The following dialogue is a retelling of an emergency global prayer meeting held by Lausanne Europe on Thursday:
My mother entered my room in the middle of the night. “The war has started.”
I live in Sumy, a Ukrainian city of about 250,000 people that sits near the Russian border. One week ago, my husband insisted that I take our kids and my mother and evacuate. While we made it to the United States, he stayed behind.
I immediately began panicking on Thursday. What was happening in Sumy? Where was my husband? Was he safe? When I finally got ahold of him, he told me he had woken up to the sounds of bombs. He was now snarled in traffic as he tried to drive out of the city. I scrolled through pictures on my phone of long gas station lines and people sleeping in metro stations, and read the government announcement banning men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country. Will I see my husband again? When? My 93-year-old grandma is alone… my team… my friends… our house….
I struggled to make it through the day. In the afternoon I joined an international prayer call organized by the Lausanne Movement in light of the invasion. When the host asked how I was doing, I cried. I was angry. I felt betrayed, broken, and stepped on by Russia. I told everyone I was scared for my husband and for my friends in Kyiv praying at that moment about whether they should evacuate.
Then the host asked if someone could pray for me. My friend Alexey volunteered. My Russian friend, Alexey.
I woke up Thursday morning startled to learn that my country had invaded Ukraine. I was in Moscow for a ministry trip, more than 2,000 miles away from my family in Novosibirsk, Siberia. It was a cold morning and I watched the news in silence as I struggled to eat breakfast. Shame that my country was starting a war against another—a country I’d visited no less than four or five times—began to come over me. I felt afraid for the future of the world and I grieved for my Ukrainian brothers and sisters who would live or die in the aftermath of this decision.
I was born and raised in the Soviet Union in Siberia. After the USSR collapsed, I became a Christian at the age of 23 after hearing the gospel preached at my mother’s rehab center. For me, finding faith in Christ was more than accepting that I was God’s child—it was realizing that I had brothers and sisters around the world. One of those was my Ukrainian friend Angela.
I met Angela seven years ago, at the Lausanne Conference in Jakarta. I was struck by her boldness when sharing the gospel. One of her initiatives involved mobilizing teams to enter nightclubs in various Ukrainian cities to initiate conversations with people who would never enter a church! Since then we became good friends and have supported each other in our ministries. In 2018, Angela brought a team to Moscow during the World Cup to share the gospel in the streets. These memories kept coming back as I watched the news.
Later that day, I joined Lausanne’s prayer call and felt grateful to see Angela was also there. It was heartbreaking to hear what she and other Ukrainians on the call were going through. It felt awful that my country was causing her so much personal distress. When the facilitator asked who would volunteer to pray for her, I said yes and began talking to God as I wept.
I’ve always loved my Russian friends, even though when I was growing up there were no “Russians” or “Ukrainians.” We all were one nation called the Soviet Union. As a kid, numerous times I hopped on a train at 5 p.m. in Sumy, arriving at 11 a.m. the next morning in Moscow where my aunts and cousins still live. Over time, things changed. In 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea, I soon realized Russians saw the situation entirely differently than me. Few understood where I was coming from. At times, I was mocked.
In 2018, I visited Moscow for a street evangelism trip during the World Cup. For three weeks, we stood in Red Square, sharing the gospel and praying with Russians and those visiting from around the world. Ten months later, 150 teams from Russia had registered for my ministry’s global evangelism day. Many later told us they had previously not dared to preach publicly but they felt inspired after seeing us. I was touched by the bravery and courage of our brothers and sisters in Russia.
Last fall, Alexey asked me over the phone about my dreams for reaching the next generation for the Lord. I told him I was looking for partners to help lead five mission intensives in Russia. Alexey offered to support my efforts and then shared his heart with me. He wanted to unite mission leaders from our countries to pray and fellowship together around a cup of tea. I remember thinking to myself: “This is the type of leader I’d follow, and I know young people would too.”
As I heard Alexey’s heartfelt prayer for me, my family, and my country Ukraine, I could not contain my tears. His pain was real. His words reminded me that I was part of a family not based on nationality, skin color, or status. Only Jesus.
Out of all the people that God could have used to comfort me that day, he used a Russian brother to give me a glimpse of his heart.
After I finished praying, the host asked me to share how I was feeling. I told them I felt terrible. I was utterly ashamed of my country’s actions.
I will never forget the look in my Ukrainian friends’ eyes. Instead of condemnation, I saw compassion. Angela wanted to pray for me. She asked God to show himself to Christians in Russia who felt powerless and afraid. She prayed for revival in Russia and Ukraine, a longing we had shared in our hearts for years.
On the day that Russia invaded our neighboring country, God used a Ukrainian sister to give me a further glimpse of his grace.
The enemy wants to divide us these days, sowing hatred and separation between the church in Ukraine and Russia. Indeed, it hurts when I watch some Christian leaders in Russia not taking an open stand for Ukraine. Maybe some think that if they speak up they or their children might be in danger? I know the fear and danger are real, and I try not to judge, as I am not God. It is still painful though.
But I believe that the most important thing for us Christians is to remember that we are one bride, one body of Christ. His blood is in our veins, and we are all united by his Spirit.
Russia is currently bombing my country and killing its people. But, amid this pain, the body of Christ needs to stand together, cry together, and pray together. My good friend Alexey exemplified this.
Brothers and sisters in Russia, Ukraine, or any other country, we all have one Heavenly Father and we are all members of the same family. This is not a war within our peoples. I don’t care about your political views or your theology of power. When one of my loved ones is in pain, I want to be there for you.
To my Ukrainian friends in particular, thank you for being ready to cry and pray with me and for accepting my feelings of fear and regret, despite the fact that I am Russian. This gives me confidence that Satan will be defeated once again, and the church of God will continue to demonstrate the love of Jesus.
Angela Tkachenko is director of Steiger Ukraine. Alexey S. lives in Russia. As told to Sarah Breuel, director of Revive Europe and evangelism training coordinator for IFES Europe.