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Oral History

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Introduction

According to official Soviet figures there were approximately half a million believers who identified themselves as ‘Evangelical Christians-Baptists’ in the immediate post-war period. In 1947 there were almost 2,700 registered congregations, over half of them in Ukraine.1

Who were the Evangelical Christians-Baptists (ECB) of the Soviet Union? This is the central question addressed by this website. An extremely brief historical overview tells us the following.

The development of a Protestant tradition in the Russian Empire can be dated back to the second half of the nineteenth century. During a period of religious awakening, small groups devoted to Bible study began to form. At the same time, missionaries brought new influences from abroad. German Baptists played a key role, particularly in Ukraine, southern Russia and Transcaucasia. In the capital, the British evangelical Lord Radstock, a member of the Plymouth Brethren, attracted a significant circle of followers, known as Evangelical Christians. These non-Orthodox Christians faced persecution under Tsarist rule and many welcomed the Revolution of 1917. Their hopes were soon dashed, however. Although the Bolshevik regime had initially seemed to offer an olive branch to ‘sectarians’, by the 1930s Stalinist repression was decimating church life, with many arrests and church closures. Yet, this was not the end of the story. The Second World War saw a revision of church-state relations and the ECB community benefited alongside their Orthodox counterparts. As we shall see, the post-war period saw the growth of ECB congregations, though this did not signal the end of repression.

What kind of women and men worshipped within the ECB congregations of the post-war period? What drew them to the Protestant church? How did the state treat them? How did the church as an institution react? What kind of worship was possible? And how did experiences of persecution affect individual believers? Using a mixture of archival documentation and oral history extracts we hope our project sheds some light on these, and other, issues.