Ukrainian teacher returns to her students to build up her country


Eastern Europe


Photo EPA, Stepan Franko

Inna Zinchenko fled to the Netherlands to escape the dangers of the Russian invasion of her country. Now, she has returned to her students. "I knew God wanted me to be there."

In her hometown Irpin, the war is never far away. Bullet holes in the school's wall testify to the severe fighting that took place a year ago when the Russians invaded the town, located 15 kilometres from Kyiv. However, now the sounds of playing children fill the premises of the Irpin Christian School again.

Zinchenko. Photo Irpin Christian School

Even though she had plans to work for a bank, Zinchenko became a teacher, she tells the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad. The Protestant community she's become part of started thirty years ago when some people decided to read the Bible together. Now, it has grown to a church with about 700 members. Since 2016, the community also has a Christian school which now counts 173 pupils and has become the "bubbling heart of the community from where the Gospel sounds", Zichenko says.


When the war broke out in February 2022, the minister called his congregation together to pray in the church. However, at that moment, the Russians started to attack the city. "We fled into the cellar of the church. There we prayed. Some cried. The city was bombed. It was a terrible sound", Zichenko recalls.

She and her sister decided to leave Irpin and fled to Western Ukraine, hoping that the war would end soon. However, this hope seemed in vain. Therefore, the sisters evacuated further.

Because she had visited the Netherlands before the war sometime, she knew some people there who she could stay with.


During their time in the Netherlands, the sisters worked in a refugee centre. They helped the employees in Rotterdam with translation and support of refugees who just arrived.

Nevertheless, Zichenko's heart stayed behind in Ukraine, she tells the Reformatorisch Dagblad. She kept in close touch with people from Irpin. "Every day spent in the Netherlands, I knew I would go back. I had to go; it is my country. I knew God wanted me to be there. And I wanted to help the community and prepare for the new school year for the children who were still there."

Photo AFP, Attila Kisbenedek


When the teacher returned, Irpin had changed. She only found half of the students. The rest had left the city. Also, some parents were no longer able to pay for tuition. Therefore, the amount was reduced.

Thanks to the money she earned in the Netherlands, Zinchenko could afford a car. She sees it as a real blessing from God. "I would not have been able to buy a vehicle with the money I earned here."

By now, the school has adjusted to the war. Lessons take place in the cellars of the school building. In addition, the students learn how to regulate their emotions and fears. "We teach them to tell each other and God: "I am so scared. God, please take care of me and protect me. That helps them."

At the same time, Zinchenko worries about the current situation. "The tensions and the war are not normal conditions for children. I believe that this will have consequences for the future."


Despite her concerns, Zinchenko counts her blessings. Because people flee, they are able to spread the Gospel in different areas, she tells the Reformatorisch Dagblad. "There are about 35 Bible groups which are held at people's houses. Non-Christians have joined as well." In addition, the church has set up several volunteer centres to distribute food and other goods to people who need them. These centres are supported by Ukrainians but also by foreigners.

And even though many church members have fled, the number of believers increases again, Zinchenko notices. "About half of the people who attend on Sunday are non-Christian. In the summer of 2022, about ten people were baptised every two weeks. Last winter, this number was even up to 45. God works powerfully, and that is special to see."



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