The past three hundred and sixty-five days have been a year of acute suffering for over 40 million Ukrainians.
Of course, their suffering did not start on February 24. Ukrainians have been afflicted for centuries by brutal Kremlin policies, particularly Stalin’s efforts to starve the nation in the 1930’s. Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and occupation of eastern territories opened yet one more chapter in a long history of aggression against Ukrainians, with over 14,000 civilian and military deaths up to a year ago. The difference with Stalin was Putin’s sanctioning of violence in the name of Orthodox Christianity.
At least 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers have died this past year, with up to 100,000 civilians killed, according to some estimates. It is scant comfort to compare these figures with the much higher Russian casualties of 200,000 killed or wounded, which expose the Kremlin’s callous disregard for life, Russian or Ukrainian. Millions on both sides of the conflict have been bereaved; lives, families and futures upended.
Some 14 million Ukrainians have fled their homes – well over the whole population of Belgium! While over a third remained in other parts of Ukraine, most have found refuge, temporary or long term, in other countries around the world. Truly it has been a year of dislocation and pain.
YWAM colleague Ira Kapitonova has kept a daily journal with on-the-spot reports from Kyiv. On yesterday’s anniversary she wrote: We’ve seen so much pain in the past year, yet we know that more months of this pain are still ahead of us. We now have no illusions about the nature of our enemy and have no false hopes for its humanity.
Yet alongside the suffering, Ira also sees God’s grace. As a friend told her: “The cost is unspeakably horrible. But we have also gained so much. Strength, unity, hope, and dependence on God. Love for the Ukrainian language. Awakened churches and people hungry for God. A country full of volunteers. Incredible support and friendship from our neighbours in Europe and much of the rest of the world. A new openness, support, and willingness to sacrifice for each other. Gratitude for small things. Countless reminders of eternity and what is truly important.”
The dramatic failure of the surprise Russian invasion to capture Kyiv, neutralise President Zelensky and install a puppet government is seen by many as truly divine grace. Zelensky’s transformation from a comedian into a globally-admired, inspiring, resolute, war-time president of Churchillian stature has been a gift from heaven.
Last night, in a special Schuman Talk to mark the anniversary of the Russian invasion, Kyiv-based pastor Yuriy Kulakevych talked about the spiritual dimension of this past year. Putin has united the Ukrainians as a nation, he said, making them desperate for God. Men who only attended church at Christmas or when their children appeared in a church play were now eagerly bringing their whole families to worship. While many church buildings have been damaged by the war, Yuriy says many new churches have been planted and church attendance has grown. Large numbers of Ukrainians are becoming believers. Soldiers, released prisoners-of-war and even a top military officer, said Yuriy, openly talk of God’s grace and intervention on the battle field and in prison camps.
After seventy years of atheistic government, Ukraine has been experiencing a spiritual renewal alongside its socio-political awakening, resulting in a new sense of national identity and acceptance of responsibility for their own future. Yuriy explained how the Orange Revolution of 2004, followed by the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution, has profoundly effected the way Ukrainians perceived themselves and their national identity. Churches from Orthodox to Pentecostal were deeply engaged in these events, setting up prayer tents in Maidan Square with priests and pastors praying together for a constant stream of seekers. The church and the army were now the two most trusted institutions in the country, said Yuriy.
The protests served as a national awakening, establishing Ukraine’s democratic credentials and setting the country on a path in a totally opposite direction from the increasing authoritarianism of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In the seventeen years since the Orange Revolution, Ukraine has staged eight national votes free of the routine political oppression and vote-rigging common elsewhere in the former USSR.
On the eve of the anniversary, Ira wrote: ‘As I go to bed tonight, I am surprised by how different my feelings are from one year ago. The fear, cruelty, and war did not kill our desire to keep living. And this already is a victory in itself.’
Then she quoted Paul’s words: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor 4:8-9, 17).
Till next week,
[…] more on how Ukrainians are responding, read Suffering, Grace and Glory (Jeff Fountain’s Weekly […]