Ukraine’s current tragedy is one more sad chapter in a long history of invasion and oppression.
More than 5 million Ukrainians—mostly women, children and the elderly—have been displaced from their homes in Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine. Russian forces have even attacked defenseless civilian areas, striking apartment buildings, schools and hospitals.
Outsiders considering joining the fight against the aggressors face Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons, which would escalate the crisis to World War III and bring apocalypse to our doorstep. Already, advanced hypersonic missiles have been fired, and fears grow about the use of chemical weapons. So we all watch helplessly in disbelief as carnage not seen for generations—since Stalin and Hitler’s time—continues. We can only hope it somehow abates.
Masses of refugees have been taken in by neighboring Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary, as well as points further west. Men in Ukraine under age 60 are not allowed to leave, but are expected to defend their country. The United Kingdom, Canada and others have initiated programs to shelter the growing number of exiles.
My beginnings with Ukrainian refugees
I am an American of Ukrainian origin and speak the language fluently. My parents and I were part of a refugee wave of millions of people in post–World War II Europe. Providentially, my parents ended up in a United Nations refugee camp in Germany where I was born. They bided their time there for four years before being permanently resettled in the United States.
Now, more than 70 years later, I’m involved in a new Ukrainian refugee crisis, providing relief to people who’ve left Ukraine and also to those remaining.
Growing up I was tutored in Ukrainian language, history, religion and culture, and I’ve absorbed the pathos of its people. Over the years I saw an oppressed Ukraine languishing under the boot of godless and domineering Soviet communism.
And I also saw when, to the astonishment of the Ukrainian diaspora around the world and everyone else, Ukraine suddenly became a free nation in 1991. The bloodless revolution opened a renaissance to 30 years of freedom and interaction with these people. But that door of opportunity may be closing.
You don’t really know Ukrainians until you understand the pathos of a people traumatized in a long 1,000-year history of subjugation at the hands of the Moskali, or Russians, as well as Mongols, Turks, Poles and Hungarians.
Many are interested in what’s happening “over there in Ukraine” in light of geopolitics, economics and prophecy. My Ukrainian roots have been awakened by the humanitarian crisis. Millions of people are suffering, their lives upended or, in some cases, suddenly and tragically ended.
Over decades I have traveled to Ukraine many times—as a translator, photojournalist, minister and humanitarian. I have worked with government leaders, foundations, media, youth, churches, and medical and educational institutions throughout the country. Through a non-profit that I founded 22 years ago, we have aided child victims of Chernobyl and have helped establish a children’s rehabilitation center 30 miles east of the ill-fated nuclear power station. The accident here in 1986 and its aftereffects have etched a deep scar into the psyche of this nation that has been oppressed and exploited by the Russians for centuries.
In the present crisis, we have been providing relief in a few places inside Ukraine. I have helped with the resettlement of my family members from heavily bombed areas such as Kharkiv to “safer” areas in western Ukraine.
A tragic on-the-scene report
Another area where we have dear friends is Chernihiv, about 100 miles north of Kyiv and close to the Russian border. This city is where we’ve worked and helped establish the Revival Center of Rehabilitation for Disabled Children. I would like to share parts of a letter from Dr. Vasyl Pasichnyk, who founded and manages the center, to give you an idea of what it’s like on the ground in the invasion:
“Dear friends Victor and Beverly!
“We are writing this letter as explosions are heard all the time outside the window (at a distance of about 1–2 kilometers from us).
“From the first day of this disgraceful invasion of Ukraine, our beautiful city of Chernihiv has suffered from ballistic missile attacks, cruise missiles and the hail of airstrikes.
“On the first day, administrative buildings and military facilities were completely destroyed or damaged. Enemies approached the city but met with formidable resistance from our defenders, so the invaders were determined to change tactics. On the second day, in the city began massive airstrikes on peaceful objects—homes, schools, daycare centers. All this cannot be considered accidental, because there are no military facilities nearby. Our city is on fire with lots of smoke.
“Since yesterday, residential areas—high-rise buildings and private houses—have been shelled with severe brutality. Many civilians were killed but some were rescued. The house of our pediatrician/head of the department was destroyed. Fortunately, she and her two daughters and four grandchildren survived in a shelter.
“We do not understand how such cruelty and lawlessness can take place in the modern civilized world! The hypocrisy, lies and cynicism of Putin and his entourage know no bounds!
“There are 36 employees who work in the Center. One died in an explosion. We provide assistance to 50 children (mostly with psychoneurological disorders) and their mothers. As of yesterday, we have taken in babies with their mothers. Many residential buildings in the city lack electricity, gas and heat.
“People are stressed, but they work to help children and support each other. We remember your help. Thank you and the Lord God for everything.
“We believe that God will give us the opportunity to live on this earth and meet you in a peaceful and rebuilt Chernihiv!
Vasyl and Natalya”
You can see ongoing reports about relief work in Ukraine at lifenets.org.
This is a time for us to sigh and cry, as Ezekiel wrote in a sobering warning about the evils we see in the world and culture around us (Ezekiel 9:4).
Jesus Himself wept concerning the horrible fate that would befall Jerusalem and His countrymen because of their rebellion against God: “And when he drew near and saw the city [Jerusalem], he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you, and your children within you’” (Luke 19:41-44, English Standard Version).
We live in dangerous and sobering times. Let us pray for the people of Ukraine. Let us pray earnestly for the Kingdom of God to come!