“We need victory”
Ukrainians inside and outside their home country struggle with the war’s toll
When Yura and Nina Fedoryuk got a phone call from their 11-year-old daughter screaming that she heard explosions overhead and saying, “Save me!” just before the call disconnected, they were close to panic. Fedoryuk jumped in their small SUV and raced through the crowded streets of Zolotonosha, honking and swerving, trying not to imagine the worst.
He arrived home—an apartment near a military base—to a safe but distraught daughter. The Ukrainian army missile defense had shot down two incoming Russian missiles before impact. His daughter’s phone battery died shortly after.
Fedoryuk couldn’t hold back tears as he described these moments in our video chat update recently. We had first spoken just days after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. (According to Fedoryuk, Ukrainians, even newscasters, no longer refer to days by the calendar, but by how long the country has been at war.)
I couldn’t help but notice he wore a T-shirt with “Trout Lake Camp” emblazoned on the front. It reminds him, he said, of the happy time he once traveled to Minnesota—a lifetime of peace ago.
Living in a country at war, but in a town not fully in the war’s hottest zones, brings constant tension Fedoryuk can’t shake. This 35-year-old Ukrainian pastor of Open Heart Church said he must daily tell himself to live in the present or else thoughts of “what if?” make him anxious and fearful. “And then I’m no good to anyone,” he said, grimacing.
Living in the present has enough challenges.
He is struggling, he said, to love his enemies. As Fedoryuk watched footage of Russian troops bombing a maternity ward and targeting a theater and a school where children sheltered, and when he hears daily of more civilian killings in Mariupol, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Kyiv, and other cities, he said he feels relentlessly unforgiving.
The United Nations reports 1,500 civilian deaths, including many children, though the number is believed to be much higher since recent confirmed videos show more bodies in streets in Kyiv and surrounding villages. The U.S. embassy in Kyiv reported Russian troops kidnapped nearly 2,400 children from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, bringing them to Russia.
Fedoryuk talks about his friend, Alina Horobets. Pregnant, she spent 13 days with her husband and daughter living mostly in a cold, concrete bomb shelter in Bucha, the war zone northwest of Kyiv. In 2009, she’d been named the world’s best female indoor soccer player. She’s helped coach at Christian sports camps. Now, she and her family found themselves trapped, running out of food and water, with no electricity. Taking encouragement from Paul in Acts 27, they chose day 14 to escape and made it safely past Russian troops. Other Bucha residents have reported Russian troops wantonly torturing, raping, and shooting civilians.
Another friend, Sasha, saw a woman behind him killed by a Russian bomb, its direct impact missing him, but still critically injuring his legs. These incidents personify for Fedoryuk how close, terrifying, and brutal this war is.
He said he now understands why Jonah had such a hard time preaching repentance to Nineveh: “His despising those people and not wanting good for them is close to what I feel toward the people of Moscow. … And on top of this, the Russians don’t believe they are at fault!”
Fedoryuk looked incredulous and added that his wife’s relatives in Russia have unfriended her on social media because they don’t believe Russians invaded Ukraine and are killing civilians.
AS WE TALKED, Fedoryuk hesitated, trying to reconcile what he knows the Bible says about loving your enemies with the way he feels. Despite that inner battle, he recounted several recent events reminding him to trust God.
A church member, Tanya, told him falling debris from incoming missiles destroyed her country house. She confessed she’d been counting on this rural home to be a safe haven while her husband Victor fights in the reserves, but after it was ruined realized anew her only true safety is in God alone. Her trust in God’s sovereignty convicted Fedoryuk.
Then another member told Fedoryuk his story. Oleg, described by Fedoryuk as having a servant’s heart and having adopted 14 children, regularly drives his white van to Kharkiv with food for the needy, then transports the city’s refugees to safety in western Ukraine. But one frigid night, while bringing supplies, he didn’t arrive at one of the last security checkpoints into Kharkiv before the 8 p.m. curfew—late by only minutes. Police wouldn’t let him pass.
Oleg told Yura instead of reacting angrily and arguing as he normally would, he drove off to find somewhere to stay. Other police stopped him and took him to a nearby village to the home of a man who greeted him with, “Let peace be on you. … You are an answer to my prayer.”
Turns out the man had just been on his knees, asking God how he could get 250 loaves of bread into Kharkiv without transportation, when Oleg knocked on his door.
The next morning, Oleg loaded up the loaves. As he approached a nearly mile-long line of cars also trying to enter Kharkiv, he drove onto the road’s shoulder, to the indignation of other drivers. When he held a loaf of bread out the window for others to see, indicating he was delivering food, every car moved over to let him pass quickly.
A final hurdle came at the last checkpoint: Police said a new regulation demanded a special document to enter the city—which Oleg didn’t have. He told the officers about his food donations for the hungry; they looked at each other, and let him freely pass.
Fedoryuk smiled broadly as he narrated the series of events God orchestrated for Oleg.
But he grew frustrated again when he spoke of Russians who accept propaganda from Russian media and President Vladimir Putin—propaganda that portrays Russians as martyrs with the whole world against them. (A March 17 flag-waving stadium rally in Moscow, led by Putin, drew 200,000 cheering participants, according to Moscow police. Some sources, though, reported the Kremlin ordered students and state workers to attend.)
“Russia used to call Ukraine its little brother,” Fedoryuk said. “But now Ukraine disowns that brother and says, ‘At least we have a sister, Poland.’”
He is referring to Poland’s admitting more than 2 million of the nearly 4.2 million Ukrainian refugees—mostly women and children—streaming across borders, according to the UN, which reported more than half of Ukraine’s children—nearly 4.3 million of about 7.5 million—are internally displaced. A total of almost 10 million people, almost a quarter of the population, are seeking safety across borders or in western Ukraine. But Russia recently bombed a Ukrainian aircraft repair plant on the outskirts of the western city of Lviv, only 50 miles from the Polish border.
The bombs struck mere miles from a newly placed emergency field hospital by U.S. relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. It is one of its four medical sites in Ukraine and Moldova. Franklin Graham, Samaritan’s Purse president and CEO, earlier told me placement had been waiting on approval from Ukraine officials. The hospital has already treated more than 500 patients.
Fedoryuk is grateful many countries are helping refugees. He expressed pride in his countrymen, adding, “The ones who’ve escaped from war zones, whose homes are destroyed, or whose husbands are fighting for Ukraine, are deserving of much help.”
BUSINESSMAN IGOR KRYKUN, his wife, Mariia, and their three children managed to safely flee Kyiv and exit Ukraine, but not without difficulty. When I first spoke with Krykun weeks ago, he was searching for petrol. He told me recently that after finally finding a tankful, they began their cross-country journey toward the border with his in-laws following in another car, as the bombing grew closer.
Because of bombed-out highways, driving west became impossible, so they turned south, away from the front. Coming to one military airport town past curfew, they found roads a confusing maze, covered with obstacles forcing drivers to make many detours. Local police guided them through, at one point yelling, “Turn off your lights!” as air raid sirens shrieked.
Krykun said he’s grateful they made it to a relative’s home that night so their three children did not have to sleep in a freezing car. (Two of his children chose this moment during our conversation to peer curiously into the screen and shyly smile at me.)
Continuing, Krykun said they headed southwest, crossed the Carpathian Mountains, and eventually reached the Hungarian border. There they said goodbye to Mariia’s parents. Her father, 59, couldn’t leave the country because Ukrainian law bans 18- to 60-year-old men from exiting. One exception allows fathers of three or more children under age 18 to leave. Krykun was able to find an internet connection to access online documents proving he is the father of his children.
After more than 1,000 miles of driving and overnight stops, including 500 miles through Hungary and Slovakia, they arrived in Prague, Czech Republic, where a friend helped them find an apartment and register for a permit to stay for 18 months. Not speaking the language has made getting children enrolled in school and navigating normal activities challenging, but Krykun is thankful to be there.
He mentioned his landlord remembers the Prague Spring of 1968, when Soviet forces invaded Czechoslovakia to crush a reform movement. She told Krykun she hates the Russians and is angry they are attacking again. “It makes my heart bleed,” she said.
Krykun is not surprised by today’s Ukrainian resolve to repel Russian forces. He took part in Ukraine’s Maidan protest movements in 2004 and 2014. The protests took place in Independence Square (Maidan means “Square”), where the people revolted against Kremlin control and called for closer ties with Europe. Subsequently, in 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, but the same year a pro-Western president won Ukraine’s election.
Like Fedoryuk, Krykun said he realizes more than ever the power of Russian propaganda. He said most Russians living outside major cities don’t even have indoor toilets, and the only news they see comes from Russian-controlled television: “They continue to believe the lie that they are surrounded by enemies and still say, ‘We did not attack Ukraine.’”
The global media company Krykun works for, Publicis Groupe, had been using social media to promote the truth about the invasion to internet-connected Russians, but since the Russian government blocked social media, his company now targets U.S. and European markets with messages promoting the importance of closing the skies over Ukraine.
The U.S.-led NATO alliance has not approved enforcing such a no-fly zone, despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s pleas, fearing this could lead to a direct confrontation with Russia. But the U.S. is sending Soviet-made missile defense systems it acquired over past decades, hoping to help Ukraine repel Russian air attacks. Some say the U.S. needs to send more effective, modern weapons systems like Patriot anti-missile missiles.
Krykun says volunteers throughout Ukraine and outside the country are engaged in “digital resistance”—constant internet postings—to boost Ukrainian morale. They show footage humiliating Russians and exposing their brutality. They watch for and report disinformation to be blocked. They remind Ukrainians not to identify geolocations where bombs land so Russians aren’t aided.
Others share defensive strategies and escape routes online. Krykun himself used the Telegram website to find the best roads to travel and where to cross the border. The war has become the most internet-accessible conflict in history. Posted video footage of brutal acts by Russian soldiers may also be used after combat ends to prosecute war crimes.
Krykun’s company is part of an initiative with other global media companies to prepare accurate video content for Western markets. “We want Ukraine to stay in the forefront of people’s minds, reminding them this is not resolved and our country needs help,” says Krykun.
As his infant son comes into view again, Krykun looks at him and then tells me, “The West needs to know, we don’t need peace. We need victory.”
A day of worldwide prayer and fasting for Ukraine
Shepherd’s Foundation, established 30 years ago, supports and funds Christ-centered missions in Ukraine, including Camp Maximum, where Yura Fedoryuk became a Christian as a child and later worked. The ministry is calling upon believers for a day of worldwide prayer and fasting for Ukraine on Monday, April 25. This is the day after Ukraine celebrates Easter as a national holiday. —S.D.
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