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The First Ten Days: Ukraine-Russia War From a Man on the Ground

The story of Russia’s invasion from a man in Ukraine.
Pastor Caleb Suko stared at the news rolling across the screen and felt a shiver go up his spine.

Tonight felt different—as if the world was holding its breath.

Suko had ministered in churches in Odesa, Ukraine for the past 15 years. He’d seen a lot during his time, and he’d already lived through one war.

A few weeks prior, the US embassy had suggested all Americans return to the US. ABWE’s own leadership had advised caution. While most agreed, Suko decided to stay. Unlike the others, his wife was Ukrainian and he felt a sense of responsibility to stay and help.

While Suko didn’t regret his decision, a sense of unease had worked its way through him this evening, and he couldn’t shake it.

Keeping his eyes trained on the flashing news, Suko picked up his phone and called his parents. Something’s going to happen tonight, he thought.

For the first time, he really believed Russia may invade Ukraine. As he laid down on the bed next to his wife, he thought, Why else would the Russian troops’ movements suddenly go dark?

At 5 a.m. the next morning, Suko woke up to a loud ringing. Fumbling for his phone, he squinted at the caller I.D.

Poland? Who in Poland would be calling me? he pondered. An untimely glitch stopped Suko from answering.
Within 30 seconds, his phone rang again. This time, he was able to answer it. A familiar voice broke the news to Suko and his wife.

“Ukraine is under attack,” explained his regional director.

Suko turned to his wife, who was fully awake now, and the two ran to their living room.

A quick glance out the window revealed the truth. The red glowing tail of a ballistic missile lit up the darkened sky. The nightmare had begun.

For the next few hours, the Sukos huddled inside their home with their kids, fielding phone calls from worried family, friends, and colleagues, urging them to leave. But surrounded by darkness and the sounds of bombs, they made the difficult decision to stay.

As they waited for sunrise to assess the damage, the Sukos continued to check the news. Reports of ballistic missiles exploding throughout Ukraine lit up the screen. Hearts sinking, the two looked at each other, stunned into silence. Ukraine was surrounded.

At 11 a.m., the last missile hit their city. The explosion set off car alarms and shook their windows. It was time to leave.

By 4 p.m., the family had their belongings loaded into the car and had met up with a coworker. Together, the group made the decision to head to the nearest border, only 40 miles away.

Armed with two thirds of a tank of gas and a couple of sandwiches, the group began their journey. Meanwhile, Rich D., a teammate in Moldova, packed lunches for the weary travelers and began the drive to the border.

Stomachs growling and heads aching, the group finally crossed the border safely. A trip that normally took only one hour had taken 22. Another two-hour drive and they made it to Rich’s home for the night.

For the first time in a couple of days, the group was able to rest.

But a pastor’s ministry doesn’t end when he leaves the church building. In fact, Suko’s work had just begun. After getting his family to safety, he turned his focus to his spiritual family.

With the help of Rich and his pastor, Mihai, the Sukos turned Mihai’s church, Imago Dei, into a place of refuge.

Using funds provided by ABWE partners, the team bought 45 air mattresses for the church’s sanctuary and fellowship hall, groceries for daily meals, a nine-passenger van to transport refugees, and train tickets for those trying to go somewhere else in Europe.

Days passed and members of Suko’s church in Ukraine continued to call him, asking for help and a place to stay.

Soon, the church was overflowing. That week, a local church member opened up his house to as many refugees as possible. In a day, over 20 refugees moved in.

A couple of days later, they encountered a similar problem. One of Suko’s students from Ukraine, an Indian exchange student, called. He had filled three buses with 150 people. Once again, God provided. Welcomed at a local army barrack, the men were able to rest and relax on their journey home, and Suko was able to visit them, pray with them, and encourage them.

Exhausted and busy, Suko and his team cared for hundreds of refugees. And each person, whether Hindu, Muslim, Catholic, or Evangelical Christian, was prayed over, cared for, and encouraged. Through their refugee ministry, they reached people from Belarus, Nigeria, Cameroun, Ethiopia, Greece, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, China, Nepal, India, and more. Many of whom were international university students in Ukraine.

One-by-one, the team connected refugees to churches across Europe, creating a roadmap for them to follow home. A lasting depiction of the global church.

The ABWE community has also rallied alongside the ministry efforts of Imago Dei, Mihai, Rich, Suko, and other partners throughout Europe. Through the Ukraine Crisis Fund, they’ve bought 55 air mattresses, provided over 5,000 meals to refugees, and shared the gospel with over 150 people. And, as people pass through the church, they carry the impact of the gospel with them, spreading it across Europe and affecting thousands of lives around them.

Currently, Suko and Mihai are continuing the refugee ministry in Moldova. Other workers are guiding refugees along the way and sharing eternal hope with the lost.

Support Ukraine Refugee Relief

Want to help Ukrainian believers? Partner with churches serving refugees, sharing Christ, and providing basic needs. You can be the hands and feet of Christ to Ukrainians in crisis.

About the Author

Lexi Elder has served as a Digital Communications Specialist with ABWE since 2021. She is a graduate of Penn State and an active member of Community Evangelical Free Church of Harrisburg, Pa.

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