Faith on the front line in Ukraine

As the war in Ukraine enters its third year, we hear from three courageous Christian leaders who are serving communities on the front line.
February 2024
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It has been two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion plunged the country into a grinding conflict that has heaped misery on millions. Whole communities have been devastated and displaced. Ukrainians are tired and traumatised by the daily horrors of war with little choice but to carry on. As one pastor put it, “What option do we have, when someone is trying to destroy you? If we do not continue to resist, Ukraine dies”.

Innovista is continuing to stand with courageous Christian leaders across the country, where they’re needed most. No-one can be sure what will happen next, but it seems likely that this terrible conflict will drag on through 2024.

Natalia: loving the left behind

As the Russians advanced on Kherson, Natalia, from the Church of Christ the Saviour, felt God calling her to stay. The city had been emptied by a vast and heart-breaking evacuation, but some of the most vulnerable people had been left behind. She was one of many Ukrainians who found themselves having to learn and lead new ministries, to fill the gaps. Her roles involve women’s ministry, translating and communicating with supporters, and leading worship.

The constant bombardment from Russian forces on the other side of the Dnipro river is terrorising the local population. Natalia says, “We don’t know if our lives will continue tomorrow… God is our biggest hero and defender. We have to rely on him”.  

Thanks to your support, Natalia’s church is redeveloping its large basement to provide additional accommodation and safety for women, children and the vulnerable. It is also working hard to serve the spiritual needs of the community, because “everyone is hurting”. There is a great hunger for church services, which are held on most days. One woman they recently helped was a mother of two sons, who had come to them traumatised. One of her sons was in a psychiatric hospital after being captured and released by the Russians. The church cared for her, helped her lean on God in her time of great need, and gain a sense of peace, despite her circumstances.  

As well as providing spiritual food, the church cares for the physical needs of as many as 10,000 people in the battle-ravaged city and isolated villages around it. The failed local economy means that many have lost jobs and rely on humanitarian aid for supplies. Although the church is serving in an incredibly challenging context, Natalia remains encouraged: “God’s plan is huge. Though we have a lot of sadness and grief, God works really powerfully in our city. We observe it every day”.

10,000 people are regularly being served by The Church of Christ the Saviour, Kherson

Daniel: Caring for vulnerable children

It was while providing humanitarian aid in the areas around Kherson and Izyum that Daniel, a Christian leader based in Kyiv, realised there was a massive need to support children living in the communities near the front line. Growing up under fire had deprived them of normal childhood experiences, like going to school, and left many with deep emotional scars.

To try to bring some fun and joy into young lives, he and his team started running children’s camps in the Kherson area. They provide games, activities and much-needed education, including teaching children about God. Parents also attend the camp, bringing opportunities to share the gospel with them too.

It was Innovista’s leadership training that helped Daniel set up his charity and build bridges with the communities he is serving. His camps are run in partnership with local churches and the local government, so that the ministry to families is locally owned and sustainable.

Daniel’s bigger dream is that these camps will lead to many more evangelical churches springing up across this under-served region.

Mykhaylo (right) wants the church in Ukraine to be a beacon of hope

Mykhaylo: Supporting churches in occupied Ukraine

Mykhaylo, who now lives in Dubno in western Ukraine, was exiled from his own church by the Russians. He has now become an “international pastor” to members of his congregation spread across 15 different countries.

The exodus was caused by the invasion of his home city, Melitopol. He was the pastor of Grace Church, one of many that has been supported by Innovista during the conflict. Mykhaylo was among the many Christian leaders who were interrogated, threatened and had their church buildings taken away. This experience meant that he is now well placed to advise, support and encourage Ukrainian Christians who are still living in occupied areas. His “Faith under Fire” report raises awareness of the abuses that are happening against the church in the parts of Ukraine that are still occupied. As director of a religious freedom initiative, he is also doing research on how the conflict has impacted churches.

Although they are living through the horrors of war, he stresses that Ukrainians still have hope, as they had in Soviet times. Even in difficult situations, God has a special plan and the church can serve as an example to others by modelling godly leadership. He explains, “Churches are a centre of leadership, because we encourage people to be involved in some social work. It’s the essence of the church.” As many more ordinary Ukrainians continue to take their first steps into ministry, he shares Innovista’s desire to give leaders the right training and support.

Mykhaylo’s hope is that the church will play a major part in the spiritual restoration of the land in the years to come. He likens the church to a beacon on the hill that is shining God’s light all around.  He would love to see many more people come to faith through a resurgent church that has done so much for Ukrainians at their time of greatest need: “Now is the time to amaze this world by our faithfulness.”

Natalia, Daniel and Mykhaylo have been serving communities across Ukraine (and abroad)

Into 2024…

Innovista will keep showing up and bringing more help from the outside, both now and when the fighting finishes. We have recently added a new Ukrainian trainer to the team (in Ternopil) and we are looking for more. Please continue to support Christian leaders serving in this extremely challenging context.

How you can pray

Mykhaylo, Natalia and Daniel have encouraged us to pray for the church in Ukraine. In particular please pray for:

  • Peace: For an end to the conflict and suffering
  • Safety: For those serving near the front line
  • Endurance: For tired and traumatised leaders and people
  • Ministry needs: For Christian leaders to serve communities with courage, integrity and skill
  • Encouragement: For the global church to keep standing with Ukrainian Christians
Every time we can hear some news from you, we have some possibility to connect you, to be reinforced by you, supported by you. We are so inspired, that our decision is not in vain and we really do have to keep working for these people. We know that we are not alone. (Natalia)
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About Innovista

Supporting leaders where they're needed most.

Innovista identifies, equips and develops Christian leaders working in challenging locations. Every year, we train and mentor around 1,500 leaders in Britain, Ireland, Moldova, Ukraine, Central Asia and beyond. We help leaders transform people and communities through churches, ministries and enterprises. Inspired by Jesus, we equip leaders to build a better world.