Weekly column from Ukraine – Rescued from the fire


Christian Life

Oleksii Blyzniuk, CNE.news

The car in which the family fled. Photo Oleksii Blyzniuk

This story happened a couple of months ago in the south of Ukraine. The entire Kherson region, including Tavriyske –the village where I grew up (located about 70 km from the border with Crimea)– was the enemy's focus since the first days of the invasion. In Kherson and some local areas of the region, fierce battles were fought with the Ukrainian military. The latter withstood the fight but retreated because of the large preponderance of enemy forces. As a result, control over the region very soon wholly passed into the hands of the occupiers.

Under these conditions, many decided to leave the region as quickly as possible. The family of my Christian friends from the local Reformed Church made the same decision. The family consisted of two elderly people, their adult son and two grandchildren.

Oleksii Blyzniuk
Olexii Blyzniuk (1986) teaches practical theology at the Evangelical Reformed Seminary of Ukraine (ERSU) in Kyiv.

He received both a Masters from the ERSU and the Reformed Theological University in Kampen, the Netherlands.

Apart from theology, he likes motorcycles.

But it turned out to be not so easy. Countless cars, full of people, things, animals and everything that people managed to grab at the last moment, lined up in endless queues toward the non-occupied territory. One needed to pass 5-7 Russian checkpoints to leave the occupied area. Many eyewitnesses said there was no logic in the occupiers' actions at the checkpoints. The process was as spontaneous as it was insane. The occupiers let pass whoever they wanted, turned around who they wanted, took away cars they liked or shot at vehicles they did not like.

Information about this flooded social networks and groups, scaring people looking for opportunities to get out. For many, the very decision to leave home or not was already torture. Even more so because leaving home did not guarantee you would get out of the region unharmed.

Insecurity because of changing situations

My friends found themselves in the same position. Due to the constantly changing situation, the urgent decision to collect everything necessary and leave was cancelled several times a week. Eventually, one evening, the pastor of the local Reformed church in Tavriyske found a relatively safe route and decided to take out his family and some church members early the next day. My friends also agreed to join them the next morning, because moving together is much safer.

Ukrainian family who fled the Kherson region. Photo Oleksii Blyzniuk

But as is often the case in extreme situations, on my friend's side, the decision-making process in the course of collecting everything necessary began to drag on, primarily because of two small kids (4 and 6 years old). It is challenging to decide quickly what to take and what to leave, especially when you realise that most of the property must be left forever.

As a result, the pastor left, according to plan, early in the morning. My friends left on their own not until three o'clock in the afternoon, hoping to at least leave the occupied territory before night. The situation was aggravated by the fact that the mobile connection was already working intermittently. In addition, the information had already appeared on social media that the occupiers at the checkpoints could simply take away the phone or other equipment. Therefore, for security reasons, my friends hid all their smartphones and laptops in their car's remotest places, leaving only the old push-button phone. In short, they were left almost without communication and tried to find a way out of the region themselves.

Lot at an enemy checkpoint

As you might expect, they got lost very soon. They realised this when they drove into a field on a dirt road in an attempt to bypass another enemy checkpoint. The road had been dug across by a tractor (at the initiative of the Armed Forces of Ukraine), so enemy equipment could not move quickly along it.

At some point, at dusk, they ran into a dead end. It turned out to be a hidden enemy checkpoint. On the left and right, bearded Chechens with weapons began to climb out of the trenches. That was the peak of the situation. My friends in the car said goodbye to life.

The Chechens surrounded them. The verification of documents and belongings began. Under other circumstances, this checkpoint would also have become their burial place. But God's mercy is everlasting, and He does not leave His children even in the temporarily occupied territory at the checkpoint with the Chechens.

A crucial fact in this story was that my friend in Soviet times was an officer of the Soviet Army and served in Siberia for a long time. His son, who drove the car, was even born in Siberia. Seeing in the documents the driver's place of birth is "Irkutsk", the soldiers changed their rhetoric from hostile to friendly. It was an amazing metamorphosis. Now the armed occupiers were drawing a map of how to reach the Ukrainian territory. They even distributed sweets to children in the car. Thank God they got out whole.

Saying goodbye

It's just a small story of one family that had to leave their home. But for me, it's much more than just a story. It was not merely my friends, but merely my family, my father and mother, my brother and two nephews. The moment they drove into the field and the already lousy connection disappeared, I was kneeling in an apartment in Lviv, begging God to spare them. The situation was so extreme that, at a certain point, I even said goodbye to them. But the merciful Lord brought them out of danger, just as He once brought Daniel's friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego - out of the fire.

Eventually, my family reached me in Lviv, and a few days later successfully arrived in the Netherlands. Our Christian friends from Wezep graciously received them and helped them with all the necessary things. Now my family lives safe and sound in a farmhouse close to Wezep and is getting acquainted with a new culture for them.

Fleeing the war, they travelled more than 2600 km by car with two small kids. They've lost almost everything and barely saved their lives, and only God knows if they will ever be able to return to their native land. But despite all this, what they are firmly sure of is that the merciful Lord holds them in His fatherly hands. And eventually, He will provide everything.



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