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A Healing Ear

“Today is day eight of the war.” Maxym Oliferovski paused. “ Well, really, it is year eight.”

When the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea fell to Russia in 2014, Maxym knew that it would not stop there. Fighting continued in the eastern region of Donbas, and over 13,000 soldiers and civilians died before the signing of the Minsk Accords later that year. After that, the front lines barely shifted for years. Until February 24, 2022.

Maxym and his wife Anya are pastors and the directors of New Hope Center in Zaporozhye, a ministry to orphans, at-risk youth, and families in crisis. When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, they evacuated themselves and others from apartment complexes in the urban center, knowing that these buildings would be targeted. Many left for the relative safety of western Ukraine, while Maxym and his wife fled to a small cabin on the city outskirts; purchased to serve as a place of personal retreat, it has become their save haven. But is it really safe?

“Safety is relative,” Maxym retorted with a sardonic smile. “Here, we speak of degrees of danger.”

Within Zaporozhye, the municipality of Enerhodar is home to the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, now under Russian control. As this article was being written, nearby towns of Tokmak, Berdyansk, and Melitopol were also taken.

“Eight days of madness,” Maxym shook his head. “The evil of people killing people. The eastern border has Ukraine’s professional soldiers holding back the invasion. But in the south? It is bad. We hear explosions maybe fifty kilometers away; some missiles hit much closer.” But the Ukrainian people, he said with conviction, do not run from danger. In fact, some are choosing to walk toward it.

There are two pastors from the twenty-five MB churches in Ukraine who also serve as army chaplains on the front lines. They bear no weaponry other than the sword of the Spirit, sharing the Word of God and praying for the safety and salvation of soldiers on both sides of this conflict. They know that the words they share may be the last these soldiers will hear, perhaps even the last they themselves will speak.

Will they survive? Will Ukraine survive? Outraged civilians gather in front of civic buildings now held by armed Russian soldiers and tanks, and defiantly sing the Ukrainian national anthem, which envisions their foes perishing “like dew in the hot sun.” Newspapers are poised to go to print at any moment to announce newly occupied territory. However, Maxym has a very different perspective, one that focuses not the death of enemies, not on geopolitical borders, but on a kingdom that is not of this world. He tells us: “Pray that Ukraine would be God’s territory.” He sees that kingdom coming through the myriad acts of courage and kindness of churches from all over the world, participating in relief efforts and opening their homes to refugees.

Those evacuated from Ukraine watch the news unfold from a distance and wage their own battle. It is hard to hope when one feels helpless. The separation of families is one of the hardest aspects of this war, of any war. Several MB pastors have had to send their wives and children away, not knowing when or if they will meet again. Maxym and Anya’s own daughter Katya was outside of Ukraine on a short-term mission with Multiply when the war broke out. They were grateful that their child was safe; it made it easier to stay behind.

“We miss her,” Maxym acknowledged. “We talk every day, while we still can. But how could we leave? People are isolated, hiding, afraid. We bring to them a little food, a little money. And they need personal contact. They need someone to talk to. We all need that.”

Offering to listen to the outpouring of grief and anger has become an important part of their pastoral ministry, a way to bring counsel and comfort to a hurting community. “They curse, they swear,” Maxym said, “with angry words, even shouting. I believe in peace, but people in pain need to be heard. They need a healing ear.”

Far away in Dortmund, Germany, their daughter Katya is longing to see her mom and dad, but as a trained Art Therapist she understands the urgency of being present with those who are experiencing trauma. “Katya knows how important it is to offer empathy, love, and – above all – the hope of Jesus.” Maxym spoke with paternal pride. “At New Hope Center, she worked with children who come from broken homes. Now, everyone is broken. So, she understands why we stay here. But it is harder for her than for us.”

Katya is praying daily that she will see her parents again, safe and well. In Ukraine, her parents are praying for a wounded nation and a reeling populace. We who love them join in their prayers, crying out to a God who, like Max, offers a healing ear.

POSTSCRIPT: Near the end of this video call with Max, he suddenly became distracted. “Wait. I hear some noises. I think…There is noise. I should go now. I will text. Pray for us.” The screen went dark when he abruptly disconnected, leaving me disoriented and apprehensive. Then a text came in: “Machine guns. Close. Maybe a few kilometers. We turn off all our lights…” Minutes later: “It is scary. We pray. Go to bed in clothing. Calling our close ones…” Then: “We will let you know if anything more happens.” And then, silence.

By the next morning, Maxym and Anya let us know that they were still safe, for now. Stay informed, help relief efforts, and pray for current needs:

Ukraine - Providing Relief and Hope

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