A pastor is reported to have been arrested in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
According to the charity Release International, the pastor, who is an evangelical, was taken away and there have been moves to arrest another pastor who has gone into hiding. Other pastors are said to be on blacklists for arrest.
Andrew Boyd from the charity told Premier that as leaders of evangelical churches, the pastors are targets as they are seen to be patriots and leaders of the people:“Obviously, Vladimir Putin comes from a background as a former KGB officer from the Soviet Union, that was officially an atheist state, but Putin has embraced very publicly the Russian Orthodox faith.
"Now it may be cynical to say this, but there is a religious nationalism that is going on here in forging and shaping a new identity for a nation.
"It’s the same kind of thing that we see happening within China and other places. We see it happening in India too. But there is a growth in religious nationalism around the world, which is highly intolerant.
“If you're a Christian leader, your first authority or first responsibility is to God, Jesus Christ is Lord. It puts Christ above the king, above the Emperor, above leaders.
"So we've got evangelical and Protestant churches who are declaring that Jesus Christ is Lord who are not part of the Orthodox system, which is very much hand in glove with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.”
Andrew Boyd says that in areas such as Luhansk- which came under Russian control in 2014- the authorities have closed many Protestant churches and have banned many Christian books.
Release International warns religious freedom could be a casualty of war if Russian forces gain further control across Ukraine: “These are people who are considered to be beyond the control of the Kremlin.
"So we've seen Protestant Christians discriminated against, churches shut down, raided all kinds of things, the church has been driven underground, in the areas of Ukraine that have been taken over by Russian separatists.
There's no reason to think that they would be doing anything different if they extend their control of Ukraine, and certainly the news that's come in today, of an evangelical pastor being arrested, another one being searched for - who made something of a miraculous escape - just confirms those fears.”
“In areas of Ukraine, which have been seized by Russian separatists, there has been for quite some time a degree of persecution taking place, it's very, very easy to overlook.
Most Protestant churches have been banned in those areas and some books have also been banned, including quite remarkably, the original Gospel of John, books by Charles Spurgeon, books by Billy Graham as well.”
“Pavel’ Release International’s partner in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, said: ‘The entire territory of Ukraine is under fire.
"There is no safe place and the goal has been to sow panic everywhere. Our hope is in the Lord."