Armed, masked men in military uniform seized Baptist pastor Leonid Ponomaryov and his wife Tatyana on September 21 from their home in Russian-occupied Mariupol, reports Forum 18a research organization specializing in religious freedom and based in Oslo (Norway).

On October 6, parents, church members and other leaders of the Baptist Council of Churches did not know where the couple was and why they were abducted. A delegation of pastors traveled to several towns to speak to authorities but did not receive any useful information.

According Forum 18, neighbors said they heard ‘distinctly heard moans and cries’ as unidentified masked servicemen took the Ponomaryovs from their homes. Reports say they were first taken to a police station and promised to be released after the annexation referendum of the People’s Republic of Donetsk (an unrecognized pro-Russian region in eastern Ukraine) to Russia. But that didn’t happen.

Earlier in September, soldiers had visited the church of Pastor Ponomaryov, which meets on private property and has not yet obtained official recognition from the authorities. According to Voice of The Martyrs South Korea, which has contacts with the church, the soldiers asked the church to open their premises for the annexation referendum, but church members refused. The Russian-backed authorities reacted by seal the building.

The following Sunday, the church meets again. Soldiers arrived during the service, searched the building for “extremist” material and detained the pastor. He was later released.

Finally, on the evening of September 21, Leonyd and Tayana were abducted.

According Forum 18on October 1, the Ponomaryovs children released a statement thank church members for their prayers for their parents. “For 10 days already we know nothing about them,” they wrote. “A group of church members from Mariupol and Rostov [in Russia] goes around all agencies and institutions, not only in Mariupol but in the regional center [Donetsk]and we haven’t said anything about our parents anywhere”.

Two days later, the International Council of Churches asked in a statement to its members and congregations internationally, that calls for the Ponomaryovs to be sent “ONLY by churches in the Russian Federation”.

Posted in: Evangelical focus – europe
— Mariupol pastor and wife abducted after refusing to open church for annexation referendum

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