BEATINGS AND BULLETS WHIZZING PAST MY HEAD
Hello dear friends, I hope you are doing well! Things have been quiet in January with people just trying to stay warm in Ukraine. After a long year, our partners took a small amount of time to rest and recover too.
Things may be ramping up in Ukraine again, if you believe the news reports. It is being reported that Russia will engage in another massive offensive on the anniversary date of the war or a little before or after that date – time will tell. The latest news reports indicate that Russia may send 500,000 men across the Ukrainian border. Our friends and partners are just trying to keep people alive, so please keep them in your prayers!
As you know, this war didn’t “officially” begin last year, but in 2014, when Russia took over Crimea, Donetsk, and Lugansk. From 2014 to 2019 we had a refugee ministry too, but most of you don’t know about it, since many of you are new to our ministry. My first year in Ukraine, I lived in Donetsk and taught at Donetsk Christian University. I also traveled to Sevastopol Ukraine (where the Russian naval fleet is located in Crimea), and of course, I have lived and worked in Kharkiv for over 20 additional years. I am very familiar with everything going on in each location. Back in 2001, I was honored to meet and make friendships with many students, faculty and staff from Donetsk Christian University and one of those wonderful individuals is Victor Malasuk. Below is his testimony.
BEATINGS AND BULLETS WHIZZING PAST MY HEAD
“Dear friends of Slavic Christian Ministries, my name is Victor Malasuk. I have known Ron for many years, but today, I want to tell you about the events in my life when the war with Russia began in 2014. I was a student at Donetsk Christian University and completed my bachelor’s degree in theology. After I graduated, I was offered to begin a new church in the Donetsk region. For years, I loved pastoring, enjoyed seeing my children grow up, and serving God. I loved serving children and their families; it was one of the greatest memories I have had in ministry!
However, in 2014, everything changed when the war began. My children and I went to rallies to support Ukraine, and after a while, protestors were attacked and beaten by pro-Russian people. Eventually, I was asked to leave the region, but I was hoping that my prayers would be answered, the war would end, and I could stay and pastor my flock – but I was wrong.
One day, I was stopped at a military checkpoint and when they looked at my documents and realized that I was originally from western Ukraine, they beat me up, hit my chest with a machine gun, and I was taken away and incarcerated with 15 other people. We were forbidden to speak to each other and the Russian mercenaries began torturing us, if we broke this rule.
Several times per day, I was interrogated, tortured and demanded to sign a false document, stating that I was helping the Ukrainian military, which wasn’t true, so I didn’t sign the document. The consequence was heavier beatings. One day I was taken out into the yard, the Russians put me against the wall, and they shot bullets that were very near to my head. All I could do was pray to Jesus and I asked him to safely take my family outside of Donetsk and back home to western Ukraine; I believed I was going to die at that moment. This happened to me three times, but the beatings were intense and regular. But one day a miracle happened – my wife, Tamara, was in the office and I was told that I was “not guilty,” and I was free to leave. What I discovered was that my wife was offered to “buy me back,” for a large sum of money, so she borrowed from anyone and everywhere, so I could be released. Upon my release, we fled Donetsk and never looked back.
I have heard of many people who were treated similarly, but many people have also died in captivity, so I am very thankful to God for sparing my life. But my question to God was, “Why did you allow this to happen to us?” We were homeless, had no car, no clothes or shoes, no money, etc. It took awhile for me to overcome my anger and bitterness toward God and Russians, but eventually God broke through and he reminded me that we must forgive our enemies. I returned to ministry and I have been serving as a pastor in my church in Rivne, but my wife has traveled and worked in several European countries that paid more than she could make in Ukraine, so we could pay off our bank loan and also reimburse everyone who gave so we could pay off our debts. It was so hard for our family to be torn apart, but we didn’t have a choice.
People ask me if I am nervous it will happen to me again, now that the war reignited in 2022. The short answer is yes, of course, I am concerned. However, I deeply believe that God will not allow me to go through trials that I am not able to overcome. Despite the horrors of this last year, I always ask God for opportunities to serve him and help other refugees and those in need. I know of others who have been taken, tortured, humiliated and executed. We are considered refugees under the Geneva Convention, but I continue to serve God here in Ukraine to the best of my ability. My wife finally made it to Oregon, where she is trying to find a job. We are apart, but I am at peace that she is safe!
In my city of Rivne, the Russians have been targeting the electrical system, water systems, and we have gone long stretches without electricity, water, and heat and it is very cold in Ukraine. To be honest, it has been very difficult. I have been working almost exclusively with the refugees from other parts of Ukraine that have come to us. During the beginning months of the war, we helped evacuate people from very hostile areas to safer areas. And we began housing people in our ministry camps outside of the city. We have been feeding about 400 people at any given time, while also providing medicine, clothes, shoes, etc. But honestly, our church has helped thousands of people over the past year. Our ministry has also distributed about 50 tons of food and supplies to the desperate people in eastern Ukraine (where most of Slavic Christian Ministries works). Last summer, we were able to host a summer camp for about 1,200 children. It was such a joy and blessing! The needs remain huge in 2023, especially with the Ukrainians in the eastern part of the country. I thank God for having Slavic Christian Ministries help my family in 2022 and we are so happy that the board has agreed to partner with our refugee ministry in 2023. Thank you for all of your prayers and gifts; we thank God for you in every way!” - Victor
Dear friends, please pray for Victor and his family to be reunited as soon as possible. Please also pray that God will continue to use Victor and his ministry in Rivne. And of course, please pray for all of our ministry efforts/partners in Kharkiv too. If your heart is open, please help us support this dear brother, as he serves hundreds of people and as we serve thousands upon thousands of people in Kharkiv too. One of my fears is that people will grow numb to the needs of the people who are barely hanging on.
Slavic Christian Ministries’ donations are down 80% since last April’s peak of giving. My hope and prayer is that Victor will inspire you to pray, give, and remember that the needs will not be eliminated anytime soon. People are desperately depending on us, who have nothing left. Many people are turning to Christ, which is good news, but we need to help them with food and supplies too. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus remarks, “Truly I tell you, whatever you do for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Friends, God sees how much you are sacrificing and I know his heart is pleased with your sacrificial giving for people you will never meet. I know my heart has been warmed by your generosity, so thank you very much!
I try to make our prayer letters personal, so you understand how this war is affecting millions upon millions of people. Thank you for reading and praying too. We thank God for you in every way!
In Jesus’ love,