Here’s why we’re staying in Ukraine

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KYIV, Ukraine — It’s Day 42 of the Russian invasion. Six weeks of war ...

Our friends from around the world keep sending us messages of concern and support. We value prayers and offers of places for us to evacuate to. Some of our friends are insisting that we would leave Ukraine. But our decision to stay in Kyiv was made consciously, thoughtfully, prayerfully and long before the war started.

As you hear about Kyiv being bombed or about massacres Russians did in our suburbs, you might wonder about our insistence on staying in Kyiv. I can try to explain.

First of all, this decision was not a result of our inaccurate assessment of the potential danger. Weeks before the war, we knew it was inevitable, and we had many conversations and prayers about what to do. We had a realistic view of what was coming.

Even before the war, we read articles warning that Russians were preparing prison camps for Ukrainian journalists, activists, pastors and opinion makers in society. We would personally qualify for those camps on several counts. We read that lists of people who would be in those camps had been already prepared. We also knew that 190,000 Russian troops were along our 2,000-km borders with Russia, and we were aware that the invasion would be massive.

It’s not like we had nowhere to go. As leaders of a Christian organization, we have friends all over the world. In fact, as Christians, we have Christian family everywhere concerned about us and eager to welcome us in safety. We had many invitations from different countries, and I would love to come and visit all those places — but as a tourist someday, not as a refugee now. But if we all left Kyiv (the capital of Ukraine), if war uprooted us all, if fear made us abandon our beloved city of freedom, Putin would win.

Many military experts predicted that Kyiv would fall in 72 hours. Instead, Kyiv stood and even pushed the enemy back! Not only army but civilians were protecting it. On almost every street, we have barricades and checkpoints. If the Russians entered the city, they would have to fight for every street. Many Ukrainian civilians were reading up the recipe for a Molotov Cocktail, seriously considering how we as civilians might resist invasion and occupation. There are actually accounts of civilians on occupied territories in south throwing Molotov Cocktails at Russian tanks to stop them.

We had even more reasons to stay than messing up Putin’s plans to scare Ukrainians into running abroad. As church leaders, as Christian leaders, we felt that our place was here, in our communities — to help people as much as we can emotionally, physically and spiritually. As Christians, we believe that our ultimate citizenship is in Heaven, but we are each placed in specific countries to be good citizens, to care for God’s creation, to be God’s light in this world, to stand against sin and evil, to help people find their way to God.

You can’t be a leader in good times and then when a crisis hits abandon people who trusted you to lead. Influence comes with responsibility. Please, don’t read any pathos in that. That decision was not coming from courage or bravery, just deep conviction from God that our place was here. And every day of this war we have to rely on God to give us the courage when fear hits and for His protection when Russian missiles fly towards Kyiv.

Of course, we wished for Sasha and Nikita (our daughter and son-in-law) to leave for safety as Sasha was in her last months of pregnancy when war became imminent. But it was also their decision to stay.

The time approaching the delivery of our grandchild Briana was extra scary for all of us. It was really everything I imagine in my nightmares — Sasha’s contractions got frequent in the middle of the night and the ambulance took her to the hospital during air raids and explosions. Standing by the window watching the ambulance drive towards the sounds of the explosions was maybe the darkest moment of war for me. But God took care of every detail of baby delivery, and we became happy grandparents of a beautiful girl, Briana.

We are still concerned about safety of our daughter and granddaughter every day as air raids signal multiple missiles flying towards Kyiv. The last we heard, Russia has used 1,300 missiles since the start of the war. But I know Sasha and Nikita’s presence in the church, and now Briana’s, gives other people much-needed strength. Briana’s name means strong, and she is sharing her strength with others! None of us have a death wish; we want to live. We want to see Briana start walking. We want to hear her talk and sing. We want to see her go to school and university, get married and have her own kids.

We want to live, but we don’t want to run for life. There are, of course, circumstances when it may become necessary — though we pray and hope it won’t come to that. We are evacuating our church from Avdeevka now (in the east of Ukraine), not just a pastor but all the people. The point is, I guess when you are a leader (of a family, a church, a community, an organization), you can’t afford to think only about yourself. You have a responsibility to those you lead. This is the main reason we are still in Kyiv, and we pray and hope we will be here celebrating Ukraine’s victory over the Russian horde sometime very soon.

About the author: Maia Mikhaluk and her husband, Nic, direct the work of IP-Ukraine and its team of full-time faith leaders from their home in Kyiv. The Mikhaluks, who make annual trips to N.C. and have been guests in the home of CN+R Publisher Bill Horner III and his wife, Lee Ann, are sheltering in place at home in Kyiv. The Horners made four trips to Ukraine between 2016 and 2019 through a Christian ministry called International Partnerships-Ukraine, which is based in Boone.

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