The president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Euro-Asia Division is calling on all Adventists to pray for peace in Ukraine and has urged church members across the division to give a freewill offering in support of people who have lost their belongings in the unrest.
President Guillermo Biaggi has declared Sabbath, June 28, as a day of prayer across the division, which includes Ukraine, Russia and 10 other former Soviet republics as well as Afghanistan.
His call comes nearly four months after Adventist leaders in Russia and Ukraine released a joint statement urging peacekeeping.
“We pray for wisdom from heaven to guide the countries’ leadership toward a peaceful resolution,” Biaggi said Thursday. “We want to see peace in order to avoid losing lives as we have in the past few days.”
Violence has claimed hundreds of lives since street protests in the capital, Kiev, turned ugly and helped topple the government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February. Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in March, and pro-Russia separatists have seized territory in eastern Ukraine and called for unification with Russia. The new Ukrainian government has accused Russia of fomenting the unrest, an allegation that Moscow has rejected.
The United Nations estimates that more than 420 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine alone, including nine Ukrainian soldiers who died when separatists shot down their helicopter last Tuesday.
Biaggi stressed that the Adventist Church was seeking a peaceful resolution and not taking sides in the conflict.
“The situation is very delicate because of the different worldviews among the countries involved,” he said. “Nevertheless we as Adventists are not involved in politics. Instead we pray and respect the leaders of both countries as advised in the Holy Scriptures."
He cited two Bible passages: 1 Timothy 2:1-2, which says Christians should pray for “all in authority” so “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life,” and Romans 13:1-6, which says “let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.”
Information about how the unrest has affected Adventists in eastern Ukraine was not immediately available. Ivan I. Ostrovsky, vice president in charge of communication for the Euro-Asia Division, expressed reluctance to publicize details, citing a desire to protect the interests of church members in a politically charged environment.
But Biaggi said the church had a duty to help Adventists and thousands of other people who have been displaced by the unrest. Biaggi has asked churches across the division to collect a freewill offering on Sabbath, July 5, to help fund efforts by ADRA, the Adventist relief agency, to assist people — both Ukrainians and Russians — who have fled to other parts of Ukraine and across the border to Russia.
“We need to remember that we have refugees on the Russian side as well, with many crossing the border,” he said. "We are appealing for people to follow Christ’s example of compassion and to do good to all the needy in our world."
Biaggi decided to issue the appeal after holding consultations with Vladimir I. Tkachuk, a Euro-Asia Division vice president and the head of the local branch of ADRA.
The UN says more than 46,100 people have been uprooted in Ukraine, including 11,500 from Crimea and nearly 34,600 from the east.