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Among the earliest known people to inhabit the eastern European area northwest of the Black Sea and presently known as Ukraine were the Trypilians, between the seventh and second centuries B.C. The Slavic people arrived prior to the first century B.C. Kiev was founded in the seventh century and two centuries later became the capital of the state of Rus becoming one of the primary cultural and political centers of Eastern Europe. Overrun by the Mongols in the thirteenth century, the southern portion later became populated with Slavs and came under Polish control. In 1793 Russia, under Catherine the Great, absorbed the area into her empire. During the Russian Revolution of 1917 the Ukrainians tried to establish a separate state but were again subdued by the Russians in 1920. Famine in the 1930s led to the deaths of more than three million people and Nazi occupation during the Second World War accounts for another six million deaths. As the Soviet Union began to break up in 1991 Ukraine declared independence. It is now a democratic republic with a single legislative body known as the Supreme Council and a directly elected president as head of state. The population is estimated at 49 million in an area covering almost 604,000 sq km (233,000 sq miles).
Ukraine was known as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union as most of the country consists of fertile plains that produce an abundance of wheat and other cereals, vegetables, fruits and fodder crops. Agriculture constitutes more than one-fifth of the country’s economic output despite widespread contamination caused by the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, near the Belarus border, in 1986. There are also significant reserves of coal, natural gas and oil though the latter is largely untapped.
Christianity has been an influential force in the Ukraine for more than a millennium. In 988 Volodymyr the Great, ruler of Kievian Ukraine, made Byzantine Christianity the national religion. However, in the south, the Cossacks were attracted to the Roman Catholicism of the Poles. Under atheistic Communism Christians suffered for their faith. Following independence in 1991 full religious propagation was permitted. Despite that fact the established churches have been able to pressure the government in to passing laws which restrict the activities of new religious groups and foreign missionaries. Laws prohibit public preaching, distribution of religious materials and the rental of schools by religious groups. The religious population is predominantly Ukrainian Orthodox, about 76%, and about 14% are Ukrainian Catholic.
While there was an indigenous 19th Century Christian Unity Movement in Russia which came to have connections with the American Movement (see Prokhanoff below) it is unknown if any of these influences filtered into the Ukraine. Likewise, in nearby Poland an indigenous Restoration Movement began in about 1920 (see Poland profile) but it also unknown if there was any contact between Christians in the two areas. Among the earliest known work of the Stone-Campbell Movement in the area may have been in the early 1950s when Otis Gatewood of the American a cappella congregations began to make the first of several preaching trips into the Soviet Union. Other secret mission trips into Russia were done by Gwen Hensley and Bob Hare. In the 1970s and 80s the pace of these missions trips picked up and some baptisms occurred; student groups were sometimes involved in these mission trips. Russian Bibles were produced and distributed by Slavic Evangelism Ministry and World Bible Translation Center. Radio broadcasts were transmitted from Switzerland and Canada though the Soviets tried to jam these broadcasts. In 1989 Ivan Kolesnikow was used by God to initiate new work in Ukraine and to baptize several. Since independence in 1991 the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel has been significantly increased and many Americans have made short and long-term missions trips into Ukraine for the a cappella Churches of Christ. Early in the 1990s tens of thousands of Bibles were distributed, several thousand people were baptized and several congregations were established. Humanitarian aid, food, clothing, medical supplies and work in children’s homes and orphanages continues to be an important evangelistic tool in reaching the Ukrainian people and there are several American missionaries working in Ukraine under the sponsorship of many congregations.
Among the a cappella organizations at work in and among the Ukrainians is Slavic World for Christ which supports congregations, Bible Schools, encampments and preacher training. Epi Stephan Bilak has lived and worked in Lausanne, Switzerland for several years broadcasting into Ukraine and traveling in country. He also edits Ukrainian Messenger, an English language newsletter for those interested in the work in Ukraine. There are also several educational opportunities which exist in Ukraine to train national leaders for the Churches of Christ, including Donetsk Bible and Evangelism School, Donetsk; International Christian University and Kiev Bible Institute, Kiev; and International University, Odessa.
The American Christian Churches and Churches of Christ also support a number of missions and ministries in the Ukraine. Christian Missionary Fellowship is currently woking in three areas: a training center Feodosia; a missionary nurse who organizes clinics in villages where the church planters work; and missionaries in Berdyansk who work with new church plants, campus ministry, day camps and a deaf ministry. CMF’s goal is to plant a church in each of Crimea’s 1,200 villages. Team Expansion began working in Ukraine in 1991, beginning in Kherson. One goal of Team Expansion and its several missionaries is partnering American and Ukrainian churches to empower the Ukrainian churches for more effective ministry. Several Team Expansion missionaries work exclusively with the Crimean Tartars. TCM International, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, has nearly a dozen teaching points throughout Eastern and Central Europe, with a home base at Haus Edelweiss in Austria, to educate indigenous people for ministry. The TCM Institute maintains an “Ukrainian department” and has equipped many Ukrainians for ministry. Crimean-American College in Simferopol is another institution providing educational opportunities for people to study and train in an atmosphere with a Christian world view. Christian Children’s Home, International, based in Wooster, Ohio, has recently expanded into Ukraine with “Project Sasha,” a ministry to abandoned, neglected and runaway children. Several other missions, ministries and schools have led mission trips into Ukraine. Master Provisions is ministry that sends humanitarian aid into Ukraine in the form of used clothing and also sponsors orphan children and economically disadvantaged families through their Master Care program.
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
For further historical reference:
Churches of Christ Around the World, Lynn, Mac, 21st Century Christian Publications, Nashville, TN, 2003.
In the Cauldron of Russia, Ivan S. Prokhanoff, All-Russian Evangelical Christian Union, New York, 1933. Reprinted in 1993 by One Body Ministries, P.O. Box 645, Joplin, MO 64802-0645
The Other Revolution Russian Evangelical Awakenings, Geoff Ellis and Wesley Jones, ACU Press, Abilene, Texas, 1996.
A cappella Churches of Christ
Christian Churches and Churches of Christ
67-B/5 Kievskaya St., Simferopol, Ukraine 95017
Or in the U.S. through:
3700 Hopewell Rd., Louisville, KY 40299
Telephone: (502) 297-006
Ukrainian Messenger of Slavic World for Christ
Epi Stephan Bilak
P.O. Box 2682, 1002 Lausanne, Switzerland
A cappella Churches of Christ
Slavic World for Christ
Minter Lane Church of Christ
P.O. Box 2872, Abilene, TX 79604
Telephone: (325) 677-8611