16.6 Religious Persecution

No 16 : 31 October 1970

At the end of October 1970, the Catholic church was closed in the village of Zarechanka (formerly Balya-Kostyolnaya) in the Grodno Region of Belorussia. The village forms part of the Suvorov collective farm (kolkhoz). The church was closed on the instructions of the local authorities. It was turned into a grain-store, and the church plate was taken away.

The collective farmers (kolkhozniks) declared that “they could not live without the church”, and for three days they did not go to work, nor did their children go to school. The cows were milked by teachers. Students sent from Grodno to assist the collective farm kolkhoz refused to work.

[N. P.] Molochko, the chairman of the Regional Soviet’s executive committee, was compelled to give instructions to clear the church of grain, return the church property and repair the damage to the building, and also to punish those responsible for the closing of the church.

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Documents issued by the large group of Evangelical Christian-Baptists [Commentary 16] have come to the Chronicle‘s notice: they are known by the name of the “Action Group” or “The Council of Churches of the Evangelical Christian-Baptists”. Because of disagreements with the official Baptist leadership a few years ago they decided to separate from it and function independently. The group has been placed, and continues to remain, outside the law: their communities are refused registration by the authorities, and all attempts at religious activities are rigorously persecuted.

This problem is not a new one to the Soviet public. It was discussed in an interview with the chairman of the Council on Religious Affairs [V. A. Kuroyedov] printed in Izvestiya (No. 247 for 1969) and in a number of other publications. The opportunity now arises of seeing something of what the members of this Action Group write about themselves: individual sheets headed “Appeals”, “Special report”, “Fraternal Leaflet” (sixth year of publication), and so on.

Some of the publications are devoted to events in the village of Borodichi in the Zelvensky district of Grodno Region [in Belorussia]. They mention the five years’ imprisonment to which N.V. Shugalo and N.N. Lazuta, members of the local community, were sentenced on 14 January 1970 (no details of the trial are known to the Chronicle). The fate of I.V. Lazuta turned out differently. He ended up in the Regional psychiatric hospital in Zhodishki. How this happened — whether on the basis of a court decision or because of indications of danger to the public (i.e. on the basis of the well-known “Instruction” [of 1961] of the Soviet Ministry of Health) — I.V. Lazuta’s relatives and friends have been unable to discover.

On 26 October 1969 the October district court in Kharkov [eastern Ukraine] sentenced nineteen-year-old V. Zinchenko [to three years of ordinary-regime camps under Article 138, paragraph 2, of the Ukrainian Criminal Code (equivalent to Article 142 of the Russian Code)] for, his mother assumes, “preaching the gospel, singing church music and playing church instruments”. Zinchenko’s mother appealed in an Open Letter: “I ask you, dear mothers, to pray with me … that the Lord might touch the hearts of the rulers of our country, and that they might order the release of my son from his present imprisonment and forced labour.”

In Tula [Central Russia] 400 believers have been trying unsuccessfully to register their religious community.

In Rostov [-on-Don, South Russia] presbyter D. S. Rogozhin, presbyter V. S. Zhovmiruk (aged 76), server G. F. Shostenko and member of the Rostov community A. S. Rogozhin have been arrested [in September 1969, July 1970, July 1970 and August 1970, respectively].

In Kishinyov [Moldavia] on 7 July 1970 presbyter M. I. Khorev was convicted.

The Kiev community, despite being refused registration, is continuing to function, and the believers expect a new criminal trial.