For Fedya Minakov, exile within his own country isn’t a new experience. In 2014, Minakov left his hometown of Donetsk with his pregnant wife and 2-year-old child after Russian forces invaded the region in eastern Ukraine. Minakov planned to return home in a couple of months when he thought the conflict might ease: “We never got back there since.”
Minakov recounted his story from an apartment in western Ukraine—close to the Polish border, but far from his family’s most recent home in Kyiv, where Minakov serves as a professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at the Evangelical Reformed Seminary of Ukraine.
In early February, when U.S. intelligence reports warned that Russian forces might invade the country, Minakov considered his experience in 2014 and decided to prepare. He relocated his wife and children to an apartment in western Ukraine, and he returned to Kyiv to continue his work and see what would happen. On the morning of February 24, Minakov awoke in a shaking building and heard the sound of explosions erupting across the capital city.
It was time to flee again.
Plight of Double Refugees
Among the more than 4 million Ukrainians who have fled the country and the 7 million internally displaced since Russia’s attack began, at least some of the refugees had already fled their homes in the last eight years since Russians invaded portions of eastern Ukraine. Such refugees have an especially alarming sense of what a Russian foothold in other parts of Ukraine could mean, including for Protestant Christians.
On February 24, Fedya Minakov awoke in a shaking building and heard the sound of explosions erupting across the capital city. It was time to flee again.
Minakov grew up nominally Russian Orthodox, but he became Protestant at age 18. He studied at Donetsk Christian University, once one of the largest Christian schools in Ukraine. After Russia’s 2014 invasion, Russian forces seized the school property and eventually turned it into a military base.
The takeover was part of a wider pattern of Russian forces closing churches, seizing property, and prohibiting many non-Orthodox religious activities. Minakov said Russians seized his own church’s building and prohibited meeting for worship on Sundays: “The church went underground.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claims of Russian Orthodox fervor in his country’s latest attacks on Ukraine have been unsurprising, but deeply disturbing. During a nationally televised rally on March 18, Putin praised Fyodor Ushakov, an 18th-century Russian naval commander considered the patron saint of Russia’s nuclear-armed strategic bombers. “He once said that these thunderstorms will bring Russia glory,” Putin said. “That is the way it was then, that is the way it is now, and it will always be that way.”
Putin also invoked a variation of John 15:13 as he described Russia’s attacks on Ukraine: “There is no greater love than if someone gives his soul for his friends.” Two weeks later, horrifying images showed mass graves and the bodies of slain Ukrainians in the streets of Bucha. Among those found dead: Vitaliy Vinogradov, the dean of the Slavic Evangelical Seminary in Kyiv.
Minakov didn’t know Vinogradov personally, but said he heard from many friends who did.
Sorrow with Hope
Though sorrows multiply, Minakov said he’s trying to stay focused on opportunities for ministry. His wife and children have traveled to Holland, so he’s using the apartment in western Ukraine as a temporary shelter for other Ukrainian contacts passing through on their way to the border.
He coordinates relief work with other Christians from his seminary and from his congregation in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ukraine. Such work isn’t new for believers: evangelicals were among those active in helping Ukrainians displaced after Russia’s invasion in the east in 2014. That experience has helped mobilize Christians to assist again, even as the number of displaced Ukrainians swells to over 11 million.
As one of those 11 million, Minakov said he doesn’t try to predict when he might be able to return to Kyiv. He’s preparing for seminary classes to resume online later this month, and students will begin again with a study of the Pentateuch: “Little by little, we work.”
‘I believe the Lord is using this terrible situation to advance his gospel. That’s the only hope for the world.’
In the meantime, he grieves his separation from his family, mourns his country’s suffering, and hopes in the gospel. “I believe the Lord is using this terrible situation to advance his gospel,” he said. “That’s the only hope for the world.”
Minakov also hopes Christians around the world will continue to pray for Ukraine. “People get tired of bad news, and they forget,” he said. “So my request would be to please continue praying. You know how to pray—we want this war to end soon.”