March 2023 – Andriy and Yulia Khoroshilov humbly took on the leadership role at Mercy Projects Ukraine after the death of Irina in December 2019. They didn’t know that they would be faced with challenges such as Covid-19 and full-scale war in Ukraine. Peter Wooding in the UK interviewed them to unearth a bit of their personal story during the war.
As Yulia and her 7-year-old son Theodore fled their home, she said it felt surreal. A week after the bombing started, the Russian army was on the outskirts of Kyiv, a few kilometers from their apartment. Explosions came closer and staying in the cramped bomb shelter basement was cold and uncomfortable. Andriy immediately joined the local civilian defense force. He had to stay behind, but they knew it was time for her and Theodore to leave.
A YWAM Bus Evacuated People Daily
A friend called. There was an evacuation bus that had two seats available. Late that night she and Theodor got on the bus. Andriy was on patrol. The bus turned off the road. There was fighting ahead. Shells landed in the distance. They drove on dirt roads through a forest outside Kyiv, avoiding the main road. Lurching over ruts and winding past trees, they were silent, hoping they would not encounter the Russian army moving ever closer.
It seemed like a movie. But no, it was their reality, something thousands of Ukrainian families faced, but not something one knows how to prepare for. Millions of families were literally and suddenly ripped apart by the war, including the Khoroshilovs and the rest of the MP staff.
“We Didn’t Expect the Invasion”
“When we drove through the forest on our way to Ternopil, it was frightening because we heard shelling and saw a burned Russian tank on the side of the road,” Yulia said. “I didn’t know what the future was. I was really scared. We didn’t expect the invasion.”
Yulia and Andriy explained how God has sustained them over the past 12 months and enabled them to continue the work of Mercy Projects.
“It was a hard decision to be separated from Andriy. My son and husband have a really good relationship and they can’t live one day without each other,” Yulia shared. “You know, a boy needs his father.”
For the next 8 months, Yulia and Theodore lived near Budapest, in a home rented by local Dutch people who wanted to help refugees. Andriy stayed behind in Kyiv to serve as a military volunteer and chaplain. He also continued to work delivering aid to families in need.
“It was a hard time without my family, but I stayed busy helping people. I became a chaplain. As a Christian I should be like an example to the soldiers and be a light for them. I started to share the Gospel with them and shared with them verses from the Bible. I told them what God’s word said. They started calling me chaplain and that is how I became a chaplain in my unit.
“At the same time, I worked with our Mercy Projects coordinators to deliver food and supplies to families.”
The Scattered Team Connected through Phone Apps
With the team scattered across Europe, Yulia coordinated the ministry response using mobile phone apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal.
“As a team we were able to stay connected on our phones. We didn’t have computers. And our Ukrainian numbers didn’t work in Europe. So yes, it was really challenging. Our 16 coordinators were scattered across Europe. The 400 sponsored families…it was almost impossible,” Yulia laughed.
Summer Camp Organized through Social Media
“We even ran a series of summer camps in Budapest with unchurched children and youth who were refugees. We created a group on social media and 230 people signed up in 48 hours. We are still in touch with many of them. Who knew that being refugees would help us share Jesus with Ukrainian people who otherwise would never hear?
“I always wanted to go back but when I asked Andriy, he would say ‘No, it’s not a good time, not yet.’ So finally on the 18th of November we began the long train journey home. It was Theodore’s birthday. He got his best possible gift, his dad. There was Andriy, standing with a big smile, waiting at the train station with flowers.”
Andriy continues, “It was really exciting, but also a hard decision because I understood that Kyiv was not safe. But when Theodore jumped out of the train and just ran full speed jumping in my arms, I cannot forget that moment.”
In Spite of Blackouts
Yulia closed in saying, “Home sweet home is true. In spite of blackouts and air raid sirens, we are together. I’m happy to serve with my husband and to help others. Sometimes we are scared but God is greater than our fear. We must serve people both in good times and in bad. Thank you for praying and supporting us!”