Editor’s note: Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Taras Dyatlik, an evangelical Ukrainian theological educator, has shared his daily reflections in a WhatsApp group. The following are two recent journal entries from June (edited for style and clarity).

In an old carriage with shabby walls and faded curtains, I am traveling on a train from Kharkiv to Uzhhorod in the same cabin as a soldier returning home for a short but longed-for vacation. His wife and children have found temporary shelter in a land saturated with pain and fear.

Yesterday, this soldier bought his daughter a small puppy. Now, he plays with it like a child, hugging and kissing it as if he has found a ray of light in this tiny creature. In a few days, he will return to the hell of war, and the puppy will remind his daughter of her father’s love.

The soldier is about 30, with a weathered, tanned face. He has scars on his arms and legs and deep wrinkles near his eyes. He naps nervously, anxiously, like almost everyone who has returned from the frontline.

Sometimes, he falls into a deep sleep and starts snoring loudly as if trying to drown out the memories of explosions and cries of pain. And when he is not snoring yet still asleep, he shouts orders as if he were back in the middle of a battle.

At one of the stations, when the rattle of the wheels and the squeaks of the worn-out railway car have subsided for a moment, an elegant woman of medium height in a blue tracksuit flies out of the neighboring cabin. She's about 35, and once upon a time, she must have driven men crazy with her beauty. But now her face is haggard, with deep shadows under her eyes.

Bursting into our compartment, she cries out to me, Tell him to stop snoring! Right now! What are you looking at me for?”

I look up from my laptop screen and calmly reply, “Keep your voice down; please don't shout. Don't wake him up.”

Clearly unhappy with my response, she retreats to her own berth.

Half an hour passes. The soldier wakes up, goes to the vestibule to smoke, and takes the puppy with him.

I hear the woman coming out of her cabin again. I meet her in the corridor, look at her beautiful yet tired face, still marked with irritation, and say what has been running through my mind all this time: “You can’t wake up a soldier who is coming home from frontline hell for a short vacation, even if he snores like a bear. Let him plunge into this healing sleep, safe from explosions and screams.”

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The woman clamors, “I can’t rest when he snores! And I have my own personal front….” But then her voice breaks as she begins to tremble.

I reply gently, sensing that her reaction reflects a pain and tragedy of its own. “We are not under a hail of bullets.”

The woman freezes; her eyes are filled with tears that are about to spill out. She looks out the window and bites her lip.

After a while, the soldier returns from the vestibule, a slight smile on his exhausted face. The woman looks at me pleadingly as if asking me not to tell him about our conversation. She approaches him and says something about the puppy, gently stroking the little creature as she takes its paws in her palms and kisses them gently.

The soldier enters our cabin, softly closes the door, and lies down to rest again.

The woman turns to me, her eyes two lights of longing and pain. She whispers, barely audibly, “Forgive me. My husband was killed in the winter. I miss his snoring at night so much! I'm going to my mother; I can’t live alone anymore.”

Her words contain the pain of the whole country—the pain of every broken woman’s heart. And while the old train keeps rattling along, carrying each of us in our own thoughts, memories, and hopes, I am silently praying:

For those who are at the frontline, like this soldier.

For this woman and the irreparable loss of her beloved one.

For the opportunity to live and love again without war, which came to our land to sow death and destruction.

I pray for just peace in Ukraine:

For the healing of the wounds in our souls—of the soldiers, civilians, and volunteers who have experienced deep trauma.

For bridging the gaps between us.

For unity in diversity.

And the train keeps rushing along, giving us precious moments of rest—and humanity—amid the chaos of war.

[One week later]

Today, I woke up again with my heart torn in two. Shelling, deaths, and propaganda go on and on, day and night. I am tired of sharing our daily nightmare in this war diary.

This terrible Russian war seems to be sucking the very life out of us. Every day, we observe an ocean of human suffering, rivers of tears, and mountains of destroyed lives. And somewhere in my soul, a traitorous thought creeps in: God, where are you? Why are you silent? Do you really not care?

I remember how Jesus cried out on the cross, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

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Now I understand his pain—maybe only 0.000001 percent. But I want to believe, like Job, that my Savior lives and that on the last day, he will raise us from the dust (Job 19:25–26). I cling to this hope like a drowning man to a life-saving float.

And then there is this black hatred that comes up in my throat like bile. After every shelling, after every news of Russian atrocities, my heart is filled with a thirst for revenge. Oh, how I hate them! I want to scream like the psalmist, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” (Ps. 137:9).

And then a still, small voice whispers, But I tell you, love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44).

How is this possible, Lord? How do we love torturers and murderers?

But I know that if I let hatred seize my heart, I will become like them, and then evil will win. Love for enemies is my Garden of Gethsemane, my bloody battle. It is the only way I can remain human.

This endless exhaustion, this spiritual desert—my “volunteer marathon” is a carrying of the cross. I fall under the weight of other people’s pain, and there is no end in sight. Will I have enough strength? Will I break down like Peter, who promised to follow Jesus to the end but denied him before the rooster crowed?

Lord, I pray like Paul that your grace will be sufficient for me, that your power will be perfect in my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

And then there are these thoughts: I am not like others! I do so much. I sacrifice so much in this civilian life and ministry!

And then I stop myself: Do you think that your righteousness is greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees? (Matt. 5:20).

All my good works are but filthy rags before the holiness of God (Isa. 64:6). All I have is his undeserved gift. So, down with pride, Taras. Serving is a privilege, not a merit.

And how often I find myself judging my brothers in faith—in both Ukraine and the West. But who am I to judge another’s servant? (Rom. 14:4). Each of us has our own Calvary. My job is to carry my personal cross—and then lend a shoulder to those who fall under their burdens, like Simon of Cyrene on the Via Dolorosa.

But the worst thing is when you realize that in the whirlwind of your ministry, you have forgotten the main thing: your relationship with the Stranger on the road to Emmaus. Prayers have turned into dry, short reports with figures and requests. The Word of God has become an unopened book with too many painful questions.

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I work hard, but have I become a modern Martha who cares for many things but forgets the ”one thing” that is necessary—to sit at the feet of Jesus, forgetting about job descriptions (Luke 10:41–42)?

Forgive me, Lord! Without you, I am nothing. The source of my life is in you.

How unbearably painful this contradiction is sometimes: I love my country to the core, every piece of land. But at the same time, I know that my true homeland is in heaven, from which I am waiting for the Savior (Phil. 3:20). What do the borders of earthly states mean in the face of eternity? “There is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col. 3:11).

Even if my body is handed over to be burned for Ukraine, if I do not have the love of Christ, I am nothing (1 Cor. 13:3). Sometimes, amid the hell of war, I want to escape into sweet oblivion—not to think, not to remember, to live one day at a time.

But then your Spirit reminds me, Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt. 6:33).

For what is our life? A vapor that appears for a moment and disappears (James 4:14). Every day can be a step toward eternity, where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death will be no more. There will be no more sorrow, no more crying, no more pain (Rev. 21:4).

Although the whole world and politics cries out to us like the movie title, “Don’t look up! Don’t look up!”—we must look up.

And how often we must wrest joy from the teeth of despair—to fight for hope in a battle with hopelessness. It is so easy to give up. But doesn’t the kingdom of God belong to children (Matt. 19:14), like that boy and girl who smiled at me from under the rubble of a ruined house? Where did they get this fierce strength of spirit?

I, too, must shine forth to a war-torn world. Let them see my joy and glorify my Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16).

The path is narrow, and the gate that leads to life is small (Matt. 7:14). Every step of our life and ministry in Ukraine is a battle. The enemy is external, but even stronger are the internal demons that cry out, “Taras, don’t look up!”

Every choice is a risk. Did Christ promise us a cloudless life? No! He warned, “In me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). How, Lord, can this be true?

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And yet I choose to believe, despite …

To serve, despite …

To sow seeds of goodness in my soil scorched by hatred, despite …

To be a light in this oppressive, almost physical darkness, despite …

Because I know that one day, there will be no shadow, no trace of war, only light, only peace, only love.

One day.

Peace be with you, and keep your children away from war.

Taras Dyatlik coordinates seminary-based refugee hubs in Ukraine and serves as a theological education consultant for Scholar Leaders and Mesa Global in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Click here to join his WhatsApp community.

[ This article is also available in русский and Українська. ]