Several years ago, I was asked by the government of Ukraine to speak to a group of investors about the advantages (and disadvantages) of investing in Ukraine. Many of the potential investors were Ukrainian-Americans, and each had considerable wealth to invest. Among the advantages of foreign investment in Ukraine (most people are unaware that Ukraine is the largest country entirely in Europe) is its great wealth of rich farmland and natural resources, but it also has modern factories, excellent transportation links, and most importantly, a well-educated, highly-skilled, and motivated population. In my remarks, I stated how Ukraine was moving towards closer cooperation and greater integration with the European Union, and was moving away from its substantial economic links to the former Soviet bloc nations. This gave Ukraine, in my view, a positive economic outlook. The current turmoil in Ukraine has received trivial attention in most Western media (though the BBC, The Economist, and the Canadian Globe and Mail have been exceptions). The gravamen of the turmoil grows out of the actions of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych late last year that scrapped an Association Agreement with the European Union. This Agreement was a trade pact that provided a pathway to EU membership for Ukraine. The Agreement, negotiated in 2012, was a great hope for Ukrainians at many levels; Ukrainians hoped that the Agreement would lead to reformation of its institutions, courts and police, and its economy, resulting in higher standards of living for the Ukrainian people. However, Russian president Vladimir Putin demanded that Mr. Yanukovych choose between open borders with Europe, or trade with Russia. The current issue of The Economist observes, “Ukraine is essential to Mr. Putin’s ambitions of creating Russia’s own Eurasian Union, a diminished version of the Soviet Union that was. The Kremlin . . . is trying to draw Ukraine into Russia’s orbit with money, gas and counter-intelligence.” However, Russia faces a slowing economy, a demographic decline, and almost no exports besides oil and gas. Ukrainians understand that Russia now matters far less than it once did.
My friend and esteemed colleague at Mere Comments, James Kushiner, recently posted on these pages photographs of courageous Orthodox priests in Kiev standing between protestors and government forces. (These powerful photographs are available here .) Although over 80% of Ukrainians are Orthodox Christian believers, other Christians have also asked for prayer for their nation. Pastor Oleg Magdich and his parishioners have walked the streets around Kiev’s Independence Square wearing vests that say, “Pray for Ukraine.” At the beginning of the crisis last November, Pastor Magdich, a youth pastor at one of Kiev’s large evangelical churches, erected a prayer tent at the center of the protest zone. Pastor Magdich said, “Our main message is that God is the only answer, not politics, not violence. We have to rely on Him to see us through this crisis.” Zenya Venidiktova, a university student and volunteer at the prayer tent, said the political uncertainty has left many of her fellow Ukrainians disillusioned. She spends her time on the streets handing out copies of the New Testament and the Gospel of St. John. Ms. Venidiktova recently told CBN News, “It’s minus 23 degrees, and cold out here, but the inconvenience is a small price to pay to share the Gospel with people searching.” At the prayer tent, Christian volunteers are praying, and distributing free tea and food around the clock, along with New Testaments and Gospels of St. John, to both protestors, police, and soldiers. Christian physicians are also in the tent serving the sick and wounded. One of the volunteers, Marina Kerusenko, a mother of two, said, “Protestors have been on the streets in freezing conditions for months, so when they come for a cup of tea, I encourage them, saying ‘God bless you. We are praying for you and our country. Don’t give up.’” Pastor Magdich said that hundreds of Ukrainians have stopped by the prayer tent, and that many have given their lives to Jesus Christ. Andrey Tolstokoriy was among those who came for prayer. He said, “I’m praying for God to bring righteous leaders to our government, people who can lead our country forward.” Pastor Magdich and his volunteers plan to stay on the streets of Kiev as long as it takes to bring peace to Ukraine. Pastor Magdich said, “The Church has to play a role in this crisis. We have to be salt and light.” Indeed! I urge all liberty-loving Christians to pray for the freedom and justice for the people of Ukraine. For as Pastor Magdich and the Orthodox priests clearly recognize, this battle is a spiritual one, and so it needs to be bathed in prayer. God has given the Church the command to be light and salt in the earth. Even in the face of possible revolution in Ukraine, the Church continues to fulfill its mission and promote peace between conflicting parties. The Church is doing what it should do, and I ask you all to pray for Ukraine, asking for God’s wisdom for all parties involved in this difficult situation, and for the ongoing advance of the life-changing Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord!