UKRAINE – As unrest in Ukraine continues to grow, news emerged today of the assault of a Lutheran pastor in Odessa on February 19.
Rev. Andreas Hamburg reports on Facebook that he was present at a peaceful protest taking place at Odessa’s regional administration building when a pro-government civilian group arrived and began attacking the protestors. “I stood still, hoping that my peaceful attitude and pastor’s shirt would have a calming effect,” he writes. But he was attacked nevertheless. “I lay on the ground, and no one prevented them from beating me, first with their feet and then with bats.”
He was eventually saved by a policeman who came and pulled him out. Before order could be restored, the assailants also attacked others, including members of the media. Rev. Andreas Hamburg is a pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Odessa, a member congregation of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Ukraine (GELCU). GELCU has ties to the Lutheran World Federation.
The Patriarch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), Archbishop Major Sviatoslav Shevchuk, called Rev. Hamburg shortly after the incident to express support and solidarity. “During the call, both sides stressed the importance of peaceful resolution of the crisis in Ukraine,” a UGCC release notes. “Every person, no matter which side of the fence they are on, is a child of God and needs to protect every human life.” A local Odessa ecumenical group—with Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant members—also condemned the attack.
In addition to being the headquarters of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Ukraine, Odessa serves as the headquarters of the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU). SELCU has strong ties to Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), a member church of the International Lutheran Council. SELCU and GELCU have a cordial working relationship in Ukraine, even sharing buildings in certain locations.
LCC’s missionary in Ukraine, Rev. Alexey Navrotsky, notes that, currently, “The most dangerous places are in Kiev, Lviv, and cities on the west side of Ukaine.” SELCU has no congregations in these areas, and in communities where the church is represented—like Odessa—the situation is not yet considered dangerous, comparatively speaking. “But the situation changes every hour,” he explains. “The waves of human anger and sorrow are flowing from Kiev to all regions of Ukraine.”
Asked how other Christians across the world can help, Rev. Navrotsky is clear: “We really need and appreciate your prayers.”