodicals. The crowd was reportedly disappointed that the band was stopped from playing further.”
Representative Foley says that after Kovalevich gave his statement to the police at the scene, they told him he was free to go but that the other evangelists were required to go to the police station to give statements and verify their identities. “Brother Kovalevich insisted on accompanying the evangelists to the station. From 3PM to 2AM police took each of their statements, and the brothers passed the time by cheerfully singing hymns. After that, police said that all the evangelists were permitted to leave but that now Brother Kovalevich was required to stay,” says Representative Foley. “But the evangelists refused to leave until Brother Kovalevich was permitted to leave with them.”
According to Representative Foley, Kovalelevich was charged with holding a public event in the form of a picket with more than 15 participants. He was arraigned on June 11 in the Bogoroditsk Interdistrict Court of the Tula Region. “The judged found him guilty and fined him 25,000 Rubles (approx. 530,000 KRW), noting that he took into consideration that Brother Kovalelevich has seven young children,” says Representative Foley.
Kovalelevich has appealed the decision.
Evangelist Yury Sergeevich Kovalevich outside the Bogoroditsk Interdistrict Court of the Tula Region on June 11, 2022. (Photo courtesy of International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians – Baptists)
A group of 15 evangelists from the Tula region detained at the police station in Bogoroditsk on June 9, 2022. (Photo courtesy of International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians – Baptists)
“Certainly the grounds for appeal are very strong,” says Representative Foley. “As Brother Kovalelevich noted in his appeal, he and the evangelists at the rally did not shout any slogans, hold banners or posters, wear any symbols, or interfere with the movement of passers-by. They complied fully with police instructions. The gospel newspaper they distributed, called ‘Do You Believe?’, is registered with the Federal Service for the Supervision of Mass Media and Communications. The other Christian materials they were handing out, the Gospel of John and the Lord’s Prayer, are from the synodal translation of the Bible, which is freely distributed throughout Russia and is not included on the list of extremist materials.”
According to Representative Foley, Voice of the Martyrs Korea is calling for prayers for Brother Kovalevich. “Pray that the Lord moves the appeals court to overturn the ruling of the Bogoroditsk Interdistrict Court and cancels the fine levied against our brother,” says Representative Foley. “Pray for the Lord’s care for Brother Kovalevich’s family with seven young children. Pray for the Lord to bless all 15 evangelists. Pray for the Lord to powerfully use the message they shared about friendship with God during the evangelism rally on June 9. Pray as according to James 4:4 that the Lord will move even Brother Kovalevich’s persecutors to turn away from friendship with the world and to friendship with God.”
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea supports family members of Christians imprisoned, fined, or martyred as a result of their faithful witness in countries where evangelical Christianity is restricted. Donations can be made to the Families of Martyrs and Families of Prisoners (FOM/FOP) fund at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:
국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303
예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리
Please include the phrase “FOM/FOP” (for “Families of Martyrs and Families of Prisoners”) with the donation.