'Putin's next bargaining chip will be Israel' - Ukrainian-born pastor

War is dividing Russian and Ukrainian Christians in Israel.

 A view shows a residential building, which locals said was damaged by recent shelling, in Mariupol, Ukraine, on February 26, 2022 (photo credit: Nikolay Ryabchenko/Reuters)
A view shows a residential building, which locals said was damaged by recent shelling, in Mariupol, Ukraine, on February 26, 2022
(photo credit: Nikolay Ryabchenko/Reuters)

The city of Mariupol was "Ground Zero" for the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Thursday.

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And that is exactly where Andrey Levin’s mother-in-law lives ... and where she is now stuck.

“We thought of getting her out of there before the invasion, but she has no passport and the territory is now closed. There are no flights,” Levin – who now lives in Israel – said. “There is nowhere to go because the invasion is occurring in many places.”

He said, "My wife is so stressed. She spoke with her mother and she’s in a panic and doesn’t know what to do. On one hand, she is scared to stay, but on the other hand she is scared to leave her house. She’s alone. We don’t know what to do.”

Levin, who leads worship at the Morning Star Fellowship messianic congregation in Tiberias, said he has many friends and family in Mariupol – a city of great strategic importance and, simply, his hometown.

“It was expected, but there was always a hope it wouldn’t happen,” Levin said of the invasion. “We prayed and it seems we were mistaken.”

Mariupol is a port city on the Azov Sea and capturing it would give Moscow a geographic link between Crimea to the separatist region of Luhansk and Donetsk, just recognized by Russian Presient Vladimir Putin as independent. Mariupol is located 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the border to those territories.

The city is home to about half a million residents – many of who fled and many of whom are now stuck. Levin said that he has distant family in Kyiv and in Moscow, as well.

Mariupol, located 640 kilometers (398 miles) southeast of the capital Kyiv the city has been under relentless shelling since Thursday.

When we spoke with Levin again on Saturday, he had just gotten off the phone with friends there who said the situation looks bad and predicted that “sooner or later the Russian army is going to take over the western part of Ukraine and eventually the whole country.”

A pastor who was born in Ukraine told ALL ISRAEL NEWS that Putin is on a “historical mission” and is “sort of demon possessed” hellbent on demilitarization and releasing all of Ukraine from the "Nazi movement."

This pastor, who asked to remain anonymous, said the Ukrainians he has been in contact with are expecting things to get worse and many are fleeing west as they expect a full invasion of their country.

“Ukrainian Christians believe that for now, [Putin] is trying to burn down all the bridges behind, and he has nothing to lose, so he will,” he said.

And this leads to his primary fear “that the next hostage, that the bargaining chip in the hands of Putin, will be Israel.”

“Hezbollah and [Bashar al-] Assad are just sitting on the borders waiting for a green light from Putin,” he said.

THE INVASION IS DIVIDING CHRISTIANS

Levin described a mostly supportive, but sometimes tense situation between Russians and Ukrainians both in Israel and in Europe.

“I have friends also in Moscow and they are people who are intelligent and, without an exception, they are all in shock and can’t believe this happened,” he said. But he added that while most Russians are embarrassed by Putin’s actions, others are under the spell of propaganda – including many Christians.

Like Levin, the pastor told ALL ISRAEL NEWS that some Russian Evangelicals are supportive of their country and of Putin.

“I understand the silence of the people that might be scared, but here it just a very, very wild phenomenon when, unfortunately, a Russian Evangelical is, for the most part, overwhelmingly in support of Putin,” he said. “And this actually causes a huge split between two churches: Russian and Ukrainian."

Though he said that "to my surprise, even the Russian Orthodox Church that belongs to Moscow jurisdiction and based in Ukraine went out with the full support of the Ukrainian position.”

Oleg Korotkyi, also born in Ukraine and now living in Israel, said he sees a similar situation in his Ashkelon congregation where congregants are originally from either Ukraine and Russia.

“Unfortunately, I see believers, including in our church, who are glad that Putin attacked Ukraine,” Korotkyi said. “It is not clear why this happens among some believers and how such hatred towards Ukrainians can be cultivated in their hearts.”

(Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Viewsridge - BNO News City)(Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Viewsridge - BNO News City)

WHAT SHOULD CHRISTIANS BE PRAYING FOR?

Korotkyi has 90 relatives in Ukraine and many friends in various churches.

“Just before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, my son's wife and their three children left their home in Kyiv and came to us, because they knew that there would be a war soon," Korotkyi said. "They live with us now.”

He told us that fear is rampant and the people are taking in refugees from Donetsk.

“My wife’s relatives live in the shelling area," he said. "Her old disabled father, brother and almost blind sister are there with their families. They say that now they have no light, the sound of rockets is heard. There is nowhere to run to hide.”

“People in Israel are very worried about the situation in Ukraine, especially in churches," he continued. "A few days ago, I was in Nahariya at a service in a church and saw how the church was praying for Ukraine.”

He said Christians should pray for the people who are being attacked in Ukraine: children, grandchildren, wives and husbands.

"May the Lord give repentance to many people in Ukraine at this difficult time," Korotkyi said. "To stop the aggressor for whom the death of children and women means nothing. Pray for those who were left without shelter, clothes, food [and] who lost their loved ones."