On the flight with father Vinogradsky from Zhitomir


Eastern Europe

Marie Verheij, RD

Reunion Karst de Vries and Rev. Vinogradsky. Photo Vinogradsky family

Thousands of Ukrainians flee from the violence and war in their country. Among them is the 91-year-old pastor Vinogradsky from Zhytomyr. Together with several family members, he left for Romania this week. The Dutch Karst de Vries (63) travelled to Eastern Europe to pick them up.

Days after the Russian invasion, unrest breaks out around Zhytomyr, 150 kilometres west from Kyiv, where the Vinogradsky family lives. Shelling increases, also in Zhytomyr, which is located close to several military bases. The family is startled by the intensity of the war violence. It places them before a dilemma: leaving or staying?

They pray and struggle. Pastor Vinogradky was imprisoned twice before the Iron Curtain fell. The Lord has always preserved him, and should he then now, when 91 years old, flee?

Photo Vinogradsky family

The daughter of Vinogradsky, Katja, is married to a Dutchman, Cor Ploeg. Her husband says that the whole family can come to the Netherlands.

In the afternoon, the family decides. The situation becomes too dangerous. Father Vinogradky cannot stay behind on his own. The Vinogradksy family boards three cars, taking one suitcase per person and some food.

The trip is 460 kilometres long. First, the family travels to Tsjernovtsy, where it takes a break at the house of Christian brothers and sisters. After that, the three cars drive to the Romanian border at Syrets.

The trip only progresses slowly because of the danger of Russian shelling at night and the large stream of fleeing Ukrainians. After 24 hours of waiting, the family members arrive in Radauti, a Romanian village.

Romanian help

In the meantime, Cor Ploeg, Vinogradsky's son in law, mobilises four men. Among them is Karst de Vries, former president of organisation Kom over en Help (Come over and help) and president of the Christelijk Platform Oost-Europa (Christian Platform Eastern-Europe). "After a drive of 28 hours, we arrived in Radauti, midnight Saturday. Radauti is located 5 kilometres from the Ukrainian border, where we would meet the fleeing family members. The local church community welcomed Ukrainians with empathy. The refugees received a meal, a warm shower and a place to sleep", De Vries says. He is impressed by the Romanian hospitability. "We heard that a son-in-law of pastor Vinogradsky and his wife and children were not allowed to cross the border because of total mobilisation. The next day, this legislation changed for families with little children. That way, they could still travel to the Netherlands via Polen."


On Sunday, the family can catch its breath in Radauti. In church, an emotional reunion takes place. Pastor Vinogradsky embraces De Vries. They know each other from other, better times. De Vries is allowed to speak during the service. "I have focused on the storm at sea (Matthew 8:23-27). Jesus sleeps. The disciples fear for their life. But Jesus takes away their fear and commands a great calm. Let us, too, trust in God. He has everything in His hand." Rev. Vinogradsky also addresses the congregation: "We are fleeing, but our flight is to God."

On Monday, the family travels to the Netherlands: three loaded cars. The first 400 kilometres are a drive over a slippery mountain that passes the Carpathians.

Service in Radauti, Rumania. Photo Vinogradsky family

On the way, pastor Vinogradsky keeps an eye on the situation in his beloved Ukraine. Many cars with a Ukrainian numberplate swarm on the roads.

At the Hungarian border, things go wrong. One son-in-law has Belarusian nationality and needs a visa, which he does not have. "Eight hours long, we tried to negotiate, but the customs officers remained unrelenting. The family had to stay behind with one of the cars. But what happened? They joined the line again, and the new batch of customs officers allowed them to cross."


Once in a while, the travellers take a break. The aged pastor Vinogradksy does some stretching exercises; they eat and drink something and meet fellow citizens. They embrace each other and break out into tears.

The situation in Zhytomyr worsens. Continually they keep in touch with other family members who want to leave. Zhytomyr has become a ghost town, where inhabitants flee into bomb shelters when air raid sirens go off and dull bangs and explosions sound.

---The Vinogradsky family. Photo Vinogradsky family

Almost at their final destination, the family members receive a message from the granddaughter of pastor Vinogradsky. She stayed behind in Zhytomyr because of her boyfriend and married in the spring. "Today we got married quietly", she texts her mother.

De Vries: "I hear of more Christian couples who do that. Ukrainians do not know how long the war will last. Amid this uncertainty, they experience that the power of prayer transcends everything. The Lord reigns, and we are on the way to the great future of the Lord Jesus Christ. We pray for justice, protection and peace; for love against the hatred."

This article was translated by CNE.news and published in the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on March 4, 2022.



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