Miraculous escape: Ukrainian pastor survives Russian imprisonment and takes family to freedom

PHOTO: Faithwire

Originally published in Faithwire

As Russian troops are facing increasing strain with the Ukrainian army seeking to retake the southern city of Kherson, stories of atrocities, persecution, and God’s deliverance are emerging from the occupied territory.

Residents of Kherson are boarding buses under forced “evacuation” orders from the Russian army, as Ukrainian troops close in on the city. Life has been tough as people face shortages of just about everything and endure harsh treatment by Russian soldiers.

Serhii Khlan, deputy of the Kherson Oblast Council, said: “On the left bank, the occupiers continue to intimidate and kidnap people. In recent weeks, we witnessed them kidnapping one couple, and the next day a woman was hanged in the centre of Skadovsk just because she said Skadovsk is Ukraine. So the occupiers continue the intimidation of the population, with the kidnapping of people in the occupied territories.”

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Losing Kherson would cost Moscow the land bridge it so desperately wanted between the Donbas and Crimea areas that it annexed in 2014. It would also allow Ukrainian artillery to get that much closer to Crimea. Worse still, for the Russians, a loss here would provide more evidence that their forces are on the brink of collapse.

Retired Army General David Petraeus told ABC News: “No amount of shambolic mobilisation, which is the only way to describe it, no amount of annexation, no amount of even veiled nuclear threats can actually get out of this particular situation. He is losing, and the battlefield reality he faces is, I think, irreversible.”

Pastor Imprisoned and Interrogated
Those forced to live under Russian occupation, however, say liberation can’t come soon enough. After six months in occupied Kherson, Pastor Alexander escaped with his wife and 10 children in September.

“When the Russians took over, we weren’t sure what to do, but we decided to continue with our church services,” Pastor Alexander said.

Russian forces, on the lookout for so-called Nazis, searched his house several times. On September 6, they arrested him in front of his wife and children. 

“I was kept in solitary confinement for six days,” he said. “Then they put me in a cell where there were seven people, but only three beds.”

During interrogation, the Russians tried to prove he was a Nazi – ironically because of an Israeli flag in his office – but Pastor Alexander was more worried about photos on his phone.

“Many Americans donated to help with the construction of our church,” he said. “{The interrogator} accused me of being an American agent. He was just looking for a reason to keep me. On my phone, there were a lot of photos that provided evidence of my cooperation volunteering with the army. So, that became my prayer, I will trust in the Lord with all my heart. But I also prayed that they would not even see my phone and the Lord closed their eyes to it.”

Preaching in prison
Between interrogations, the pastor shared his faith with his cellmates.

“My wife had managed to slip me a small Bible. So with that, I started witnessing to the other men and myself we were there together for another 10 days. By the seventh day, they had all made Jesus Christ their Lord. That was when I finally realised why I was there.”

Pastor Alexander had no idea if he would ever see his family again.

“While I was being interrogated, the commandant said, ‘If it was up to me, I would shoot all of you right now and throw you in the landfill.’ They hate Ukrainians so much. They cannot even stand to hear the word Ukraine.’”

A miracle of deliverance
Then – after 15 days of captivity – a miracle happened.

“An Orthodox priest whom I had never met came to the commandant and asked him to release me. And he agreed on one condition – that he could keep my car.

So, at the church there was still a minivan, and we put all my family into it, along with an injured neighbor, and headed toward the front lines.”

Escape from the Russians
However, their ordeal wasn’t over. It took four days and lots of prayer to get through all the checkpoints and friendly lines. 

“I saw such joy in my children’s eyes when they first came upon Ukrainians,” Pastor Alexander said. “They saw a soldier and said ‘Look, they don’t have masks. The Russians are almost all walking around in masks.’ And I said, ‘That’s because they have nothing to hide. Bandits always wear a mask.’”

Now Pastor Alexander is helping with a local church in Kyiv, and praying to be able to return home soon. As Ukrainian forces inch closer to retaking Kherson, his prayers may soon be answered.

“God is providing for us here, and however long He takes, I know that he will continue taking care of us. So I’m trying to seek first the kingdom of God and wait for everything else to be added.” 

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