REUTERS/Alina Smutko

By Jeremiah Goddard

On 24 February, the world will observe the second anniversary of Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. This sombre date coincides with the ninth anniversary of the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Through the lens of faith, we are called to approach such events with both lament and hope. While recognizing the suffering and injustice inflicted, we also acknowledge the enduring presence of a loving God who continues to work within a world marred by sin and conflict. So, first, we must take a realistic view of the situation in Ukraine, then we can begin the process of stepping back to survey where hope may be found in such a situation. Part of that realistic view is looking at the impact of the war and what the Christian perspective is. After this, it is possible to ask the question, what might God be doing in this?

Impact of the War in Ukraine

Human impact: When speaking about war, it is easy to get lost in the statistics and data. However, it’s important to remember that Christ speaks in terms of peace, turning the other cheek, meekness, and humility. So, when looking at the scale of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it’s important to count the cost and remember the lives – and possibly souls – lost. Ukraine keeps its war casualties a national secret, many believe due to the possible effect on the morale of the troops still fighting. However, several alternative sources report different numbers. In August last year, US intelligence officials estimated nearly 500,000 people had been killed or severely injured in Ukraine with over 300,000 of those being Russian military forces. The officials said they had estimated the data using “satellite imagery, communication intercepts, social media and news media dispatches from reporters in the country, as well as official reporting from both governments.” No one knows the exact figures due to Russia undercounting their losses and Ukraine so far refusing to report theirs. Aside from the soldiers wounded or killed in action, the OHCHR (United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) has estimated 27,000 civilian casualties. Along with the casualties, we also need to look at the deeply rooted trauma that takes place in war zones. Around 11% of Ukraine’s pre-war population has been directly affected by combat trauma.

When looking at the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it’s also important to look at the refugees created to understand the civilian impact. There are estimated to be 9.6 million displaced Ukrainians, which equates to 22% of the Ukrainian pre-invasion population of 44 million. An estimated 3.7 million are internally displaced and 5.9 million are international refugees. Along with this, around 900,000 Russians have fled Russia as economic migrants, conscientious objectors, and political refugees. On 16 February 2024, Alexei Navalny, a staunch opponent of Mr Putin, died while serving a 19-year prison sentence for “extremism”. Son of a Ukrainian father, Navalny told an appeal court in Moscow via video link from a corrective penal colony in 2022: “This is a stupid war which your [Mr] Putin started. This war was built on lies.” Although Navalny’s cause of death remains unknown, many blame Russian authorities, as with his near-death poisoning in 2020. His death comes less than a month before Russia’s presidential election, in which Mr Putin is seeking another six-year term. Navalny’s passing removes a prominent figure from the Russian opposition.

Ukraine’s shifting borders: Since the invasion, Russia has taken 54,000 square miles of territory from Ukraine (139,000 km2), 29,000 (75,000 km2) of which Ukraine has since regained. The last major border shift occurred in November 2022, and since then the borders have remained relatively static. It was reported on 18 February that Russia had made their largest land advance since May 2023 when it took control of the city of Avdiivka, from which, according to Ukrainian authorities, their forces had to withdraw due to a shortage of ammunition after months of fierce fighting.

Economic impact: Tracking the economic impact of war is a difficult task. However, it is estimated that Ukraine lost 30-35% of its gross domestic product (GDP) in the first year of the war, sinking the country into the largest recession in its history. Ukraine is now one of the most food-insecure countries in the world, despite being one of the world’s biggest exporters of crops, such as maize, barley, and wheat, before the war. The United Nations World Food Programme estimates that one in three Ukrainian households is food-insecure, rising to one in two in some areas of the east and south. Part of this is due to the loss of infrastructure due to the war and death of household earners.

Sanctions imposed on the Russian economy by the West is one of the tactics used to dissuade the continuation of the war, however, they have so far failed to force a halt in the fighting or to bring Russia to the negotiating table. Many of the early estimates were found to have overestimated the impact on the Russian economy. Prices of some items have risen since the sanctions were put into place, but Russia’s partnership with China likely has played a part in the economy’s resilience, as trade between Russia and China hit an all-time high in 2023. The newest sanctions have aimed at Russia’s access to technology and its oil sales. Despite this, Russia still supplies most of Europe’s oil and due to the US having little influence over these two sectors, these sanctions have had little impact on the overall health of the Russian economy.

The global impact of the Russia-Ukraine war has been significant, particularly in the realm of grain exports. As predicted, the conflict has exacerbated global food insecurity, disproportionately affecting developing and emerging economies. These developing regions rely heavily on Ukraine and Russia, which, before the war, jointly exported 36% of the world’s grain. The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal struck between Turkey, Russia, and Ukraine, aimed to alleviate the grain crisis by facilitating grain transportation from Ukraine to countries facing critical food shortages. While the initiative enabled the export of 33 million tonnes of grain to 45 countries, it fell short of its intended goal. Most of the grain ended up in China, Spain, and Turkey, raising concerns about its effectiveness in reaching the most vulnerable populations.

REUTERS/Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/Ukrinform/Sipa USA

Church impact: Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his initial justification for the military intervention in Ukraine, emphasised the historical and cultural ties between the two nations, claiming Ukraine as “an intrinsic part of Russia’s own history, culture, and spiritual space.” This perspective aligns with a prevalent interpretation of Orthodox Christianity’s historical role in Russia, viewing Russians and Ukrainians as descendants of a single Christian kingdom established in the 10th Century. Both countries’ national narratives acknowledge the pivotal role of Prince Volodymyr I of Kyiv in adopting Christianity in 988 and establishing a powerful kingdom that laid the foundation for modern-day Ukraine and Russia.

Some interpret the conflict as a religious war, prompting the Ukrainian government to temporarily ban the Russian Orthodox Church from operating within its borders; the war has paradoxically caused a surge in religious activity within Ukraine. Numerous Christian organisations have mobilised to assist internally displaced persons and refugees in Ukraine and neighbouring countries. The Church has played a crucial role in addressing the needs of civilians and even soldiers during this challenging time. Multiple reports from pastors across Ukraine confirm a significant increase in religious engagement. A small church in the previously occupied southern city of Kherson, partnered with the Gospel Coalition, has witnessed phenomenal growth, with attendance exceeding 500, compared to its pre-war congregation of just 20 members. Pastors attribute this surge to individuals seeking answers and spiritual guidance amidst the war’s hardships. Fortunately, existing ministries have stepped up to address these inquiries, despite facing their own struggles arising from the conflict. Recognizing the growing spiritual needs, there is an urgent call for additional leaders to equip and guide those newly seeking faith. “We are experiencing a time of spiritual awakening in Ukraine right now,” remarked a pastor in Poland actively supporting Ukrainian refugees. “There is a critical need for dedicated labourers and ministers willing to serve, as we believe this challenging period will soon pass. We are committed to maximising our efforts now, trusting in God’s continued support.” A pastor from the Kherson region, interviewed in 2023, echoed this sentiment, stating, “The number of individuals attending our services has skyrocketed. Before the war, we would typically see 3-4 new faces each week. Now, each service welcomes hundreds of newcomers. Our visitor database has registered nearly 6,000 new individuals! This is an unprecedented spiritual revival.”

When looking for a Christian Perspective within such a devastating event such as war, it’s important to remember that while God does not cause war, He certainly works through it. In many ways, it seems like God is using the war in Ukraine to further mature and purify the Ukrainian Church. With waves of people coming to faith both within Ukraine and among the refugees, it’s easy to see the direct impact the war has had. What remains to be seen is how the Church will continue to help post-war, and as the war continues into its third year, how the Church will battle against donor fatigue.  But now is not the time to stop supporting the Ukrainian Church. As one of INcontext’s contacts said, “Ukraine is not just a mission field but a mission force.” We must thus find hope in the fact that God is still at work, and He is mobilising His people in the midst of the  war for the expansion of His Kingdom in Ukraine and beyond.

Please join us in prayer for the following:

  • For the Global body of Christ to persevere in prayer for this region and to join hands with the local body in this difficult time
  • For the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the field and that God would give Christians boldness in sharing the Gospel and wisdom as they make disciples
  • For God to bless the work of the Christians in this region and that they would not grow weary in doing good

Putting Action to Words:

God is at work amidst war, turmoil and chaos. If you would like to financially support the ministry work being done in this region, please contact: jeremiah@incontextinternational.org or to make a donation visit https://incontextinternational.org/ and use Ukraine as reference.