Andriy and Yana met, married and started their family in the same province they grew up in. They were content, and travel to other parts of Ukraine was only ever a passing dream. Then in 2014, life changed. Soldiers, threat, unrest. Their two-year-old son, traumatised, stopped talking. With no good option available to them, Andriy and Yana took their family and fled to another part of Ukraine.
A new life formed for them; work, and an old house to restore. Their children grew, healed. Then in the middle of their re-established life, violence erupted again. February 2022, the shelling began. The root cellar near their kitchen garden became their refuge. Their whole family, their whole life, in a 2.2×1.8m hole. Survival was the agenda of every day. The children rarely moved beyond the shelter. Andriy recalls, “The kids stayed inside the cellar for that month. Well, they did go out – when it was sunny and quiet, for example during the lunchtime when the Russians had a break. So, we prayed and let kids out.”
Prayer was a new practice for Andriy and Yana. “We started believing in God because, very often, we were miraculously spared. Indeed, we only started praying when the shelling started. When we started praying, not a single shell fell on our plot.”
This new faith in God came into sharp focus when, after two weeks of hiding on their property, Yana risked a visit to the only store which remained open, 8km away. As they lined up outside the store explosions were still heard but they were far away. When they were almost inside missiles started falling closer with one landing on the other side of the store narrowly missing them. The shelling eventually stopped just as Yana and her son were able to enter the store.
“We started believing in God after we went to the store,” Yana says.
“We were able to get home safely. That was the moment when our faith was tested: I was praying for protection all the time. And that was the moment that pushed us into faith. We did attend churches before. But the real faith started at that moment when we saw that God spared all of us.”
Andriy and Yana both had some knowledge of God before the violence which shook their lives, but it was not a personal knowledge. Then, as their lives became uncertain, God’s presence and provision became known. They saw God’s hand in many things; in the unusual urge which Andriy felt a few days before the war to buy a month’s worth of food; in a friend getting a call through to urge them to store tap water, just moments before the phone network was turned off; in answered prayer that Andriy’s mother made it safely to where his grandmother lived. All these circumstances and more built on their growing faith in God. “All our neighbours’ houses were damaged, and God protected us. When a mine hit the neighbour’s house, we were in the cellar at that moment, although, usually, we were out cooking at that time.”
It became clear that they could not remain in the house they had restored into a home. To survive, again they needed to flee. In this endeavour, they also saw God’s hand, over and over. Phone coverage was scarce; but Yana managed to get a call through and got advice from a friend to leave. All the cars in the neighbourhood had already left; but a neighbour with an SUV returned after a failed attempt to leave the area, and the family were able to join with 18 other people the next day, with the SUV towing an old diesel truck straight through many check points.
Andriy says, “We were so lucky with that car to escape. I was telling Yana… look – one group of people experienced real horror, the others had to crawl through a field to get here, yet we were spared. It can’t be a mere coincidence. So it was like God was guiding us again and again and again. Indeed, God has led through a very sparing way.”
For now, Andriy and Yana have settled with their children again. Permanence and certainty they do not have. They have something new, though. They have the comforting knowledge of God’s love, his provision, his providence, and his wisdom. As they reflect on the trauma they have come through, and seek to find healing, they take comfort in God’s care. Andriy says,
“When we read the Bible, when we attend the church service, it does comfort us.”
“And, slowly, we recover. Over the last two months when we are here, we try to get busy with work and studying the Bible. So everything that happened to us before, it slowly departs. And the wound in your soul becomes smaller because – and this is how we understand the Bible – we don’t focus on losing our home, we focus on retaining our lives. This is exactly what we are coming to know, that the most important [thing] is not the fact that you lost your house, your material belongings, everything, the most important [thing] is that we found God and we found good people.”
Diving deep into God’s word for themselves is giving both Andriy and Yana strength for the future. TThey are discovering new truth, every day; truth that deepens as they share their hearts together, and with God’s people.
Yana shares, “We got our Bibles when we came here. And we started reading it from the very beginning. When we started studying it in more detail, what has touched me the most was the story of Abraham. There were so many situations where God intervened and helped him. He didn’t abandon his people. Looking at our situation, it is very similar – we were non-believers, let’s put it this way. But he was still pushing us to what was right. Just like with Abraham.”
God’s word is vital to Andriy and Yana. It is wisdom, perspective, and strength as they face the type of life they never wanted or imagined for themselves or their children.
Yana says, “I think that God helped us greatly. Particularly in gaining the understanding that life is much more important than material things, than the house. Yes, we put in so much effort – I won’t argue – but we may have a better home in [the] future. You just need to trust in God and follow in the right direction.”
Other Ukrainians are desperately in need of God’s word too. “We all see people’s incredible openness to the Bible across the whole country and, again and again, this means that we will need many more Bibles to meet the existing needs of millions who were affected with this war,” Bible Society’s Rostyslav shared at the end of April.
Bible Society Ukraine is distributing all the Bibles, New Testaments, and Scripture resources they can get, supported by Bible Societies around the world.