Russia began withdrawing military units from the Ukrainian border and the Crimean Peninsula, after weeks of heightened tension over Russian troop build-up in the area. On Thursday 22 April, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the objectives of the sweeping military manoeuvres were accomplished. He ordered the units on exercise back to their permanent bases but instructed all heavy weaponry to remain at the Pogonovo firing range—160 km east of the Ukrainian border— for another exercise later in the year. Units from the 58th and 41st armies began returning to their bases on Friday [23 April], along with several airborne divisions. The return process should be complete by 1 May. According to NATO, the troop build-up was the largest since 2014, when Russia supported separatists in Crimea and annexed the peninsula.  Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the decision but maintained that Ukraine will remain vigilant. According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Kyiv will await intelligence confirmation of the pullback. Kuleba also expressed his gratitude to Western nations for their firm and immediate support. Major concerns were raised in recent weeks by NATO and members of the EU, who put immense pressure on Russia to demilitarise the region. The Kremlin maintained the build-up was a military exercise and argued its right to mobilise troops anywhere within Russian territory.  Amid NATO military training exercises in the Black Sea and heavy US sanctions on Russia, President Vladimir Putin implemented restrictions on foreign warships in several areas of the Black Sea from 24 April till 24 October. Ukraine claims this is illegal as it would economically affect their country by impacting access to Ukrainian ports via the Kerch Strait.

From a Christian perspective, as tensions mounted along the border of Ukraine and Russia, requests for prayer went out around the world. Just two weeks later we are beginning to see the fruit of those prayers—Russian troops withdrawing with no hostilities. As believers, we are assured in scripture that when we have faith in God and believe the words we pray, He is able to provide [Mark 11:23-24]. Praise the Lord for His intervention and the power of prayer. Though Russia has begun to pull back from the area, the tension and conflict within Ukraine’s Donbas region remain. Despite years of hostilities, however, the Church on the Ukrainian side of the ‘contact line’ is growing. There have been reports of close to 50 new churches and mission groups being planted in Donetsk and Lugansk (Donbas region). In addition, 150 new missionaries have been trained and sent out into the field with the support of the community. “We thank God, (that) in a time of war and suffering the Lord is doing something beautiful,” an INcontext contact shared. Believers living on the separatist side of the ‘conflict line’ are, however, experiencing quite a different reality. Separatist leaders only recognise the Russian Orthodox faith, and many evangelicals are being persecuted. There have been reports of targeted attacks against believers and most struggle to meet in their buildings to fellowship together.  The global Church must continue to be involved in prayer and intercession for this region.

Please pray with us for the following:

  • For a complete de-escalation in border tensions and pressure, while praising the Lord for what has already been achieved
  • For a breakthrough in discussions towards a non-military solution to the Donbas conflict
  • For the continued growth of the Church in Ukraine, especially for those in the separatist-controlled areas



Image:  REUTERS/Stringer