For twenty years Ruslan was a pastor of a baptist church in Ukraine. Together with his pregnant wife Ludmila and their five children,they fled the war in their homecountry several months ago to find a safer place. They had to leave their house and two dogs behind and didn’t know where they would end up, “but we trusted in God”, Ruslan says. Eventually they arrived in the Netherlands. Ruslan and Ludmila share about how they were encouraged by the help of kind people here and how small acts of kindness can make a huge difference. They also share their burden for Ukraine and how to pray for the nation and its people.
“Back in Ukraine we never thought we would end up in a situation like this”, Ruslan says. “I was a pastor for 20 years and I worked for a charity organisation, I helped people around me. Now things suddenly changed; now I am the one who needs help. I am glad that back then we had the opportunity to help others, because now we can see how God helps us through other people.”
He goes on to share: “It feels vulnerable when you have to flee your country. We had to leave friends and family behind and I thought to myself: who will help us when we will be in a different country where we don’t know anyone? We won’t be having our church, friends and family around. But thank God, He sent people who have prayed with us here in the Netherlands and who are helping us.
That kindness of people is very important. Even if they don’t have a lot of resources to help with. For example, when we first got to the Netherlands, a farmer gave us two trailers to stay in on his property. It wasn’t a lot of space for a family with five children, but his care and open heart really made us feel welcome and brought us joy. He was so kind. I believe God will bless him abundantly, because he has been so good to people in need of help.”
Small acts of kindness
“I will never forget Mirte”, Ludmila adds. “The first time we went to church in the Netherlands, after the service she came to me and said: ‘I saw the war in Ukraine on tv and it seemed so far from us, but now you’re here and I can’t switch to another channel. It has become so real. I don’t know how I can help, but I will pray and think about it’.
God touched her heart and in the end she helped us with our documents and other things and helped us find a place to stay. Now we are staying in a spacious place with Tom and his family, for which we are also very thankful.
It is comforting to know that there are people who lift you up in prayer.”
When people come to pray with us it means a lot to us as well. It is comforting to know that there are people who lift you up in prayer. It’s the small acts of kindness, but we really feel this care. That is very important, it helps us get through the difficult situation and touches our hearts.”
About the people still living in Ukraine, Ruslan says: “They are even more in need of help than people like us here in the Netherlands. Our friends and relatives who are still in Ukraine are very worried and live in stress. The bomb alarm goes off every day. Sometimes people have to run to bomb shelters twice a day. Rockets are flying and people don’t know where they will fall. Life over there is dangerous and difficult.”
Ludmila continues: “Even if people have money, it’s still a problem to buy diesel, gas or other products. Things are getting scarce. There are people from our church who have bought bicycles, because they don’t have the possibility anymore to buy diesel or petrol for their car.”
So how can we pray for the people in Ukraine? “Pray that people will not only seek God’s help, but also God Himself”, Ludmila says. Ruslan adds: “When we pray for peace, we also pray that Ukraine will stay a free country. We don’t just want the war to stop, but we also don’t want to become a part of Russia. If we would become part of Russia, we would lose our religious freedom.
The Russian government doesn’t like Americans and Europeans and they think the protestant church is American or European. That is why they only accept the orthodox church in Russia. In Ukraine, the protestant churches are free. But in Russia people in protestant churches can’t say what they think. They have to be very careful what they preach. We don’t want that to happen with our churches.”
Pray that the Ukranian people will be able to forgive and keep their hearts open.”
Ludmila: “Another thing to pray for is that many people have hardened their hearts and have become angry because of the war. On Facebook we read a lot of comments like: ‘We will never forget, we will never forgive’.
Ruslan: “Many Ukranian people don’t just hate the Russian government and army, but everything that has to do with Russia; the culture, the language, Russian civilians, everything. But there are a lot of Russians who don’t want war either. Yet what can they do? As soon as they protest, they will be in big trouble. So it’s important to pray that the Ukranian people will be able to forgive and keep their hearts open.”
Besides prayer there are other ways to help the people in Ukraine. According to Ruslan helping pastors is a very strategic way to do so. “My dream is to help pastors and their families in Ukraine”, he says. “Pastors not only care for their own family, but have a lot of people under their care. A pastor is like a father to other people. He visits people and knows their needs. He prays with them and preaches the gospel. If people are open to the gospel, he helps them find a church.
Right now during the war a lot of people from big cities like Kieve are fleeing to small villages or towns. Pastors in these places reach out to those people as well. So by helping these pastors with resources, you can help a lot of people.”
Tree without roots
Looking to their own situation, Ludmila says: “For us personally the most difficult thing is that we have to live day by day. We can’t plan anything, we don’t know our future or what we will do tomorrow. All our life we had plans, but now that is destroyed. Things will never be the same again, life has changed.”
Ruslan: “We are not talking about material things, but about things like stability. Sometimes the children ask us: ‘How long will we be here? Where will we go after this? When will we be back in Ukraine?’ And we just can’t give them an answer. Sometimes it feels like being a tree without roots and your mood can quickly change. One minute I can be happy and another moment it feels like sadness comes over me.”
Yet they also learned something important. Ludmila: “When we fled the war and had to leave our house and stuff behind, we realized: it is worth nothing. We had to leave all that stuff behind and the only thing that has remained and has real value, is our relationship with God and with eachother.”
“We are blessed to know God”, she concludes. “And we know that everything that we go through, will make us stronger in the end.”