We are all very aware of the tragic events in Ukraine and the many needs for prayer. What many of us are not aware of is how this war is also causing hardship for many Russians. Yulia, who attends the Fellowship Bible Church Franklin campus, is originally from a city of 400,000 about 1,000 kilometers northwest of Moscow. She married Peter, an American man twelve years ago and after five years in the UAE, they moved to the U.S. She is very sad about her mother, father, brother, and grandmother who are still in Russia. Although she has dual citizenship, she has two young children, so she cannot leave them, and her relatives who lack dual citizenship, can’t travel to the U.S. Her heart is very heavy.
Men in Hiding in Fear for their lives
Of great concern is that her brother was recently drafted to join the latest mobilization effort of 18–55 year old men for the army. Like many other men in Russia, he is avoiding the draft and is in hiding. Due to their advanced fighting age or lack of recent training, many draftees are fearful of being sent to the front lines to face opposition that is more battle-ready. Some have heard of the many civilian casualties in Ukraine and have no appetite to kill women and children. Yulia is convinced that there will be several other mobilization efforts. She is especially concerned for her brother because he is a drug addict. She knows that he can only stay in hiding for a very short time. She is in constant prayer for his safety.
While many people are not very enthusiastic about this war, joining the army now has other negative repercussions beyond being cannon fodder. Yulia explained how these new soldiers must pay for their own uniforms, ammunition, and medication. It is estimated that up to 300,000 Russian men fled the country (both legally and illegally) when the draft was first announced, particularly to former Soviet Union countries bordering Russia like Kazakhstan and Belarus. These countries are sometimes the first stop on the way to Europe. Yulia noted that these men left everything behind as they were limited to one suitcase and had no way to transfer money out of their banks. Those men who are left behind as healthy, eligible men can no longer leave Russia. Many of these men are either in hiding with relatives or family friends or have taken refuge in the few evangelical churches across the country. A member of Fellowship Bible Church has heard from a pastor in rural Russia who reported that he is like Oskar Schindler inWorld War II, who sheltered approximately 1,100 Jews from the Nazis by employing them in his factories. This pastor is aware that if he is caught hiding fugitive draftees his church could be shut down and he could be fined, imprisoned, or killed.
All Russian people have experienced a great decline in their standard of living for several reasons. Western sanctions have sent all prices up and the ruble to dollar exchange rate is greatly diminished. Many western businesses have left the Russian market making for fewer choices of things to buy. Sanctions have also resulted in a shortage in replacement parts for cars, planes, and electronic goods. There are unsubstantiated rumors of food riots in rural villages.
Yulia receivedChrist at University. Yulia’s aunt is also a Christian and is likewise living in the U.S. after marrying an American man. Yulia’s mom considers herself a Christian, but she doesn’t have saving faith. She does occasionally attend a non-denominational church because it has had success treating addicts and she had hoped that her son would go there and get help. Yulia prays that the Holy Spirit would speak to her mother through that church or in another way, now that both she and her aunt are gone. Yulia is also concerned about the role of her native country in the End Times as a coalition that comes against Israel. She prays that many of her former countrymen will come to Christ before this.
Across Russia, there is a general sense that things are spiraling out of control. Positions are becoming sharper and more divisive in society at large, and this is also happening within the Church across all denominations. In Ukraine, there is great spiritual hunger and churches are meeting real and spiritual needs.Any time one's world is shaken, there are opportunities for the gospel.Many Christians in Russia believe the same will be true there, but it will probably have a delayed effect as sanctions continue to cause pain.
There is an increased sense throughout Russia that discretion is needed as much as ever in knowing who to trust when discussing the war and the current leadership. Many people refuse to discuss these things when outside of the home due to fear of reprisals from the government, community or even friends and family. This includes electronic communication as well as face-to-face conversations.
Some of Fellowship’s missionary friends, mostly ethnic Russians, are quite upset. One of our prayer partners is a 46-year-old Russian woman, who is single, and she cries daily over the war. She is not alone in her grief and anxiety. She has friends and relatives in both Russia and Ukraine, which is also true for Yulia, who commented that the countries of Russia and Ukraine are interwoven, sharing centuries of historic and cultural ties. It is estimated that up to 20 million Ukrainians have relatives in Russia. When this war ends, there will be a necessary period of repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing which will likely take a long time.
Younger people in larger cities and those who speak English and have access to Virtual Private Networks and are sometimes exposed to opposing points of view, but they have great fear about speaking out as the consequences are usually imprisonment or loss of life. Once again, the street protests and large migration out of the country indicate a significant lack of support. We need to cry out to God to end the conflict, by whatever means He chooses to do so. In the meantime, we should pray that the hardships in Russia will cause many to seek Christ.