Story misreported by Voice of Russia to blame Ukraine
From the website of the evangelical Far East Broadcasting Company:
Many of you have prayed for the four young men who were recently captured by the pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine. We are deeply saddened to tell you that they were brutally beaten to death, simply for being Christians. These men volunteered for FEBC with zeal, passionately helping to spread the Gospel throughout Ukraine.
An accompanying video adds that “two were brothers”, and “one, a father of eight”; the video also says they had worked for FEBC “over the years”, suggesting that their association with FEBC may not have been current.
It appears that the story in fact refers to an incident that occurred in June, but which did not come to light until mid-July. A Ukrainian Christian media site called Baznica.com has some details (translated into English via Russia Religion News), under the headline “Ukrainian Pentecostal leaders martyred by Orthodox rebels”:
“It has been learned from our brothers from Donbass that two deacons of the Transfiguration of the Lord Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (KhVE) of the city of Slaviansk died at the hand of separatists, as well as another two sons of the church’s pastor, Alexander Pavenko,” the senior bishops of the Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith of Ukraine, Mikhail Panochko, reported.
On 8 June, after worship services, the so-called “militamen of the Donets People’s Republic” (DPR) broke into the premises of the Transfiguration of the Lord Church and declared that they were arresting deacons Vladimir Velichko and Viktor Bradarskii, as well as two adult sons of the senior pastor, Ruvim and Albert Pavenko. Obviously their goal was to seize Alexander Pavenko himself also, who fortunately at the moment was not in the premises. He managed to exit from the city along with young children.
The terrorists accused the Christians of crime against DPR, specifically, support of the Ukrainian army.
The bodies were found some time later; this site has a quote from Anton Geraschenko, an advisor to Ukraine’s Internal Affairs Minister:
“The Minister asked me to tell you about the burial we exhumed. There were bodies of two priests from Slavyansk and two sons of one of them. They were tortured and killed just for helping our soldiers and feeding them. So you, the whole country and the whole world will know about the terrorists’ monstrous savagery”.
These bodies belong to Ruvim and Albert – two sons of the priest of Evangelic church “Metamorphosis” [sic – obviously “Transfiguration” is meant – RB] Alexander Pavlenko – and to two deacon of aforementioned church, Victor Brodarsky and Vladimir Velichko.
The site that provides this quote (including an embedded video of Geraschenko speaking) is called Stop Fake, and it complains that the Voice of Russia distorted Geraschenko’s words to make it falsely appear that the victims had been killed by “Ukrainian nationalists”; the site also thanks a blog run by a lawyer named Maxim Vasin for uncovering the Russian deception. Shamelessly, the Voice of Russia ran the story on 15 July as “Two Priests from Slavyansk Killed for Assisting Self-Defense Forces“.
A site called Religious Freedom Blog has some details of the funeral:
Yesterday, Pastor Peter Dudnyk wrote as follows on his page:
“Our brothers have been murdered… The funeral service is today. All the Evangelical churches of the city came together at the funeral service, canceling their regular worship services. They shot the brothers for believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, teach us to forgive those who cause us harm and to pray for those who hate us!”
There is also a Ukrainian article from the country’s Institute for Religious Freedom; both sites include photos from the service.
Clearly, there was some political context to the murders, and the four men were not killed for simply “being Christians.” However, the Russian Orthodox Church is the “official” religion of the self-styled “Donetsk People’s Republic”, and there are religious persecutions. In June, Human Rights Without Frontiers published an account of “Protestant and Greek Catholics persecuted by separatists in East Ukraine“, and there was an article on the subject by David Blair in the Daily Telegraph. Blair noted a number of cases, such as that of Father Tikhon Kulbaka, a Greek-Catholic:
…Since the “People’s Republic” took over Donetsk, he has received a stream of threats.
His phone number and the address of his chapel have appeared on pro-Russian websites. He duly received two text messages reading: “Shut up you fat bitch. If you bark any more you will be found with a slit belly.”
Fr Kulbaka, 43, also favours a united Ukraine, but he believes “beyond any doubt” that his faith explains the threats…
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