September 2023 – “Jeff, are you there?” the text message asked. “Can you call me? There has been a bombing in Stanislav.”
It was a Sunday morning, August 13th. My wife Paula and I were in church. We walked out of the service and called our missionary partner, Andriy, in Ukraine.
“Jeff, he said, I have bad news. The village of Stanislav was bombed today. Nikolai’s wife Valentina just called. It was a direct hit on their house. Nikolai was killed.”
11 Months Ago
One of the hardest hit areas of Ukraine was Kherson in the south. They were occupied by Russian forces for eight months until October 2022. In October, a pastor in Kherson asked Andriy if we could help families in the surrounding smaller villages. He said one of his elders lives there, Nikolai, and he would help us.
Andriy arranged three different truckloads of firewood and we travelled there with a load of wood burning stoves. That was my first meeting with Nikolai. We stayed with him but he warned us. “I don’t have a cellar.”
Thus in the case of further shelling, there would be nowhere to go. He wanted to make sure we understood.
“No” he said. “I stayed here. I told the Russian soldiers about Jesus and that I wasn’t going anywhere.”
The next day a 40’ truck arrived and Nikolai arranged men from the village to unload the firewood in front of his house. It definitely took a village to unload and distribute the wood. Nikolai was the right man for the job. However, the presence of our vans, and the firewood truck, caused shelling later on in the day. We had already left, but Nikolai called us to say that shells landed 30 yards from his house. He hoped we would come back and help more families. We promised we would. People were grateful for the help they received and everyone was intent on rebuilding their homes and lives.
August 13, 2023
Valentina sat next to Nikolai on the couch in their combined living room/kitchen. Her phone rang. It was her daughter, Yulia and she moved to go talk in the other room. A few moments later, she was knocked unconscious by an explosion. She stated that they were probably targeted due to helping people in their village. Their home was the only one hit. Nikolai is survived by his wife, their daughter, Yulia, and their two grandchildren.
He gave his life doing what he loved, serving people in their time of need. He was a committed believer who loved his family and who served in the midst of hardship.
Some people ask: “Isn’t Ukraine Corrupt? Should America be helping them?”
This is the type of question I hear quite often these days. I didn’t hear it last year when the war started, but now, many politically conservative people (I am one) focus their attention on corruption in Ukraine and the fact that America should be spending its money on problems here at home. I think it is a fair question. Misguided, but fair.
For me, Ukraine is not political. We worked there long before anyone knew of Burisma or bribery schemes. Ukraine has always been riddled with corruption. It was slow to break away from its Soviet way of doing things.
This war is not a “family squabble” or a “border dispute” as some have claimed in American media. They lost four million people to the Josef Stalin man-made Great Famine of 1933 because they insisted on keeping their own language, history, and culture. They broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991. I was there when they filled Maidan Square with tents and camped out, demanding freedom from the Soviets.
Now, they are fighting for survival as a nation. Without our help, they won’t succeed.
Ukraine has religious freedom. Churches, including Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox are active and vibrant. Foreign missionaries are welcome in Ukraine. Not in Russia.
God calls us to love all people. Again, we have the opportunity to serve people in Ukraine. We do not have that opportunity in Russia. This is an important time to be there and to love people in Christ’s name. The Ukrainian people depend on us, as believers, to stand with them in the midst of their suffering. Nikolai was a man of faith. And he was grateful to you, through your tangible support, for helping his people. I know this is what the Lord wants us to be doing at Mercy Projects. Thank you for standing with us.