2014 WAR REFUGEES
WAR STORY FROM MILITARY HOSPITAL
When I go to the military hospital, I often try to encourage the wounded and see if they are open to talking about what happened to them or if they want me to share my Christian testimony with them. As you can imagine, some will talk, but most don’t want to discuss the horrible things they saw in war. I often ask them if they know God or read their Bible. Most of them say the same thing, “I know God, I have a Gideon Bible that was given to me, but I have no time to read it.”
Most of the time, these men are polite, but they are not saved. I just try my best to show the love of Christ and look for opportunities to share the Good News. Their injuries are many and varied. Each person has a different story, but in some ways, they are all very similar; injured, needing Jesus as Savior, but most don’t see the necessity of salvation.
One interesting story I learned during my visit is that one of the injured soldiers talked about how there was one Christian that was trying to witness to the others in his unit. They used to laugh at him, so he eventually just put his Bible in a tent and made it a holy place where any of his friends could go and read it at any time. It so happened that a shell hit near them, killing several of the men, but the table with the Bible remained was intact and unharmed. A story of God’s faithfulness to the holy things of God!
Blessings Beyond the Bombs: The Walls Are Still Standing!
“Dear Friends, I want to thank you for praying for our team during this trip. We all returned safely. Here is an update on our weekend of ministry: On Friday, March 25th, we drove to the Donetsk region, so we could minister to local Christians and unbelievers. After spending the night on the way, we arrived in the town of Mariinka on Saturday morning (which is near Donetsk, where the most hostile fighting is taking place). We had to pass several military checkpoints to get to our destination.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted by pastor Oleg; he took us to a local school, where we ministered to about 75 children with our puppet ministry. Earlier this school was overrun by both Ukrainian forces and Russian separatists. Besides a puppet show, pastor Ruslan sang some cheerful children’s songs and Masha played a few funny games with the children. It was great to see the smiles and hear the laughter of the children who participated in this event. It brought a moment of solace to these war-torn children. At the end, all the children received a gift bag of candy.
Afterward, we headed to the local church for a church service for the adults. Pastor Oleg kindly allowed us to be responsible for the whole service. About 80 people attended the service (most of them have joined the church since the war began). During the service Masha shared a short Christian parable, we sang a few songs, and then pastor and I both preached. The church atmosphere was warm and welcoming – God has touched people’s hearts in miraculous ways. Two unbelievers repented and accepted Jesus as their Savior at the end of the service.
We had a tasty dinner afterwards at a local resident’s home; it was heartbreaking to see the damage done to the house. Apparently, during one of the battles, the home was struck by a bomb. The windows had to be bricked up to protect against future shell fragments or shots being fired. We spent the night in this home and a couple of times during the night, we heard gunfire and saw signal flares shot into the sky. It was reported in the news that during that weekend 13 people were killed or injured, but not in the exact location where we were sleeping.
The next morning we departed to the town of Krasnogorovka, where there were many destroyed buildings. In this town, we were greeted by pastor Sergey, before ministering to about 210 in their church service. Despite all of their struggles of living and worshipping in the middle of the war zone, we could still see God’s blessing upon these Christians. Most of these people have recently received Christ. After the church service, we had a second children’s service, where another 60 kids were blessed.
After the service, the pastor showed us where a military rocket had hit the roof of their church and you could see where the walls were severely pierced by shell fragments – but by God’s grace, the church was still standing!
After an eventful weekend, we made the long trek back to Kharkov, once again passing multiple roadblocks. Because of heavy military equipment travelling on the roads, the drive was long and tedious because of extremely bad driving conditions. On our way back, the vehicle was damaged because of the potholes. We slashed one of our tires and accidently bent one of the wheels. We were stuck by the side of the road for several hours until we could get some help with the repairs.
Nevertheless, we were extremely blessed that God used us to encourage our brothers and sisters and to see two people give their lives to Christ as Savior! Seeing all of their smiles and seeing how they rejoiced at our coming to serve them was an amazing experience. We are average people, but God truly used all of us for his glory. I know this testimony doesn’t convey what an amazing experience it was and how God went before us and protected us during our trip.
I am sad to report that the very next day after we departed for home, the battle raged on in the exact locations where we ministered; but thankfully, no one was reported injured or killed in action from the churches where we served. Thank you for praying for us and helping us reach those deeply impacted by war.”
— Vova Yevsukov
Bombs Were Exploding Near our Home!
Hello, my name is Luba, (which is short for Lubov and translated means “Love” in English). After the war began in my town, I moved to Kharkov. I didn’t want to leave my home and I stayed as long as I could, but unfortunately, the situation deteriorated and it wasn’t safe to remain any longer. Explosions happened regularly and bombs were exploding near my home, so we packed up a few of our belongings, made it through several check points and arrived safely in this center where we are presently living until we can figure out our future.
We are very thankful to have a small private space for our family. It isn’t home, but we believe that we made the right decision to leave when we did, since the armed conflict in Alchevsk has greatly intensified. Many families cannot get out of the region now because of the bombing and roadblocks.
Thankfully, my husband, Roma, has found work as a driver at the rehab center where we are staying. I am still looking for a job and finding a way for my children to begin school. Honestly, I have never followed Jesus or claimed to be a Christian, but I now see God’s hand in my life and how God has placed many good Christian people around us.
I do not know what is in store for our future; all we can do is hope that peace will come back to Ukraine. I want to thank SCM for facilitating Christian doctors and nurses to come and visit us. It has been an encouragement knowing people care about us. Thank you again! – Luba
Departed for Safety
Hello my name is Lena, and I have three children, Katya, Vika, and Andrew. Before the war, my family lived in a town named, Malogvardevsk, in the Lugansk region, which is now under the control of the pro-Russian separatists and Russian soldiers. Our family moved to Kharkov at the beginning of the war, so we could be safe from harm. We feel very fortunate to have left our region and also able to discover a Christian community here in Kharkov.
My children have begun school in Kharkov and my husband (Anatoliy) has found some income working in a factory. By God’s grace, Christians from the church that we have been attending have helped us with food while also trying to help my husband find full-time employment.
I can tell you that because of the war, many Christians from my region are gone; they fled with their families, just like us. We met SCM through the doctors and nurses that blessed our family when they came to visit us. I want to thank everyone for caring for our family. Because there is extreme danger where we used to live, we will not go back home anytime soon. Please pray for all of us who have had to leave our homes!
Leaving Lugansk War Zone
Hi, My name is Yuriy. I lived in a town called Rovenki, which is located in the Lugansk region, where there was heavy fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces. My town was part of the war zone, so I had to flee my home and move to Kharkov area. I became a Christian in 2008. Before the war, I had my own business of installing air conditioners. I have been able to live in this rehabilitation center in Kharkov, trying to heal from a recent head surgery and also try to figure out my future. Because of my construction background, I was able to help this rehabilitation center with some needy repairs, while I await what is next for my life. My parents remain in the Lugansk region and I am concerned for them, because missiles exploded very near their town during the heavy fighting. My parents told me that during the heavy fighting, there was heavy shelling almost every day.
But due to their age, health, and financial inability to move, they need to remain in their very fearful environment. They hope that everything will one day go back to normal. At the moment, I am thinking about trying to begin my own business in Kharkov, so I can make enough money to support my parents and get them out of Lugansk, before something bad happens to them. I am deeply concerned about their wellbeing! Because I have been in much pain with my head injury, I am thankful to Slavic Christian Ministries and the medical team for looking at my injuries and helping me both medically while encouraging me spiritually too. Thank you! – Yuriy
Refugees from Crimea
Hello, my name is Dimitry, I am from the town of Saki, in the Crimean peninsula in South Ukraine that was overrun by Russia. I have a wife named Anna and three daughters, Oinna, Alina and Veronika. When Russia took Crimea, we moved to Kharkov. Before our move, our quiet town of Saki was overrun by combat helicopters, tanks, and armored personnel carriers. Many armed military began patrolling our streets. At the time, I could not completely grasp what was going on around us and grew gravely concerned, as you can imagine.
In fear for my children, I left Crimea and moved to Kharkov. We knew several people at one of the rehab centers, so we contacted them and asked if they would help us, while we tried to determine our future.
It has been over a year since we have departed our Crimean home. We try to keep as normal of a routine as possible. My children attend a local school, my wife Anna works as a kindergarten teacher, and I work as a cook in the rehab center. We have found a local church since relocating and trying to participate in church ministry. For now, we just pray that peace will eventually return to Ukraine. We thank Slavic Christian ministries for helping us during our time of need too! – Dimitry
In this war atmosphere of Eastern Ukraine, we continue to engage in all of our regular ministry activities (without hindrance) to orphans, teaching theology in churches, and counseling and ministering in drug rehabilitation centers. As I stated in my last letter, we have also begun a new ministry to refugees. We have “adopted” a UN mandated refugee camp that is only 45-50 miles from the war zone and can house up to 300 people.
When we visit this camp, we counsel the parents, teach the children Bible lessons, play games, sing songs, engage in crafts, and shower everyone with love. We always bring items like fruit, candy, and essential hygiene supplies, and clothes, some of which is collected from one of our employees church members.
Our team drives two hours to reach the refugee camp via the interstate and are often passing military checkpoints and many military vehicles. They serve at personal risk each time they go – and they do so for the benefit of sharing the love of Jesus Christ with those displaced souls, many of whom have never heard the Good News and the way to salvation. Please keep our team in your prayers as they minister to those in dire straits.
Lada Panchenko’s Ministry
We have an employee named Lada Panchenko who works for us in a military hospital. Originally, she was meeting physical needs inside the hospital, like cleaning soldier’s clothes and personal belongings. But now, we have transition her into the hospital ward, so she can befriend, encourage, and witness to the troops who were injured in battle.
Lada used to be one of our English evangelism teachers several years ago, but she was married and began a family. Unfortunately, in the past year, she had to abandon her home in the war torn part of Ukraine, her mother died, her child died a few years ago, and her husband abandoned her, to no fault of her own.
Military hospital hallway
Having Lada work for us is a place of solace for her, where she can relate to and minister to those who are hurting. I thank God for this friend and sister in the Lord. She has a beautiful giving spirit, so please also keep her in your prayers as she ministers and heals.
Holy Mountain Refugee Camp
We have had several trips to the refugee camp since November. On the highway, we constantly see a flow of military vehicles and tanks. The roads are once again in bad shape because of the number of heavy vehicles traveling on them, which is making our drive to the border even longer than two hours.
At this moment, there are about 120 refugees in our camp, with 35 of them being children. The number of people coming and going is constantly changing, with the on-going movement of people.
No one wants to go back home until the war is over; all of them have lost their jobs, and some of them have no food to eat. When we spoke with some of the children about their situation, you could see that they were exhausted, tired, and still in mild shock. When we first began coming to Holy Mountain Refugee Camp, there were 7 children, now there is five times as many kids.
Initially, there was no heat in these buildings, and families had to constantly wear their coats inside their temporary housing. But now the families are thankful because the heat has been turned on inside their buildings. One woman we met who had to flee her home in Donetsk was just days away from giving birth to her baby – this wasn’t idea at all. Just a few short months ago, these people were living at home and living normal lives, working during the day and enjoying family in the evening; now they don’t know where to turn.
During our trip, we prepared the same type of Sunday school lessons for the children, as we do in the orphanages. After our study time, we counseled the kids and played games with them, and spoke with the parents. The kids loved our program and we were successfully able to give them a joyful respite from their situation. The parents were very grateful for our visit and appreciated our time and ministry. When we asked them what their needs were, they mentioned food, laundry detergent, hygiene products, etc. But most of all, they just want the war to end and have the ability to go home. I would like to share Irina’s testimony:
“Before the war, I lived in the suburbs of Donetsk, but when the intensive fighting and heavy artillery shelling began near my home, I realized I was in the middle of the war zone and needed to immediately leave for my safety. Praise God, some volunteers were evacuating people who wanted to leave, so my adult children and I left with them to get away from the constant gunfire and bombing. My van passed safely through a few checkpoints until we safely arrived in our refugee camp. My husband chose to stay in our town with some other men, trying to protect our houses from looters.
I am really worried about my husband’s safety. We try to keep in contact by telephone. I just learned that several of my neighbor’s homes were destroyed, but my house is still standing. Currently, I am working as a cook in the camp and my sons are working to improve the camp’s conditions for future refugees. Please pray for the peace of our country, so we can go home.
Thank you for visiting us and helping us with food and supplies, but more importantly, thank you for visiting and serving – It gives me assurance that we are not alone in our struggles. I trust God is in control, but you are his blessing to us today. Thank you!”
It is a long drive to get to this refugee camp, but we can see that God is using us during this very difficult time. We are serving the families spiritually, but please ask our ministry friends to help us feed these displaced families and help them receive basic living supplies. Tell them everyone is very appreciative of the ways we can help, in the name of Jesus!
“Dear friends, I was born in Kazakhstan in 1937. My family
consisted of both Christian and unbelieving family members. My
father died in World War II, when I was very young and I was
raised by my mom and grandmother. I had a delightful upbringing,
and my grandma was the one who taught me how to pray and took me to an underground church because of the
persecution by the Soviet regime. When I wasn’t attending an underground church, I prayed secretly, so my
family and I would not get into trouble with the government. Many years passed and I eventually moved to
When the war broke out in Eastern Ukraine, I lost everything in a moment’s notice. My sister begged me to
move to Kharkov a few months after the war broke out. Amazingly, I caught the last train out of my area before
everything closed down. My nephew died in the war after I departed, and my sister died of grief and an illness
six months later.
I was able to rent an apartment in Kharkov, but with the overwhelming events with my life and family, I felt
broken and lost. My sister was the dearest and most precious person in my life and when she died, I lost any
purpose for living; I became hardened and empty inside. During this period of time, I lost my hearing, so I went
to the hospital and I met another refugee, who encouraged me to visit Living Hope Baptist Church (the church
SCM partners with to help refugees).
The timing was too amazing and I knew this connection was from God. When I arrived, I was amazed by the
church atmosphere and how welcoming people were to me. They accepted me into their church family, showing
patience, mercy and understanding. It was evident that they loved people and worshipped God in this church. I
began to attend the theology courses and made relationships with Slavic Christian Ministries workers, who
brought me closer to the Lord and helped me recover emotionally and spiritually. Living Hope and Slavic
Christian Ministries have been God’s refuge for me for several years now and I am so thankful for them!
I am grateful to God for directing me to these wonderful Christians. I was baptized here and I believe Jesus is
doing a greater work in me. Thank you for helping in this area of ministry!”
Ludmila Mashkova’s Testimony
“My name is Ludmila and I was born and raised in the town of Horlovka, Ukraine, which is near the epicenter of where the
major battles happened between Ukraine and Russia. I wasn’t brought up in a Christian family, but at times, I did reach out to
God. Many years ago, when my daughter became very ill (she had 4th stage cancer), I repented of my sins before God. It was
at that moment, that I began to see our lives turn around for the better. I know that God was guiding my steps all along the
way. I fervently began praying and my daughter was healed from her cancer, she got married and now I have two wonderful grandchildren! I was baptized in 2008 and was attending Christian Word Community Church in the town of
Makeevka, which was near my home. When the war broke out in 2014, my town and the cities around me were bombarded with explosives, warheads, etc. We tried to remain in our home, but when things really escalated in our area, we decided to leave in 2015.
My husband was really sick when we escaped and unfortunately, he died during this time of crisis. After I came to Kharkov, I heard about Living Hope Baptist Church from other refugees. I initially received help with food and supplies, but then I began attending a service led by the church and Slavic Christian Ministries. They have provided me with so much hope over the past few years, which I am so grateful. I know what God’s ways are so different than our ways and I am learning so much. I now volunteer with the church and SCM in distributing food to other refugees. The war has settled down, but we still feel displaced. Thank you for all of your prayers and support!” I usually only share about our refugee ministry once or twice per year, but our SCM partners work diligently every week in distributing food, counseling people, and providing a worship service for them. Because of your ongoing help, we are able to serve a couple hundred refugees and homeless people. Thank you for your prayers and sacrificial giving to help use reach needy people, in the name of Jesus.
I am unsure how much you have been following the events with Ukraine and Russia, because it isn’t making headline news, but over the past few months it has been reported that Russia has placed approximately 100,000 troops, artillery, tanks, and missile launchers around the southern, northern, and eastern borders of Ukraine. We were unsure of what Putin’s next steps were going to be earlier this month. Thankfully, Russia has pulled back “some” of their troops, relieving some of the pressure of an imminent invasion, but make no mistake, there is still a serious threat looming. A couple of weeks ago, I posted an update on Facebook that you may want to read – it states that Russia may invade this summer, if things continue to escalate. We hope not, but we are keeping a very close eye on this situation, because our ministry is only 30 miles away from the Russian border.
Below are some refugee stories that never made it into earlier prayer letters. Despite our refugee ministry being shuttered a couple of months ago (due to the vast majority of the families being integrated into society), we may need to reopen this ministry, if Russia invades again. Here are a few stories from our refugee ministry that didn’t make it into earlier prayer letters, but these testimonies serve as a reminder of the effects for war on ordinary families and are appropriate to highlight, with the current political situation:
“Hello, my name is Natalia Ryavkina, and I am a 35 years old mother of two young children. I had to leave my home in the town of Debaltsevo (a town in the war zone within the Donetsk region) because of the war and moved to Kharkov. Before moving, I had a stable job, but the military conflict destroyed our family life and employment opportunities. My husband is handicapped and I have to work and take care of the children. It has been a difficult transition, not knowing anyone in Kharkov; I didn’t know where to go, how to feed my family, or where to turn. One day I heard from another refugee about Living Hope Baptist Church (the church SCM partners with to help with the refugees and homeless ministry). I was excited to discover that they distributed food, as well as, have a ministry to families like ours, who are trying to survive. I have met many nice people from the church and SCM. We are now attending the church and we thank God for SCM and all the wonderful Christians within the church!”
“I am Olga Gorshkova and I am a 40-year-old refugee from the city of Pervamaysk (in the war zone near the Lugansk region). When the war broke out in August 2014, I moved my family to a town in the Kharkov region, but we just could not get the help we needed to survive. When we heard about Living Hope Baptist Church, we moved to the city of Kharkov and incorporated into the refugee ministry that was run by the church and where Slavic Christian Ministries helps out. We have received so much help and thank God for everyone. We are now members of the church and we have learned about Jesus’ love for us and his willingness to save us spiritually, despite losing everything of worldly value. Thank you for all of your help.”
“Hi, my name is Ludmilla Pavluchenko. I am 51 years old and I fled from war zone in 2014 with my children and grandchildren. When we left, we had no time to waste and took nothing with us, except our legal documents and a little bit of savings. When we left, we truly believed we would be able to return in short order, but now we realize that we can never go back home. Our home was destroyed and practically everyone left our town; almost no one remained because it is just too dangerous to return. When we heard about the ministry for refugees, we immediately came to the church and met so many wonderful people – we have made many faithful friends. Slavic Christian Ministries has encouraged us emotionally and spiritually and helped point us to Christ. I am so thankful for all of the support the church has given us. I am not alone, I have found God, and I feel like God will take care of me, my children, and grandchildren.”
I have even more testimonies that never made it into earlier prayer letters. If the war begins again, I may share some of these other testimonies, until we get some new ones, which I hope isn’t the case! For now, SCM’s involvement with the refugee ministry has ceased, since almost everyone is now integrated into the life of the church and we are using our limited resources to expand our kid’s clubs (which is where we reach out to children in villages and towns, who don’t know Christ and/or come from difficult families). I will be reporting more about this ministry in our next prayer letter.
I don’t like to pass on discouraging news like the current threat level in Ukraine, but unfortunately, I have more bad news and need prayer for our orphan and disabled children’s ministries too. There has been a spike of COVID cases in our city of Kharkov, and once again, the government has shut down our ability to serve the kids inside these facilities. We offered to purchase TV’s and laptops, so we could have live sessions online, but we were denied access online too. We have also been turned down by the government in wanting to helping orphans who have transitioned out of the orphanages and are being supported by the government in trades schools or colleges. They buried us in red tape and made it virtually impossible for us to serve them in this transitional role. This is disappointing news because we have spent six months trying to gain a foothold into this new area of serving. We trust God is guiding our steps and will use all of our resources to helping children. We do believe the orphanages and disabled children in hospitals will only be shut down temporarily, and we should have access again soon, Lord willing.