With the Ukrainian army retaking the southern city of Kherson, stories of atrocities, persecution, and God’s deliverance are emerging. Life has been tough as people faced shortages of just about everything and endured harsh treatment by Russian soldiers. Losing Kherson has cost Moscow the land bridge it desperately wanted between the Donbas and Crimea areas that it annexed in 2014. It has also allowed Ukrainian artillery to get that much closer to Crimea. Worse still, for the Russians, the loss has provided more evidence that their forces are on the brink of collapse. Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus told ABC News, “No amount of shambolic mobilization, no amount of annexation, no amount of even veiled nuclear threats can actually get Russia out of this particular situation. Putin is losing, and the battlefield reality he faces is, I think, irreversible.” Those forced to live under Russian occupation, however, say liberation couldn’t come soon enough.
After six months in occupied Kherson, Pastor Alexander escaped with his wife and 10 children in September. “When the Russians took over, we weren’t sure what to do, but we decided to continue with our church services,” Pastor Alexander said. Russian forces, on the lookout for so-called Nazis, searched his house several times. On September 6, they arrested him in front of his wife and children. “I was kept in solitary confinement for six days,” he said. “Then they put me in a cell where there were seven people, but only three beds.” During interrogation, the Russians tried to prove he was a Nazi, but Pastor Alexander was more worried about photos on his phone. “Many Americans donated to help with the construction of our church,” he said. “The interrogator accused me of being an American agent. He was just looking for a reason to keep me. On my phone, there were a lot of photos that provided evidence of my cooperation volunteering with the army.
So my prayer became, I will trust in the Lord with all my heart. But I also prayed that they would not even see my phone and the Lord closed their eyes to it.” Between interrogations, the pastor shared his faith with his cellmates. “My wife slipped me a small Bible. So with that, I started witnessing to the other men. We were there together for 10 days. By the 7th day, they had all made Jesus Christ their Lord. That was when I finally realized why I was there.” Pastor Alexander had no idea if he would ever see his family again. “While I was being interrogated, the commandant said, ‘If it was up to me, I would shoot all of you right now and throw you in the landfill.’ They hate Ukrainians so much. They cannot even stand to hear the word Ukraine.'” Then, after 15 days of captivity, a miracle happened. “An Orthodox priest whom I had never met came to the commandant and asked him to release me. And he agreed on one condition, that he could keep my car.
So, at the church there was still a minivan, and we put all my family into it, along with an injured neighbour, and headed toward the front lines.” However, their ordeal wasn’t over. It took 4 days and lots of prayer to get through all the checkpoints. “I saw such joy in my children’s eyes when they first came upon Ukrainians,” Pastor Alexander said. “They saw a soldier and said ‘Look, they don’t have masks. The Russians are almost all walking around in masks.’ And I said, ‘That’s because they have nothing to hide. Bandits always wear a mask.'” Now Pastor Alexander is helping with a local church in Kyiv, and praying to be able to return home soon. “God is providing for us here, and however long He takes, I know that he will continue taking care of us. So I’m trying to seek first the kingdom of God and wait for everything else to be added.”
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