Kyiv pastor: War taught us dependence


Eastern Europe

L. Vogelaar, RD

Pastor Sergei Nakul in one of the destroyed towns of Ukraine. Photo Nakul family

A year of war brought Ukraine misery, destruction and loss. But the war's consequences are not only negative, says pastor Sergei Nakul. "We learned dependency. The Lord is very near."

In December, the pastor from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv visited his wife and children, who have been staying on a farm in the Netherlands since March last year. "It was a culture shock. No sirens but peace and quiet. What a difference from the conditions I live under. I was able to unwind there for a while."

Not for a moment did Rev. Nakul last year consider going abroad himself. "In Psalm 23, the Lord is a Shepherd to His people. Following that example, I, too, was to stay with my flock like a shepherd."

Many members of his congregation stay in Western Europe, America or Canada. Several dozen members remained behind. Their number grew since people who fled the war zone in eastern Ukraine joined them.

Pastor Nakul with his family in The Netherlands. Photo Nakul family

Besides caring for his congregation, Rev Nakul is active in relief work. Not only in his hometown but also in Cherson, where he previously served. The city was overrun by the Russians but recaptured by Ukrainian troops. "I have been there twice and hope to go for a third time in March. Little old ladies hugged me; they were so grateful for the help. It made a deep impression on me.

Last week, I saw Russian soldiers across the river. I felt targeted; they have snipers. Close to the front, there is also always the danger of walking on a mine."

Rev Nakul preached in Cherson in his former congregation -again: what is left of it- and served the Lord's Supper. Meanwhile, explosions sounded outside, and buildings were destroyed a few minutes from the church.


Rev Nakul has been a pastor since 2003 and has been in Kyiv since 2014. He taught himself Dutch because he wanted to be able to read books by Bavinck, Kuyper and others. He later pursued part-time studies alongside work in his congregation. He is also active in translation work.

The 45-year-old pastor has been living in a war zone for a year. "Most Ukrainians didn't expect that anyway. Putin raised troops, but we considered the clash of arms a show; he wanted to show his muscles."

Photo Nakul family

On the morning of 24 February 2022, it turned out that it did not stop there. "I woke up to explosions. My wife and children slept through it. I quickly watched the news and saw that the war had started. Ukrainian soldiers had already been killed, and the destruction of our country had begun. I was shaking, and my heart was racing; I couldn't control myself. In the following days, the noise got closer and closer, especially when the Russians reached the capital's outskirts. As I stood preaching, we heard explosions in the meantime.

Empty city

Rev Nakul helped evacuate church members. His family also left. "We are so grateful for the hospitality our people received", Nakul says emotionally. "Tell the Dutch people how wonderful that is. We never expected it. You are a small country, but with people with big hearts."

Since March, Rev Nakul has been alone in his home. "But the Lord Jesus is near: lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."

The city was almost empty. "With an elder, I drove to old people to bring them medicine and food. The only people you saw were soldiers at the roadblocks. They were ready to defend every street, every street corner."

Photo Nakul family

The situation was dire. "Many shops were closed; we had less and less food. But I felt I could not leave." After the Russians left, the capital calmed down, and some of the population returned. "It is not completely safe, but safe enough for President Biden to visit. Outside Kyiv, we help rebuild villages that are largely destroyed."


Initially, the Presbyterian pastor worked in Kyiv at the Grace Reformed Church. Now, he serves on the other river bank at Big City Church. After the outbreak of war, he was in charge of both congregations. However, Grace Reformed Church now has a pastor who had to flee southern Ukraine. "The Russians have made his church their military headquarters," he says.

Somewhere deep down, Rev Nakul still finds the misery that came upon his people unimaginable: "That someone feels himself the centre of the world and therefore starts an invasion in a neighbouring country. And that in the 21st century. We were shocked and angry. And I still am. I pray to God to stop the evil. Because Putin himself will not stop. If he takes control of Ukraine, he will want more countries. Look at Hitler, for example. I pray that the war may end today. But I also see the reality. Millions of Russians are ready to die for their homeland. We should not underestimate Putin."

Health problems

The war will have a long aftermath, says Rev Nakul. "More than 8 million Ukrainians are expected to face mental health problems. At the same time, you also get used to the danger. We don't react so panicky anymore."

Not everything is negative. "We so often take good things for granted. Now that our country is at war, we have started thanking God for those things. We give thanks when there is electricity, internet, food, and heating. Because it is not to be taken for granted, we have found out."

Now, Ukrainians are one year at war. "I don't know the future," says Rev Nakul. "Yet, I do know Who determines the future. In Him is my hope."

This article was translated by CNE.news and previously published in Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on February 25th, 2023.



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