A Baptist pastor from Moscow who was carrying humanitarian aid to help brothers and sisters in the Luhansk region of Ukraine was arrested at a checkpoint and detained since April 21 but has now been released. According to persecution ministry Voice of the Martyrs Korea, authorities may have been intending to make an example out of him in order to try to discourage evangelical Christians from doing ministry in Luhansk.
Pastor Andrey Shirokov and a group of Moscow pastors were carrying humanitarian aid intended for fellow believers in the Luhansk region when Pastor Shirokov was detained on April 21 at the Dovzhanka checkpoint southeast of the city of Luhansk. He pled not guilty to the charge of petty hooliganism but was sentenced to 12 days of detention by the court in Novoshakhtinsk.
“Those who know Pastor Shirokov knew the charge was completely false,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley. “Pastor Shirokov began his ministry as a youth leader and now leads a whole church. He has a wife and three children and is known as a faithful minister of the Church of Christ. He was simply carrying out the biblical commands to care for brothers and sisters in need.”
Pastor Shirokov was due to be released on May 3, but according to Representative Foley, his detention was extended until late last week in the city of Shakhty, Rostov Region.
Representative Foley says the pastor’s detention may have been an effort by authorities to try to discourage evangelical churches from conducting ministry activities in the Luhansk region. “The Luhansk region has had some of the severest crackdowns on evangelical Christian activity since the beginning of the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic in 2014,” says Representative Foley. “Church buildings have been seized for use by the military. The private property of Christians has been confiscated. Pastors have been detained. So in a way, the detention of pastors like Pastor Shirokov is not new. But what is also not new is how the church becomes stronger in the face of opposition. That has been true since the days of the Book of Acts, and it will prove to be true in the Luhansk region in the coming days.”
Pastor Andrey Shirokov with his wife following his release (photo from Telegram channel Mirt)
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is calling for Christians around the world to pray for the safety of pastors traveling throughout war regions in order to bring aid to suffering believers.
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 https://vomkorea.com/en/project/russia-ministry/.