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UA Ukraine Crisis Church Fund
Project # 90965
Unsplash: Julia Rekamie

How Pastors Are Ministering in Ukrainian Cities Under Attack

By Andrew Hess, Apr 12, 2022

As the war in Ukraine moves into its sixth week, Ukrainian Christians are praying diligently that God will somehow bring an end to the devastation and suffering across their country. Despite the horrific headlines, these Ukrainians are convinced that God is in control and can be trusted to help them in their hour of need, the way He has always rescued His people.

We spoke with two Ukrainian pastors who minister to churches in two cities where the Russian bombardment has been intense. Sergei* is a pastor and medical doctor in Belgorod, Ukraine, which is 12 miles from the Black Sea and 25 miles from Moldova, their nearest border to the West. He continues to serve his church while running a clinic in their city. Ivan* is a pastor in Kyiv, one of Russia’s earliest and most devastated targets. Several times during our interview, Ivan said, “Did you hear that? Another missile exploded in the distance. We hear them about every 15 minutes.”

Both pastors made the choice to get their families to safety when the conflict first started in February, and then both men decided to remain in their cities to continue ministering to their people through this horrible time.

A Weariness Sets In

There is a weariness and heaviness in the cities who’ve fought the Russian assault for over a month now. Ivan said, “We are still hanging on. We hear explosions often throughout the day. It’s always an imminent threat.” He continued, “There are trenches all over the city. There are hedgehogs [anti-tank obstacles] in our roads to prevent Russian tanks from passing through.”

Sergei explained that this suffering started long before the initial attack. “The Russians were adding more and more pressure. Their plan was to cause panic in the lead-up to February 24 and make us weak before the initial aggression,” he said. “I would like people to know that hundreds of thousands of people are suffering in many of the large Ukrainian cities. They are under the bombings. We don’t know how many thousands of people have been killed.”

One of the biggest challenges for those living in the cities under attack is getting food and supplies. “Food is scarce, but still is available,” Ivan said. “We stand in long lines for an hour to get some groceries. There is usually only a limited amount of packaged food available, but no fresh produce.”

Sergei said, “Every day, we see that we have less food in our market, but we do thank God that we have what we need for now.”

Another challenge in these cities is getting around. Ivan said, “There is no ground transportation. It’s impossible to hail a taxi. Roads have check points every so many miles.” He added, “The mayor is encouraging people to stay in their homes and only leave if necessary because it’s so unsafe to travel throughout the city.”

Despite these challenges, churches are finding ways to minister to those in need. Ivan said, “We try to get medicine and food to elderly people in our church who have remained here in Kyiv. We have a hotline, and we try to deliver supplies to those who call.”

He described his daily routine, “Every day I write a short devotion and send it out to our members. Then I make telephone calls and check on our people. Then we proceed with delivering food and medicine to those with needs.” He explained that it’s challenging to meet the needs of people across the city because he doesn’t always know if and how they will get there.

Leaning Into God’s Word

Beyond the many physical needs the churches are striving to meet, both Sergei and Ivan are focused on meeting the spiritual needs of their congregants. Their primary tool is the ministry of God’s Word.

“The people in our church are thinking about the reasons for this war,” Sergei said. “We open our Bibles in new ways, seeking to understand what God is doing in these times. These circumstances help us understand what God has said to us in the Bible.” He continued: “We are thinking about God’s glory. We know we have to support our army, but we must give all the glory to God who is in control. We have many good conversations. I think these circumstances are helping us understand one another and have a deeper love for one another.”

Ivan said, “We are learning to rely on the Lord. He is the provider of every good thing. We need to remember that He is the Lord of order and peace. Meanwhile, we need to maintain peace in our hearts and minds by meditating on His Word.”

Ivan shared that he was preparing a sermon on Psalm 55 (Psalm 54 in most English Bibles). “I’m preaching on King David’s instruction on what to do when you want to run away. What do you do when you feel betrayed and your friend goes against you? In this Psalm, the Lord is our Savior. And David shows us how to trust the Lord in the midst of this difficult situation.” He continued, “David knew the Lord would free him from his difficult situation and so we can learn to trust God in the midst of our difficult situations as well.”

Both Sergei and Ivan noted that in these times their people have a unique hunger for the Word and a need to understand how they should trust God through their suffering. “The future is very unknown,” Sergei said. “We are fighting a country that seems to have a much bigger army. But we can see God’s hands in this place. God has been showing his mercy to our country in unique ways.

Remaining Steadfast in Prayer

In response to hearing from God through His Word, Ivan and Sergei are leading their people to call out to God in their distress. Sergei said: “We started an evening prayer time every night on Zoom when we can come together as a church, discuss issues, and pray for the future. We see this war as a spiritual battle. We are asking God for the defense of our nation. And we are also checking our own hearts.”

Ivan explained, “Just an hour ago we had a prayer time. We asked the Lord to spare Kyiv and to spare our lives. We want to preserve our city for our children and grandchildren. We pray it will be spared from mass destruction.” He added that in addition to their prayers for the city they are praying about how God is changing them through this: “We are asking God how He is calling us to change during this time.”

Both pastors have many specific prayer requests. Sergei asked, “Please join us in praying for God’s mercy on Ukraine, and for the Russians. We want to be like Jesus in praying for our enemies as well.”

Ivan’s requests echo the cry of God’s heart. “Pray for spiritual revival, so that the Church may grow in hunger for the Lord and help many people come to saving faith in the Lord. Pray for Christians to grow spiritually themselves and lead other people to faith. We want to boldly take opportunities to share about our hope and help people come to saving faith.”

“We are trying to do the things that are right and follow God’s lead,” Ivan added. “We want to do what God reveals for us to do in this situation, but it’s not easy to make the right decisions. We receive calls for help from across the city and we aren’t sure how to get there. Please ask God to give us needed wisdom for what needs we should prioritize. We don’t have enough resources to meet all the needs.”

For more information on how you can give and pray and to read recent updates visit mtw.org/ukraine-crisis

*Last names withheld for security reasons.

Andrew Hess

Andrew Hess is content strategy lead at Compassion International. He holds an M.Div. from Denver Seminary and is a ruling elder at Village Seven Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

UA Ukraine Crisis Church Fund
Project # 90965
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