Vyacheslav Koldiaev was released from prison in Arkhangelsk, Russia on March 3 after serving a two-year sentence on a charge of alleged “use of violence dangerous to life or health against a representative of the authorities”.

The case gained widespread attention among Christians around the world when video evidence exonerating Koldiaev was apparently ignored by the court, leading to Koldiaev’s conviction on May 13, 2021. Koldiaev had been part of a human chain of supporters surrounding the Baptist Church in Archangelsk, Russia on September 24, 2020 in an effort by the church to prevent a court-ordered demolition crew from tearing down a portion of the church’s building. Authorities alleged that the portion had been improperly permitted. Though the protest had remained peaceful, a junior bailiff pulled Koldiaev out of the human chain and took him to the police station. Later, the bailiff alleged that Koldiaev had stepped out of the chain and assaulted him, despite video showing that Koldiaev had remained stationary during the protest. 

“Deacon Koldiaev made a faithful witness for Christ from September 24, when he was improperly apprehended, to March 3, when he was finally released from prison,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley. Her organization led a worldwide campaign for Christians to send letters to Koldiaev during his imprisonment. She notes that when Koldiaev was informed about the letter writing campaign, he requested that anyone writing a letter to him include extra postcards with scripture verses or spiritual edification that he could give to unbelievers who were in the same prison with him.  

In the latter portion of his sentence, Deacon Koldiaev was sent to a labor camp, and he used a brief work camp release to preach at a neighboring church,” says Representative Foley. In a November 2021 letter to his wife, Koldiaev wrote, The desire of my heart… is that God be glorified in every corner of my life, in all the plans, thoughts and deeds… I am sitting in a cell alone, testifying to those who are behind bars, to the inspector, and to everyone who wears uniforms… I pray for my further life here and try to find those who seek God.’” 

Deacon Vyacheslav Koldiaev leaving prison (Source: Портал Верность)

Representative Foley says that upon his release, Koldiaev was greeted at the penitentiary gate by fellow believers who offered handshakes, flowers, and congratulations. “They bowed down in prayer and thanksgiving, and then he returned home to be reunited with his family and the church,” says Representative Foley. “The church later released video of a service marking Koldiaev’s return, with a caption that said, ‘We are pleased to inform you that the prison term of our brother Vyacheslav Koldiaev has ended. He has come out of jail. He was solemnly received by his brothers and sisters. The story, connected with attempts to deprive the Arkhangelsk Church of the House of Prayer, is not easy for the family, for the church and the brotherhood.’” 

In September 2020, the 28-year-old Koldiaev, a former member of the Baptist Church in Archangelsk, Russia before moving to another city, returned to support the church which was under a court order for partial demolition.   

The small Baptist church had been facing problems since 2016 when private developers and the city government began court proceedings to claim land on which part of the church building stood. “The city had plans to build high rise apartments and a commercial center in the area,” says Representative Foley. Through the courts they declared a part of the church’s building as an illegal construction. Over the next three years, demolition crews made repeated attempts to tear down the disputed portion, but each time they came, church members gathered and prevented the demolition. The church members always responded peacefully, insisting that their building had all the necessary building permits. 

Vyacheslav and Anna Koldiaev following Deacon Koldiaev’s release from prison

According to Representative Foley, the September 24, 2020 gathering at which Koldiaev was arrested was no different except for authorities’ decision to arrest Koldiaev. “It is still unclear why they selected him for arrest, but Deacon Koldiaev always viewed it as a calling from the Lord. He wrote during his imprisonment, ‘The Lord had a need for the Church: ministry in bonds. He conceived the best for the Church, I was only required to agree to take this path (I and my spouse as well) and that happened already a long time ago. 

The Koldiaevs have two sons, one of whom suffered a traumatic brain injury from a fall ten days before the beginning of Koldiaev’s trial. But in remarks to the International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists, Mrs. Koldiaeva said, “Don’t be too sad for our family. This is only a small part of the sorrow of the children of God.”  

Representative Foley says that Deacon Koldiaev confirmed the receipt of many international letters and postcards during his imprisonment, in response to Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s letter writing campaign. He wrote, “Dear friends, I thank you for your participation in the life of my family, for financial support in difficult situations. Thank you for the prayers which you send unceasingly to the throne of grace – many of you make a tremendous contribution by praying for my family, relatives, for me; your support was evident and through it God did mighty and wonderful things. Many have heard about God, many have received answers to their questions, many have been consoled. This path has not been traveled in vain, this path is worth every minute of it!” 

Vyacheslav Koldiaev receives flowers from children at the Baptist church in Arkhangelsk, Russia, following his release from prison (Source: Портал Верность)

As for the church building, pursuant to the court order, a private contractor demolished part of the church building and sent a bill to the church. According to Representative Foley, supporters raised funds and paid for the demolition without complaint. “They were actually able to re-register the building, despite the fact that the city’s chief architect assured them that they would never receive registration,” she says. 

Representative Foley says it is important to continue to pray for Koldiaev as well as other evangelical Christians in Russia. “There is a ‘rising tax on faithfulness’ across the Russian Federation,” says Representative Foley. “Basic Christian activities—gathering for worship, distributing Bibles and Christian literature, and personal evangelism—are being investigated by Russian police and punished as crimes by Russian courts of law. Deacon Koldiaev spent two years in prison for peacefully protecting the house of God with other believers in a human chain. We give thanks that the Lord used even Deacon Koldiaev’s imprisonment for his divine purpose, but believers facing opposition in Russia and the former Soviet Union should not have to face these things without the prayers, support, and tears of believers around the world.” 

The Baptist church building in Arkhangelsk, Russia. The right side of the building was declared by a court to be an unauthorized construction and was demolished. The church paid for the demolition and has re-registered the building.

Individuals interested in learning more about Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s work with persecuted evangelical Christians in Russia and across the former Soviet Union can visit 

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