By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
KIEV/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)-- One year after the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia, Ukrainian Christians say they are still facing persecution there by pro-Russian separatists who already killed several believers.
Evangelical congregations in particular have come under severe restrictions in Crimea, according to activists and church officials.
In comments distributed by the Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC) advocacy group, a key church leader said separatists accuse evangelical Christians in Ukraine of spying for the West.
"Separatists have confiscated their church buildings," added the official, only identified as "Paul" amid security concerns. Paul, who reportedly planted many churches in the former Soviet Union, said some believers in occupied areas were even killed.
"After annexation, Ukrainian churches [were told] they had no right to exist there. Every church has had to be re-registered," he explained in comments obtained by BosNewsLife.
"Some pastors and priests have been forced to accept Russian citizenship." Those who refused, he said, "were forced to leave."
Christians in other territories occupied by Russian-backed rebels fear they will be next, according to Paul and rights activists.
Amid the current climate of instability, VOMC said it was crucial to "pray that the faith of believers living in Crimea and Ukraine will be unwavering and secure."
It urged supporters to "ask God to work in the hearts of the separatists so that they, too, will come to accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord."
The group also asked prayers for "Paul and the other Christian workers ministering in this troubled area of the world, granting them greatly needed wisdom and encouragement as they faithfully serve these suffering Ukrainian people."
Russia annexed Crimea in March last year, following the ouster of the Kremlin-friendly
president Viktor Yanukovych.
Soon after, fighting broke out between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine.
Moscow has acknowledged that "Russian volunteers" fight alongside the rebels, but denies Western allegations that it supports the rebels with weapons and troops.
More than 6,000 people have since died in the conflict, while at least one million people, including devoted Christians, have been displaced in Ukraine alone.
Despite a new ceasefire agreed last month, isolated clashes continue in several areas.