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'I'm not courageous, I was called by God' says Russian church leader after criticising Russia's invasion

by Donna Birrell
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The General Secretary of the Russian Evangelical Alliance says he felt 'called by God' to speak out against the invasion of Ukraine - despite living in Russia.

Vitaly Vlasenko has written an open letter saying he mourns what his country has done and is sharing his sorrow for the victims and those forced to flee Ukraine. 

He says he bitterly regrets the actions taken by his country's leadership.

He’s been speaking to Premier about why he chose to put his own personal safety at risk by criticising the Russian invasion of Ukraine - despite being a public figure in Russia.

"I don’t think it’s courageous.

"A friend of mine asked me what I would regret in five years’ time about this situation. 

"I would remember those people in Ukraine who several days ago were peacefully living, planning their day, planning their future and immediately their lives changed.

"I was in shock and I imagined my own children, or some of my relatives in such a situation. 

"I grew up in a family who were children of the war, my mother and father told me how difficult and how tough it was. "They told me that nothing is worse than a war.

"I was touched by this question and for those Ukrainians and other people around the world and I was ready to write this open letter. 

"I felt it deep in my heart and I believe this was the Spirit of God really calling me for hope, because hope is when the power of God is working through the hearts of men.

"We don’t know about threats or if anything will happen. 

"I'm not saying that I'm against some plans of the Russian Federation, I was sharing my personal experience, my personal feelings, my personal story, for Ukrainians and for those people who are in the Donbass area. 

"We are people, we are living in 21st century and must think a little bit differently. The war is something in 20th century - behind us - we need to discuss issues on a political level.

"Some people say that I am putting us in a very hot spot. It depends. But you know, all such decisions in history aren’t easy, but I really believe that Church must be a place of reconciliation, peace and love."

Vitaly Vlasenko says he wrote to President Putin 12 hours before the invasion to implore him to think again, but he hasn’t received a reply. 

He has, however, received letters of support from all over the world :

"They think that I’m really courageous or something but I’m a simple pastor of the local Baptist Church. 
"I was waiting for a long time to hear some other people speaking about this issue, but basically, by the grace of God, I was the first person to openly say something about this. I think it will take maybe 50 years or more to really reconcile with this conflict, because the wounds are so deep. Many people - Russian and Ukrainian - have a family relationship. Basically, we speak one language and it's going to be really tough. I pray that there will be a reconciliation and rehabilitation programme when the war is over." 

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