Mennonite Brethren leaders in Ukraine report a dramatic increase in Russian attacks in October and request prayer for safety and peace. The increased attacks follow the announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia will annex four Ukrainian regions and the Oct. 8 explosion on the Kerch Bridge that caused the partial collapse of the road used to supply Russian troops in Crimea.
“Another night of terror, another night of shelling, with unsuspecting people asleep in their beds,” writes Pastor Alexei of Heart of Christ Church in Berdyansk in an update posted on the Multiply website. “God, protect us! Lord, have your way!”
Another pastor writes, “In February, in the first days of the war, a mother decided to move with her two children from their house in the central areas of the Dnieper to a safer place, in a smaller house with her grandmother, Alla. Today a Russian missile hit that small, supposedly safe house. The mother, Natasha, her 12-year-old daughter Vasilis, her 8-year-old boy Ivan, and the grandmother—all dead. Even as I write, explosions thunder again and again. No, I don’t want to think about it. God, forbid this!”
He continues, “Please pray for the military, for the volunteers, for the medics, for the politicians, for the rescuers, for the children, for everyone. God, save us! God, hold us close! Gather up the shards of our broken hearts.”
Multiply, the North American Mennonite Brethren mission agency, posts regular updates from Ukraine MB church pastors on the agency website. Ukrainian MB Conference (AMBCU) congregations continue to focus on the marginalized, the poor and those who have been left behind by society and traditional churches, as well as providing immediate emergency relief to the damaged and displaced.
When Russian missiles hit multiple high-rise apartment buildings in the city center of Zaporizhzhya, at least 16 people were buried under the rubble, windows within a radius of 500 meters were destroyed and balconies were torn from the walls of buildings nearby. The Ukraine MB Conference (AMBCU) helped rally volunteers to join the specialized services who cleared the debris, recovered the bodies and tended the wounded. Miraculously, a child trapped under the rubble was rescued. Others were not so fortunate. As of October 8, two had died from the blasts and 10 people are hospitalized.
The attacks are relentless and sleep deprivation is intensifying the suffering. The need for blood donors is now urgent. Humanitarian convoys to occupied territories have been stopped, halting the flow of vitally needed supplies.
As winter looms and fuel and electricity are cut off, MB churches are working diligently to provide relief to the displaced and vulnerable. AMBCU conference minister Roman Rakhuba reports that they continue to partner with Mission Eurasia to produce wood-burning stoves and to stockpile fuel for the winter. Their goal is to produce and distribute up to 2,000 wood-burning stoves within the next two months and to deliver them to families in need, along with a food package and a Bible.
“Pray that we will be able to provide warmth for their bodies, and warmth also for their souls,” says Rakhuba.
Pastors Oleksii M. and Sergey R. have so far delivered 100 ovens, along with provisions of coal and firewood, to guard against the threatening cold.
“From the night until now, when I am writing this message, there has been a massive shelling of missiles in almost all areas in Ukraine,” reports Oleksii. “Power grids are damaged in many cities and now there is no electricity, no water, no communication. We are still looking for more stoves and firewood, people are moving to basements and to underground shelters for safety. We are again, as at the beginning of the war, preparing for the mass evacuation of people, and providing them with housing, food and clothing. Friends! Pray for Ukraine!”
Oleksii says the lack of adequate housing, absence of family and friends, an unsustainable rhythm of life and intolerable conditions in the damp and stuffy cellars where residents are forced to live has resulted in trauma, poor health and an overwhelming sense of fatigue and irritability. Oleksii’s team has delivered flashlights, candles, batteries, food and sanitary items to people living on the frontlines, hoping to make their lives a little more bearable.
“In the absence of goodness, life is inevitably filled with something disgusting and dark,” he writes. “Here there is an absence of light, gas and water, replaced by darkness, cold and thirst. The lack of utilities has plunged the city into chaos and brought debris and mud to the broken streets. Lack of work and money has led to anger and blame. ‘Nobody cares about us. We have been left to die,’ they say. Some turn to lies and theft, cynical that any help will reach them and feeling that they have been abandoned to fend for themselves.”
He says: “Don’t stop praying for the people who live on the frontline! Pray for their safety and pray for them to come out of the darkness, a darkness which is both spiritual and physical. The war reveals many contrasts. 1 John 1:5 tells us that God is light, and there is no darkness in him. John 12:46 says that Jesus is the light and came into the world so that none of those who believe in him would be in the darkness. We must bring this light to Ukraine.”
New Hope Training Center directors Maxym and Anya Oliferovski, pastoral couple and Multiply workers, are based in the hard-hit city of Zaporizhzhya. They and the center staff continue to care for families in crisis and to plan for future ministry that will help their country to recover from the trauma of war.
“This war is a cruel and evil thing,” says Maxym Oliferovski. “It takes the physical life of so many and also drains the emotional life from the rest of us. Our city of Zaporizhzhia and its surrounding villages have been under severe missile attacks almost every night. We can hardly sleep. We pray that God helps restore our land to us, but we know that it will take years to restore the people. God, help us! Please pray against the forces of evil, on the loose and triumphing. Only the Lord of all Lords can turn this tide!”
New Hope Center teams have started a significant work together with the municipal social services of Zaporizhzhia, meeting for training once a week to give support, share valuable information and strategize relief efforts. One topic of the training has been the Poverty Stoplight Program, with the goal to raise the standard of living for people in every sphere. Social workers are eager to see how they can apply in practice this resource in their work with families in crisis. The partnership is rich and fruitful, and Maxym says they find joy serving together to bring hope and healing to their part of Ukraine.
Katya Oliferovski, Maxym’s and Anya’s daughter, chose to return to Ukraine from Germany to be with her parents and the other workers at New Hope Center. Since returning, she has been providing art therapy for displaced and frightened children. In the face of the ongoing trauma, the task is even more daunting, but Katya holds firmly to the hope that God is with them.
“It is hard to call this morning a good one,” she writes from the outskirts of the city. “The darkness is so great that you cannot bear it alone. Psychologists call this condition a ‘collective trauma.’ I call it the black hole that absorbs you from the inside. Yet, somewhere deep inside, a little light is smoldering. A beacon of hope. We must hold on to him, with all our might! God is with us; he does not forsake us. These words have kept me standing. One day, there will be rejoicing on our streets. Until then, only hope remains… One day, we will look up at the sky, without fear of the shells that fall down from it.”
When Katya first returned home, the missile attacks scared her. In a Sept. 29 update, Maxym writes, “A rocket just hit the TV tower near our apartment building. The glass in the windows blew out in the entrance and in some apartments. Katya was at home and very scared. Thank God, she is alive.”
Katya is among many Ukrainians who have returned home.
“Despite the war that continues to literally tear apart the country and takes human lives every day, people want to come home,” says the Ukraine MB Conference (AMBCU) blogpost. “Hundreds of thousands of children had to leave their homes, schools and part with their best friends and close relatives…. One 13-year-old boy had to leave his home in occupied Kherson for Chernivtsi because of the war. When asked, ‘How are you?’ he answered, ‘Far from home.’”
MB pastor Sergei F., from the Small Arch Church, was distributing relief in Kyiv when his wife, Nastya, gave birth to their first child, a girl, in Bielefeld, Germany. While they praise God for the safe delivery and the safety of both mother and child in Germany, there is grief at being apart for so long.
“Pray for pastor Sergei as he continues to serve in Kyiv, where their church plant has relaunched Sunday services and is celebrating a different kind of new birth, through conversions and baptisms,” says the Multiply website Sept. 29 update. “Pray for the reuniting of families like his.”
Connie Faber joined the magazine staff in 1994 and assumed the duties of editor in 2004. She has won awards from the Evangelical Press Association for her writing and editing. Faber is the co-author of Family Matters: Discovering the Mennonite Brethren. She and her husband, David, have two daughters, one son, one daughter-in-law, one son-in-law and two grandchildren. They are members of Ebenfeld MB Church in Hillsboro, Kansas.