As the war in Ukraine intensifies brave Christian leaders who have remained in the country are playing a unique role bringing practical help and hope to traumatised citizens.
Yesterday I spoke to one such leader, Pastor Andriy Takhtay, in the central city of Vinnytsia – where he had just returned the previous evening after delivering baby food and diapers to a maternity hospital in Kyiv and evacuating women and children from the city where the war this week moved ominously from the outskirts into the heart of the city. During his time in Kyiv he heard a loud explosion overhead, which he believes was Ukraine’s air defence system striking an enemy drone or missile. He also heard machine gun fire close to the maternity home. And he learned that a central metro train station had been bombed and the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary had been severely damaged by missiles.
Andriy had planned to return to Kyiv yesterday with humanitarian supplies needed urgently by elderly and disabled people in the war-torn capital but he woke up to hear that the city was off limits as a 48 hour curfew had been declared
People often ask me: “What are your plans? I don’t have any plans. My only plans are five minutes ahead of me” said Andriy.
In a recent Facebook post he shared how one day recently he — a pastor — forgot it was Sunday. “All I know is that today is another day of war,” he wrote. For him it was another day of trying to respond to people’s desperate needs. Most of the parishioners of his church, Pozniaky Church of the Nazarene in Kyiv are gone – scattered around Ukraine and neighbouring countries, and he and his wife, Marina, live with four other displaced families from Kyiv in a house in Vinnystia owned by friends who are in Poland.
“There was a time when we, sitting in churches, went through theory, and now it’s time for practice. And it is in such situations that it is very strongly manifested how well we have learned the truth about selfless love for our neighbor and how ready we are to apply this in our lives. The war will end sooner or later. And then we can return to our weekly church routine. Until that moment comes, we will continue to serve people and preach the Gospel with our deeds.” he wrote in his post.
When the war broke out three weeks ago his church had just completed a major building renovation project and was about to launch a major, holistic evangelism outreach to children in the city – as well as mission campaigns aimed at equipping people to minister to refugees in Iraq who had fled from Isis in Syria.
Reflecting on previous ministry trips in Iraq where his heart went out to refugees who had fled Isis, leaving everything behind, he said: “I never imagined that WE would become refugees in our own country.”
He said he and Marina had left Kyiv with just a few possessions. Some of the people displaced by the war, believed to number more than 3 million, left their homes with just a small bag or even just the clothing they were wearing and without identity documents. As the Russian invasion is increasingly battering civilian populations, apartments and homes are being destroyed, and people in besieged towns are living in basements and subways, and food and medicine is in short supply. In their shared refuge house in Vinnystsia, Andriy’s brother in law has sent his wife, who is due to give birth soon, to safety in Poland. Another man in the house has sent his wife and two children abroad. These men, who by law are required to remain in Ukraine, are in anguish about leaving their families to survive on their own in foreign countries. He said Marina is terrified but determined to stay with him.
“In the midst of all this we are trying to help people,” he said.
As a pastor he does his best to encourage the remnant of his congregation scattered around the country. They share hopeful testimonies and prayer needs on a church social media group. He calls congregants on his phone and personally delivers grocery bags to them. Visiting the view left in Kyiv is a challenge as only two of the city’s bridges over the Dnieper River remain and it can take four hours to travel across the city. “It means a lot to them, especially in times of war, that you go through all these difficulties to visit them,” he said. He said some parishioners had called him to find out if he is still in Ukraine and it reassures them to know that he is still there in the present crisis with them.
Despite the trauma of the war he said his heart is filled with thankfulness – for many people around the world who have responded to the war crisis with financial and humanitarian aid – and also, for the many people around the world who are praying for Ukraine.
“Because of that prayer I feel as if God is taking me by the hand from place to place, helping in so many small but miraculous ways.”
Once, for instance, he needed petrol to drive some women to the Polish border. Petrol is rationed to 20 litres per car which is little for a long trip such as he faced. When he got to the petrol station it was dark already, and it was closed, with a sign saying NO GASOLINE. But but somehow he was able to raise people inside the building and get a full tank of petrol and complete his mercy mission.
He said there are many such miracle stories of God making a way for him to serve people, providing food, accommodation, supplies, the right connections and more.
He also shared a testimony of God’s intervention in the southern city of Kerson which is occupied by Russian invaders and where his parents are trapped beyond his ability to reach them. His father told him that for years the basement of their local church was filled with junk. Recently a youth leader mobilised a team to clear the basement which is now a place of shelter, food, prayer and counselling for hundreds of people – and is a powerful witness of love to many unbelievers.
“My father said it looks like God was preparing ahead of time so that the church would be able to serve in a time of need,” said Andriy.
The intensification of the war in Kyiv where Ukranian soldiers and armed civilians are bravely resisting the Russian invaders, brings the essence of the war into sharp relief, he said.
“Kyiv is the spiritual heart of Ukraine where the Church influences culture. And this war is a battle about world view because we Ukranians are fighting for freedom — for our core beliefs that are based on the Bible — where we believe that each person has a free will, has a right to choose even if he makes a wrong choice, where every human life is precious because it is created by God.
“We don’t want to be like people in totalitarian Russia; we don’t want to be voiceless where there is no freedom of religion, no freedom to preach the Gospel. A friend of mine in Russia was arrested at a train station for reading his Bible in public, which they said was an expression of extremism.”
If you would like to provide any financial or material support towards the relief work in Ukraine that Andriy does in partnership with other Christian leaders and organisations, you can contact him on WhatsApp at +380 95 002 7597 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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