RELIGION

Oleksandr Turchynov, Baptist Pastor, Named As Ukraine's Acting President

Feb 25, 2014 | Updated Apr 14, 2014
SERGEI SUPINSKY via Getty Images

After months of violent protests, Ukraine had a whirlwind weekend that set the country on a course that could dramatically change its future in the coming years.

The parliament voted to impeach President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled from Kiev after two of the bloodiest days in Ukraine's recent history; politician Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison after more than two years behind bars and promptly announced her decision to run for president.

In the meantime, Oleksandr Turchynov, a pastor and Tymoshenko's right hand man, was elected interim president until May 25.

Political turmoil and campaign schemes aside, the man now in the center is no average politician. For one, he is a novelist known for several psychological thrillers, one of which was turned into a film and submitted to the Oscars in the foreign language category. Turchynov also studied metallurgy, according to BBC, and acted as head of one of Ukraine's first independent news agencies.

Perhaps most interesting, though, is that unlike the predominantly Orthodox and Catholic Ukraine, Turchynov is a Baptist pastor. He may be in the minority, but he is by no means alone.

According to Ukrainian think-tank Centrum Center the country is 2.4% Protestant, and the Baptist church, in particular, has grown in prominence in Ukraine since Soviet days when Baptist and evangelical churches were illegal.

The European Baptist Federation (EBF) sees Turchynov's appointment as a victory not only for Baptists in Ukraine but for Christianity, at large, in the country. In a statement on Sunday the organization said:

Our brother in Christ and minister of one of the Kiev Baptist Churches Dr. Oleksandr Turchynov, a leading opposition lawmaker, was elected Speaker of parliament... During all these days of protests and confrontations the Christian community in Ukraine has been the light and the salt for both parties. The doctors, nurses, cooks, students and other Christian groups have been helping whenever there was a need. This situation caused the churches and even denominations get united in prayers and fasting for the peace and God’s intervention. People started crying out to God and even the TV media spoke about the role of the church and quoted Scriptures... What Ukraine needs is not just a change of people in authority but a change of the system and the relationship of the authorities to ordinary citizens. Ukraine needs love, mercy and forgiveness. Ukraine needs Christ!

The EBF may be right in marking this as a turning point in Ukraine's religious landscape. Impeached President Viktor Yanukovych hailed from the Ukrainian Orthodox church, but in the last turbulent months the church has distanced itself from Yanukovych's government.

Orthodox priests maintained a visible presence in Kiev throughout the protests, offering prayers to demonstrators and police alike. The Vatican Radio also reported last week that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church had removed prayers for Yanukovych and his government from their liturgy.

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