UKRAINE: THE PASTOR WHO STAYED WHEN HIS CHURCH LEFT

Prior to February 24, Viktor Polunin was the pastor of the Gospel of the Grace of God church in Kyiv.

Now, Pastor Polunin and his wife are the Gospel of the Grace of God church in Kyiv.

Pastor Viktor Polunin and his wife Polina travel around Kyiv delivering food, medicine, and gospel encouragement to those who remain in the area.

“Before the outbreak of hostilities, Pastor Polunin’s church had about 70 people, and it was dynamic and growing,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley. “They had a worship team, home groups, discipleship training, and social service ministries like feeding the homeless and the poor near the central railway station.”

But when fighting broke out on February 24, that changed.

“Pastor Polunin’s church members began to evacuate from Kyiv, first to the Vinnitsa region and Transcarpathia, then leaving Ukraine,” says Representative Foley.

After three weeks, only six people from the church remained in Kyiv, all involved in volunteer work, ministry, or civil defense.

With their congregation now gone, Pastor Polunin and his wife had to decide what to do next.

“We considered all options, realizing all the danger” Pastor Polunin told Voice of the Martyrs Korea. “We decided to stay in order to show that the church does not leave people in difficult times and in order to use the current situation to preach the Gospel.”

According to Representative Foley, people in their area began to come to Pastor Polunin and his wife seeking food and medicine, often referred by social service agencies. They also began to deliver food, hygiene items, children’s supplies, and medicines.

“We have several elderly people who are left without help and cannot take care of themselves,” says Pastor Polunin. “A blind elderly woman who had no one to take care of because everyone left, another woman is hunched over, unable to go to the store herself. An elderly woman whose son and grandson serve in the Ukrainian army, we helped her buy medicines – they all prayed with my wife.”

Caption: Pastor Polunin and his wife help the elderly, the disabled and families in Ukraine who are not able to care for themselves during the war. 

Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea have designated Pastor Polunin and his wife as “green martyrs”.

“Early in church history Christians recognized that there were different kinds of martyrdom,” says Representative Foley. “‘Red martyrs’ were those who died for their faith in a bloody instant. ‘White marytrs’ were those who died to the world, living their lives in the desert or in monasteries. And ‘green martyrs’ were those who died to themselves, laying down their own lives daily as faithful witnesses to Christ.”

Pastor Polunin told Voice of the Martyrs Korea that their decision to stay and serve has been an encouragement to those who remain in Kyiv. “Many worried about us and asked us to leave,” says Pastor Polunin, “But for them our desire to stay was a confirmation that this is how the ministers of the church should act.”

Pastor Polunin told Voice of the Martyrs Korea that he and his wife previously discussed the possibility that they might be killed if they stayed and continued their church’s ministry. “We agreed that sudden death does not frighten us,” says Pastor Polunin. “Rather we would not like to face the experience of suffering and cruelty, and we pray that the Lord will protect us from this.”

According to Representative Foley, Pastor Polunin and his wife also continue to pray and worship with the church members who evacuated Kyiv. “Several times a week they do online gatherings with those members,” says Representative Foley. “They pray for the country and also try to serve as a point of connection between the ones who left and the ones who were left behind.”

Pastor Polunin told Voice of the Martyrs Korea that most church members express a desire to return, but he believes many may not. “I have been a church pastor since 1998,” Pastor Polunin said. “I think that the church will not just change, but most likely we will have to start from the very beginning. Now a new church is being formed. I am sad and happy at the same time about that. Our church was dynamic and growing. Now everything is at the start again, we will use all the experience for a new undertaking if we have enough strength.”

According to Representative Foley, the couple is already moving forward with this new undertaking. “They currently have a house that they use as a warehouse and are working on identifying more places for storage so they can expand their capacity to serve people.”

Caption: Pastor Viktor Polunin and team carry bags of food and supplies to the van in order to deliver to those in need in Kyiv. 

“We are preparing for the worst times,” Pastor Polunin told Voice of the Martyrs Korea. “Following the example of Joseph in the Old Testament, we want to stockpile food and clothing for the ministry of the moment, and especially for the ministry in need that will come in the near future.”

Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is committed to helping Ukrainian Christians who have become red martyrs and green martyrs as a result of the current conflict. “We have so far been able to provide aid to the families of six Ukrainian ‘red martyrs’ who have laid down their lives in faithful witness to Christ since February 24,” says Representative Foley. “But it is also important for us to support Ukrainian ‘green martyrs’ like Pastor Polunin and his wife, who have died to themselves but remain alive to Christ, risking their lives daily to serve as his faithful witnesses in these war zones. Our Ukraine Emergency Fund is our ‘green martyr’ support fund for Ukrainian Christians.”

This video shows Pastor Polunin delivering food and supplies to those in need. 

Donations can be made to the Ukraine Emergency Fund at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:

국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303

예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리

Please include the phrase “Ukraine” with the donation.

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Ukraine: Mariupol Martyrs laid to rest

Five Ukrainian Christians who cared for 200 people living in a church basement until a grenade hit their car were remembered by Mariupol residents at a memorial service earlier this month. Four of the men were buried in a shared grave in the courtyard of a church near the burned remains of a house where several of the men had days prior been involved in rescuing a man trapped inside and then leading him to the Lord.

“These brothers in Christ were managing to gather food, medicine, and supplies for the 200 or so people who took shelter for several weeks in the basement of Central Baptist Church in Mariupol,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr Hyun Sook Foley. She says residents of the makeshift shelter included members of the church as well as church members’ relatives and neighbors, including some non-Christians.

“The five men not only cared for the shelter community but also responded to the needs of those they met as they were out gathering the supplies,” says Representative Foley. “For example, it was not strange for them to find some writing on a nearby fence which said, ‘Help us. There is a baby that needs food.’ These five men would spring into action and, by the grace of God, find and deliver baby formula even as the area faced constant bombardment.”

Of the five, two were from the Central Baptist Church in Mariupol: Deacon Nicolai Semeken (survived by his wife and three children) and Staneslav Burdun, who married six months ago. His body has not been found.

The remaining three were from Bethany Church in Mariupol: Sergei Savelev (survived by his wife and two children), his younger brother Roman Savelev (survived by his wife and two children), and the youngest team member, Staneslav Eleseev (survived by his wife).

On March 4, several of the men went out to the church parking lot to check on the cars at night. Neighbors told them that the owner of the home two doors down from the church was trapped in his basement. “Three of the brothers and one of the wives responded,” says Representative Foley. “The house had been shelled multiple times by the Russian Grad Multiple Launch Rocket System, so it was smoldering and finally burst into a full blaze. There were no firefighters and little water available, so they just improvised ways to fight off the fire while they worked to rescue the man.”

Actual footage of the three Ukrainian Christians rescuing a man from the basement of his home days before they themselves were killed by a direct hit from a grenade launcher.

“The men sawed through the floor to get to the basement, where the owner, whose name was Vova, was unable to move,” says Representative Foley. “He was buried up to his waist, with one leg pinned and one arm broken.”

Victoria Burdun, who had accompanied her new husband Stanislav to the home as part of the rescue team recalls her husband calling out to Vova as they dug him out, “You will live. Do you believe that God will save you?” The team carried Vova to the church using the door of his home as a stretcher.

“Vova had been buried from 5PM to 3AM, so he was frozen,” says Representative Foley. “The team had had to douse him with water several times to extinguish the flames from the fire that had reached him. They gave him tea, washed him, changed his clothes and took him to the hospital in the morning. Later, the brothers visited him again in the hospital. He was alive and he believed in God.”

Victoria Burdun believes God saved the man. “Three times it seemed that everything was in vain,” she says. “We prayed and God helped us put out this fire and save Vova’s life. There was no shelling during the fire and we thanked God that He gave us the time to save this person.”

Painting by Victoria Burdun of her husband and a Christian rescue team freeing a man from his burning home and then leading him to the Lord. Burdun’s husband is missing and presumed dead.

Burdun says the team had no fear during the rescue because weeks before they had already resolved to lay down their lives for the Lord. On February 28, she posted on her Facebook page, “We are not leaving anywhere and we are staying… My husband and I have no fear, and we are ready to die, if God wills!”

Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea recognizes the five men as martyrs.

“Martyrs are Christians who make a conscious decision to lay down their lives in service to the Lord,” says Representative Foley. “They commit to making a faithful witness unto death, testifying of the Lord’s grace to those for whom they lay down their lives.”

Representative Foley says that it is a mistake to think that martyrdom is the result of persecution. “We sometimes think that a person is a martyr because they are persecuted. But biblically, the word martyr means ‘witness’”, says Representative Foley. “Biblically, faithful witness—martyrdom—always comes first, and the result it produces is often persecution. Sometimes that persecution comes from other human beings. Sometimes it comes from the spiritual realm. In the case of these Christian brothers, it’s no coincidence that they who in Jesus’ name saved a man from two fires—the fire of his burning house and the fires of hell—were themselves burned alive a day later. There is always a high price to be paid for faithfulness to Christ.”

On March 9, the team of five left the church basement and drove off in a minivan in search of medicine and fuel but did not return. Later the burned frame of their vehicle was discovered, along with the bodies of four of the men. The car appeared to have been hit by a grenade launcher. “According to those who found 4 men, it was a direct hit,” says Representative Foley. “The bodies of the three men found in the back seat were burnt. The body of the deacon who had been driving was not burned but was found about 5 meters away from the van.” The fifth man, Staneslav Burdun, is still missing and presumed dead.

“They bore faithful witness to Christ unto death, and we will have one more brother in heaven because of their ministry,” says Representative Foley.

The grave in the courtyard of the Central Baptist Church in Mariupol where the four men are buried. 

Voice of the Martyrs Korea is supporting each of these five widows with an emergency gift from its Families of Martyrs fund. “The most basic and important ministry of Voice of the Martyrs is to care for the families of those who are martyred or imprisoned for their faith,” says Representative Foley. 

Representative Foley says that the organization is also continuing to administer its Ukraine Christian Emergency Relief project, in addition to making disbursements from its Families of Martyrs fund to the families of other Ukrainian Christians who are killed in the act of Christian witness. Those who are interested in making a donation to entire fund can do so at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:

국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303

예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리

Please include the word “Ukraine” or “Families of Martyrs” with the donation.

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Ukraine: Church leader and his 19 children bake one ton of bread, share gospel in war zone

Brother Daniil Anatolyevich Kiriluk with his wife and several of his children, along with some of the bread they baked and shared with neighbors and neighboring villages.

A church leader for the Luhansk region and his small house church composed mainly of his wife and 19 children are bringing protection, food, and hope to a village in one of Ukraine’s most war-torn regions. According to Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, they are also changing the way the villagers think about evangelical Christians.

Daniil Anatolyevich Kiriluk, a Baptist church leader in the village of Novoaidar, 60 kilometers from Lugansk, consecrated what he calls his “house of prayer” on the day fighting began in the region in 2014, even performing a baptism that day. Representative Foley says that at that time due to the fighting, many of Brother Kiriluk’s friends urged him to leave the area, but as he prayed, the Lord brought Numbers 16:46-48 to his mind and led him to undertake a long fast.

“[Numbers 16:46-48] is when Israel walked in the wilderness and caused the wrath of God by their actions and the defeat began,” Brother Kiriluk recently told the information portal Vernost. “And Moses said to Aaron: ‘Take a censer, pour fire from the altar into it, go and intercede for the people’. Aaron went, stood between the living and the dead, and the defeat stopped. And in 2014, this story – I don’t remember whether I read it or just remembered it – prompted me to stay. I thought who would pray for people, who would intercede for them?”

Brother Kiriluk said the Lord brought the same scripture to his mind again on February 24, when he and his family awoke to the sounds of a heavy gunfire volley in what they would later learn was Schastie city, 30 kilometers away.

Just as in 2014, the church leader began to fast and pray according to the scripture in Numbers.

“It so happened that the hostilities did not reach our village,” Brother Kiriluk told Vernost. “Just as it was written in the word, the defeat ended where Aaron stood. The soldiers did not make it. Strong shells or rockets flew, but it was far from our village – maybe 12 kilometers away.”

Though the conflict did not reach Novoaidar, it did disrupt the village’s food supply. There is no bakery  in Novoaidar, so it is reliant on bread delivered from other cities. But the conflict cut off the supply. Representative Foley says that Brother Kiriluk’s house church is so small that no one in the village would have thought of turning to them to solve the food shortage.

“Brother Kiriluk and his family live in the house and hold worship services there,” says Representative Foley. “It’s a small church. There are 22 members. Half of the members are from the church leader’s family. Brother Kiriluk and his wife have 10 sons, the youngest of whom is 9 years old. He has 9 daughters, the oldest of whom is 31. 4 of his children are married, and they have 9 grandchildren. Just as the conflict started in February, the family also began hosting a Ukrainian Christian couple in their home, who had left the area for Greece in 2014 when the first fighting began. There were a lot of mouths to feed.”

According to Representative Foley, another church in the area brought them flour—more than was needed to feed their whole family. “That was when Brother Kiriluk’s wife suggested the idea of using the flour to bake bread to share with the other villagers. “There was some disagreement at first, but that night they started baking bread using the oven in the house church where they live”, says Representative Foley.

Even the church leader’s youngest children are involved in baking the bread.

They baked 30 loaves of bread and posted a message to their neighbors on Viber, a social media app, that the bread was available. People began to come right away.

“Not only did people come to receive the bread,” says Representative Foley. “Others came to bring flour to enable the group to bake more bread. A stranger dropped off 9 bags of flour one day. A farmer brought milk on three occasions. A third oven was contributed. Another Christian brother and two sisters helped by baking additional bread in their own home. Brother Kiriluk says that at one point when yeast was no longer available in the stores, God miraculously provided so that the baking could continue.”

The church leader’s married children and grandchildren all helped, bringing the total number of people in the home to 33. Even the youngest son helped. “He knew how much yeast should be poured, how much flour, how much salt,” Brother Kiriluk told Vernost. “We had scales, everything was measured on the scales, and he was already making the leaven. Then the dough was kneaded, cut into portions and the smallest one, he already knew how to do it, rolled out loaves – he did all this.”

According to Brother Kiriluk, production eventually increased to more than 160 loaves per day. He says the group probably received in total more than one ton of donated flour during their ten days of baking.

But more than bread was distributed.

“The Christian couple who were visiting from Greece had brought gospel newspapers with them, so they handed these out to everyone who came for bread,” says Representative Foley. “The Christian brother had a particular gift for evangelism, so he shared the gospel along with the newspapers. One neighbor who came told him, ‘We were talking among ourselves how bad Baptists are, and now we are coming here for bread.’”

One of Brother Daniil Anatolyevich Kiriluk’s children takes the bread out of the oven. They make as many as 160 loaves a day.

But perhaps the greatest miracle may have been the government asking the house of prayer for help.

“We were called from the Ministry of Emergency Situations,” Brother Kiriluk told Vernost. “They said there was one village where people did not have bread since February 22nd. They asked if we could bake some bread. We baked as much as we could. They came and took away the bread and distributed the bread in the village. Then they called again, saying they were going to another village. We also baked bread, they came and took it to the village.”

Brother Kiriluk and his family recently had to leave their home for what they thought would be only one or two days. The time away was extended, but now Brother Kiriluk says they have returned home and to more baking. 

“Now the situation is such that you think and understand only about each next step,” says Brother Kiriluk. “We did not think that we would stay here. We don’t know what the next step will be. We planned one thing, but everything happened differently.”

Representative Foley says that among the settings of Christian persecution in which Voice of the Martyrs Korea works, it is common for Christians to be both front-line workers and displaced people at the same time. “We see this happening today in Tigray, in Northern Ethiopia,” says Representative Foley. “We partner with a local pastor there, and for years his congregation has been the main helper for Eritrean Christian refugees fleeing their country for Ethiopia due to persecution. Now our Tigray pastor and his church members themselves have been displaced by the violence. But they continue to help others.”

Representative Foley says that it is a pattern that is as old as the Bible. “In Acts 11, Christians were scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was martyred. But God used that scattering to plant the Christians like seed across the Roman Empire. And in Jeremiah, when the people of Judah went into exile, they were commanded by God, ‘Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile’. So even though we thank God that he has permitted Brother Kiriluk and his family to return home, we know that God is going to continue to use them powerfully wherever he places them and whatever their circumstances are in the future.”

Brother Daniil Anatolyevich Kiriluk, his wife, and 18 of their 19 children.

Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is currently raising money for an ongoing emergency relief project to support local Ukrainian churches, as well as Polish and Moldovan churches along the border with Ukraine, as the local churches respond to both the humanitarian and spiritual needs that are arising during the war.

Individuals interested in donating to local churches through the Ukraine Christian Emergency Relief project can give at . . .

www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:

국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303

예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리

Please include the word “Ukraine” with the donation.

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