For more than a month the world watched as Russian forces encircled the nation of Ukraine, while staunchly insisting they had no plans to invade. Now we watch daily as the horror unfolds. Artillery shells falling on a nuclear power plant. Kindergartens bombed. Apartment blocks and entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble. A tank obliterating a family sitting in a car. Hundreds of orphans, some unaccompanied, walking into Poland, dazed and crying into their scarves. Evacuation routes bombed. Residents drinking water from water heaters after weeks of surviving freezing temperatures with no electricity or heat. Air strikes on at least twenty health care facilities, including a maternity hospital and a children’s hospital.
The Ukrainians’ response to such an onslaught has captivated the world. The polling service “Rating” reports that 88 percent of Ukrainians believe they will repel the Russian attack, and 98 percent support the actions of Ukrainian armed forces. More than three million have fled for safety, but those who remain have hardly surrendered. They fight back with Molotov cocktails and hunting rifles in support of their military, which has performed better than anyone—especially Vladimir Putin—imagined.
Pete Wehner wrote in The Atlantic, “…what drove support for Ukraine were the human virtues being displayed in a terrible human drama. It was seeing ordinary people—including the young and the elderly—act in extraordinary ways to defend the country they love, against overwhelming odds. It was seeing people do the right thing at the risk of death when nearly every instinct within them must have been screaming: Do what you have to do to survive, even if survival, though not dishonorable, is less honorable.”
He added, “Whatever fate awaits them—and right now the Russians are laying siege to cities that are home to millions—the people and the president of Ukraine [Volodymyr Zelensky] have shown that love of honor never grows old, even to a world that is sometimes indifferent, weary, and cynical.”
In its tragic history, Ukraine has grown inured to suffering. I visited the country in 2018, and found that the main tourist sites were monuments to human cruelty. I toured the Famine Museum, a memorial to the four million Ukrainians who died of starvation in the 1930s when Soviets took over their farms and confiscated their crops. Other museums recounted the occupation by Hitler’s army in World War II, when the capital city of Kyiv alone suffered a million casualties—more than the total number of American casualties in the entire war. In the countryside, the fighting destroyed 28,000 villages.
The following day I visited a grassy ravine at the edge of the city. Today Babi Yar is a park, a peaceful sylvan setting nestled in a neighborhood of shops and houses; but the very name conjures up scenes of genocide. Babi Yar was Hitler’s first act of mass murder in his campaign against the Jews. SS soldiers rounded up the city’s Jews, stripped them naked, and machine-gunned them at the edge of a cliff. Around 22,000 died the first day and 12,000 the second. More than a million Jewish Ukrainians would die in the Holocaust, including many relatives of President Zelensky—a Jew—who understandably finds it revolting when Putin calls him a “neo-Nazi.”
Hitler’s defeat led to four more decades of Soviet occupation. When the USSR began to fall apart, fracturing into 15 countries, Ukraine at last saw an opportunity to become independent. In 1990, 300,000 Ukrainians formed a human chain in a show of unity, linking hands along a 340-mile route from Kyiv to Lviv. The next year, 92 percent of the population voted for independence from Russia. In a separate agreement, the new nation gave up its nuclear weapons (the world’s third largest stockpile) in exchange for security guarantees. As one of the signatories, Russia agreed to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Democracy got off to a rough start in Ukraine. If you think U.S. elections are dirty, consider that in 2004, when the Ukrainian reformer Viktor Yushchenko dared to challenge the party backed by Russia, he nearly died from a suspicious case of dioxin poisoning. Ignoring the warning, Yushchenko, his body weakened and his face permanently disfigured by the poison, remained in the race. On election day, exit polls showed him with an 11 percent lead; through outright fraud the government managed to reverse those results.
In one of the little-known twists of history, deaf people sparked a peaceful revolution. After the election, the state-run television station reported, “Ladies and gentlemen, we announce that the challenger Viktor Yushchenko has been decisively defeated.” However, government authorities had failed to take into account one feature of Ukrainian television: the translation it provides for the hearing-impaired. On the picture-in-picture inset at the bottom of the television screen, a brave woman raised by deaf parents gave a very different message in sign language.
Natalia Dmytruk had tired of translating the official state propaganda. “After every broadcast I had to render in sign language, I felt dirty,” she later explained. “I wanted to wash my hands.” So one day she decided to tell the truth. On live television, she signed, “I am addressing everybody who is deaf in Ukraine. Do not trust the results of the central election committee. They are all lies and I am ashamed to translate these lies. Yushchenko is our true President! Goodbye, you will probably never see me here again.”
Inspired by their translator, deaf people text-messaged and emailed their friends about the fraudulent elections. Soon other journalists took courage from Dmytruk’s act of defiance and likewise refused to broadcast the party line. Spontaneous protests broke out in major cities, giving birth to the Orange Revolution. Dmytruk herself became a hero to her colleagues, who joined a strike and took up the chant, “No more lies, no more lies,” until the government stopped dictating the news.
In the capital Kyiv, 500,000 Ukrainians flooded Independence Square, many of them camping out in frigid weather and wearing orange in support of Yushchenko’s campaign colors. Over the next few weeks, the crowd at times swelled to a million. When outside observers proved election fraud had occurred, the courts ordered a new election, and this time Yushchenko emerged as the undisputed winner.
Skip forward ten years. Once again the Russian-backed candidate that Yushchenko had defeated was serving as President. He had amassed a fortune of $12 billion, and lived in a mansion complete with a private zoo, a fleet of 35 cars, a golf course, and an underground shooting range—while most Ukrainians were living in poverty. When he halted the new nation’s tilt toward Europe and instead sought closer ties with Russia, again Ukrainians took to the streets. Parliament ultimately ordered new elections and a pro-Europe president won.
As I’ve written elsewhere, a guide named Oleg led me through memorials to the “Heavenly Hundred” (actually 130) killed by snipers firing from government buildings during the 2014 uprising. Another 15,000 demonstrators were injured. “This was an internet revolution,” Oleg said. “As word spread online, taxis began offering free rides to protesters from all over the city. I set up a prayer tent in the midst of half a million protesters and spent 67 days there. We provided a place for prayer, and distributed bread and hot tea to activists and police alike. And now I make trips to the front lines in an armored van, ferrying supplies of food and water to the soldiers and civilians caught up in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.”
During the 2014 “Revolution of Dignity,” Russia used the opportunity to seize the Crimea peninsula and two other regions, starting a minor war that set the stage for the full-scale invasion we are watching now.
In a recent post, I referred to the poignant poem by Ann Weems, “I No Longer Pray for Peace.” Like many Americans, I feel a sense of helpless despair as I see the death and devastation in Ukraine. Will this freedom-loving people be defeated again? How can we pray at such a time?
I pray first for the 40 million Ukrainians left behind, struggling to survive as missiles scream overhead and tanks target their homes and hospitals.
I pray for the refugees streaming into Poland, Hungary, Moldova, and Romania, as well as the thousands lucky enough to escape to faraway places such as the U.K., France, Canada, and the U.S. And for the husbands and fathers who remain in their homeland, risking their lives to repel invaders. And for the host families who meet refugees at border crossings and train stations with offers of free lodging.
I pray for the Christian ministries such as Mission Eurasia and New Hope Ukraine, many of which were based in the bedroom community of Irpin, scene of some of the fiercest fighting. One of the leaders recently reported, “We’ve learned to love and to hate on a whole new level. We’ve discovered what it means to hate evil to the very core of our being. And we learned to love the truth. The truth that sets us free.…Many of us just don’t have any tears left. Now we all are just so angry about all the injustices done to us, and we ask the Lord of Hosts to display His righteous judgment.”
I pray for the Russian soldiers. British intelligence has intercepted some of their panicky phone calls home. They expected to be welcomed with flowers, as liberators, and instead find themselves in the midst of a bloody war against Ukrainians determined to resist. The New York Times reports that some demoralized Russian units have laid down their weapons and surrendered, or sabotaged their vehicles, to avoid a fight.
I pray for the Russian people, who hear an entirely different version of events. It’s a limited military operation, they’re told, with few civilian casualties. Meanwhile, the hostile West is trying to strangle their country economically. Any who protest against the war are arrested, and merely using the word war on social media risks possible jail time.
I pray for my own country, that we would not grow weary of higher gas prices and a falling stock market and fail to support those who stand up for freedom and justice.
Yes, I also pray for Vladimir Putin. Did not Jesus tell us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? It would take a colossal miracle for a dictator with such ego-driven determination to experience a change of heart—the kind of miracle the exiled Hebrews witnessed in Nebuchadnezzar’s day (Daniel 4).
Tish Harrison Warren wrote recently of the maternal rage she felt while staring at the image of an anguished Ukrainian father holding his young son’s lifeless, blood-stained body. “An innocent child was violently killed because Russia’s leader decided that he wanted a neighboring sovereign country as his own.” She found an odd kind of solace in the imprecatory psalms, which call down God’s judgment on evil.
“This is the world we live in,” Warren wrote. “We cannot simply hold hands, sing ‘Kumbaya,’ and hope for the best. Our hearts call out for judgment against the wickedness that leaves fathers weeping alone over their silent sons. We need words to express our indignation at this evil.”
For Christians, Vladimir Putin offers a cautionary tale. After the Soviet Union collapsed, formerly atheist Russia warmly welcomed an influx of foreign missionaries who taught Bible in the public schools, established a Christian university, and organized a host of ministries. Many of them praised Putin, who rebuilt churches and took their side on Russia’s version of “culture wars.”
Eventually, though, most foreign-based ministries were forced out by a strategic alliance between Putin and his steadfast supporter, the Russian Orthodox Church. The official church gained access to power and government sponsorship while Putin gained a loyal following. Theologian Russell Moore draws a lesson we dare not ignore. “Evangelical Christians should watch the way of Vladimir Putin—and we should recognize it whenever we are told that we need a Pharaoh or a Barabbas or a Caesar to protect us from our real or perceived enemies. Whenever that happens, we should remember how to say, in any language: ‘Nyet.’”
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Hello, Thank you for you ministry and your work!
I’m against this war and this government, and have a lot of Ukrainian friends whom I’m trying to help right now.
Mostly agree with this article, but as a historian can say, it was twisted a lot of fact of history (1- Babi Yar- arranged by Nazi but fulfilled by Ukrainian Auxiliary Police. 2 – gave up its nuclear weapons (Before it was Russian territory, weapons belong to Russian, they just pull it from not-Russian anymore place. And etc. )
Please check your sources.
I support Ukrainian with all my heart, I’m just against one-sided perception of history.
I am using this blog with my church in connection with your chapter “Dispensing God’s Grace; How can we do it?” I have learned that Disaster Assistance Mission, a Church of Christ organization in Lake Jackson, Texas is sending medical supplies (tourniquets, trauma kits, bandages, blood clotting medium) to missionaries inside of Ukraine and that World Vision has people working all over Eastern Europe to help refuges. Pray for all of these efforts.
I pray and ask God why He’s letting this happen, but I lost 3 phone friends there. We had English language & cat-love in common.
The two who are still alive are no longer doing well; I’ve watched while one, who was a calm & loving person before this happened, has spiraled into anger, down through rage and into a hardened hatred that shocks me. I never thought it was possible for someone who was calm and loving to reach this sunless place in her life – in 2 week’s time.
So, no, I’m sorry; but I don’t understand why this situation needs to happen. I just don’t understand it and I can’t make myself do so.
The woman’s name is Xenta, on Twitter. You’ll see for yourself if you go there, what she’s like now, but you probably won’t see the her that I met 2 years ago. 😢
Thank you, Philip, your words say what my heart holds. God hears every prayer, sees every tear. I pray with the Psalmist How long o Lord, how long! The Psalms are my help. Thank you again, please continue to write. My prayers are with you. Pray for me too. God bless you!
Thank you for your words and informative article. I often look to your post to read your thoughts when tragedies arise. I also enjoyed reading all the comments – I especially appreciate Simona Rad’s words.
I would add to the list of persons to pray for to include our government leaders, Europe’s government leaders and China’s leaders. There are a lot of decisions being made and yet to be made. I pray that God would have his hand on these leaders and move their hearts to follow His guidance.
As individuals I pray we will have discernment for what is true and right and work towards bringing God’s will to Earth as it is in Heaven.
Last week I had to prepare a sermon on the Gospel reading – Luke 13:31-35 – the fox (Herod) and the hen (Jesus). That, plus an experience I had a few years ago when I went into nearby forest a couple of days after a bushfire as a chaplain, to talk to farmers and orchardists. One farmer had lost 60 of his chickens which were locked up, leaving another 60 to run away from the fire. After the interview, as we were leaving, I noticed a little hen with half a dozen chickens behinds her. I did my sums. I asked the farmer about her. He said, “She was brooding at the time, and when the fire came through, when the others fled, she ran back to the nest. The fire raged about her and the next day the eggs hatched.” That story, plus what we are witnessing in the Ukraine, ended up in this poem, ‘The fox and the Hen.’
The fox and the hen
1. Said the fox to the hen, “I have your measure.
I can do what I like, I can take my pleasure.
I can whip you and taunt you, and hang you on a tree,
I can plunder and pillage, and destroy all I see.”
2. Said the hen to the fox, “I know your kind.
I know all your scheming, and I know your design;
for you seek to destroy me and those of my kind.
But the fire that you bring will not change my mind.”
3. Said the fox to the hen, “Your destruction is nigh,
And who will be with you when you suffer and die?”
Said the hen, “Though abandoned and left all alone,
I will love them and gather them, and call them my own.”
4 So the fox went the way of his anger and hate,
and the hen to her nest and her fiery fate.
But the fox, as he gloated and laughed in his den,
could never have reckoned on the love of the hen.
5. For she ran into the fire with a shout of joy
and a heart full of love that could never be destroyed.
And in three short days she would rise and bring
love and life to all who shelter beneath her wings.
©The Rev’d. Sr. Sandra Sears CSBC 12/3/22
Fine contemporary application of a biblical image. Jesus made the comment– “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Mat. 23:37b)–knowing that war and destruction were about to descend on Jerusalem.
Thank You Phillip!
I’m reminded of the Edmond Burke quote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. As difficult as it may be, I pray that the US, Canada and Western Europe will do whatever is necessary, and soon, to act as a force for good to overcome the evil of President Putin and insure that Ukraine remains a sovereign nation!
Are you aware of any US Christian organizations that are facilitating the immigration of Ukraine refugees to the U.S.?
Appreciate your thoughtfulness on this issue.
No, Duncan, I haven’t heard of any assisting immigration here. Lutheran World Relief has a long history with refugees, so they may.
Thank you for educating us and showing us how to pray during this awful time. It angers and grieves me to see such similarities in America, something I never dreamed I would see in my lifetime. I will be sharing your blog with others.
I think of the miniseries “Chernobyl”.(Must watch, if you haven’t!) The story of that fiasco is certainly an illustration of the disastrous consequences of a totalitarian regime’s determination to force its version of “the truth” on people. Sad that Russia is suffering under this delusion, but sadly, the lessons of history have not been learned, and Ukraine is again an innocent victim. Kyrie Eleison
Thank you for this thought-invoking article. Philip, I appreciate the way you listed the people and parameters that we can and must cover in prayer. And yes, knowing the right time, the right way to say ‘nyet’ with the right perspective, does matter more than we can imagine.
The poem is by Magnolia Taylor a 10th grader in Arden Hills Minnesota her grandfather was professor of English literature at Bethel University for 30+ years Daniel Taylor Author of letters to my children
I know Daniel! And what a feat for a 10th-grader. Daniel passed along his literary genes.
great article. Also, his memoir is must reading to give you a outstanding appreciation for how God redeemed his life from the invasion of racism , the untruths of Fundamentalism and a deeply flawed, misguided mother who herself was invaded by the untruths and a deeply flawed mother. While some have found most of his memoir depressing I noted glimpses of grace throughout the book until the culmination of his conversion.
While I sometimes pray for Putin to repent I am also willing to pray more frequently that God would remove him as he did some of the Old Testament kings; and more especially I have dared to pray Acts 12:23 that an angel of the Lord would strike him down as he did Herod. This is in line with the Psalms that ask God to take action against David’s enemies such as Psalm 7, 109. It is in God’s sovereign will to bring Putin to repentance or to remove him. It is also good to pray for supernatural protection for the Ukrainian people as well as Russian soldiers who are duped to fight a war they have been lied to .
Then as always to pray the Lord’s Prayer, imagining, if possible. that I am one of the Ukrainian refugees: for daily bread, for a heart to forgive, and to be delivered from (the) evil (one).
Thank you Philip for this article. Heartbreaking what is happening in Ukraine. I just watched a movie on Hulu called “Mr. Jones”. This movie was about a Welsh journalist who documented the horrors of the holodomor in 1932-1933 Ukraine. I highly recommend the film. It definitely adds some context to the terrible events occurring now.
Thank you Philip for expressing my own thoughts so clearly. I have been praying exactly as you have. It seems so hopeless and requires a choice every day, for the faith to continue to pray believing in the possibility of positive answers. Please God of mercy, have mercy on all, perpetrators and sufferers. And bless you Philip for your Godly words.
In 1859, Ukrainian Taras Shevchenko wrote a poem titled “Calamity Again.” It highlighted the repeated suffering of the Ukrainian people. My poem references that piece and is inspired by the current events in Ukraine.
“Dear God, calamity again! / It was so peaceful, so serene; / We had just begun to break the chains / That bind our folk in slavery / When halt! Once again the people’s blood / Is streaming …”
— “Calamity Again,” Taras Shevchenko
“Calamity Again” Again?
“Calamity Again” is written across Ukrainian faces.
Streets packed with cars.
Missiles infest neighborhood apartments.
Iron beams are twisted like yarn.
Bloodstained debris piles up.
Ukrainians walk out of police stations carrying tools of death.
Time to practice is a luxury.
Grandmas and grandsons alike are armed with AK-47s.
Unsure, they pray to the heavens.
Women no longer drink cocktails.
Now they throw them at soldiers and tanks.
Assembly lines of tears and hurt, poured into old glass bottles,
Deadly candles ready to explode.
Subways — once a place of excitement.
A way to get home.
Now where do people get off?
They have no destination.
Hours in a mobbed train station pass.
People crushing forward to depart from all they’ve known.
The switch is flipped.
Now everyone sees.
War is a master of alteration.
Dads run with their family to the finish line,
Just to turn and go back to the start.
War takes a picture from a photo album and turns it into an article announcing,
“Polina, 1 of 16 children dead!”
17 miles of tanks line up outside Kyiv,
As newborn babies line up in underground parking lots.
Dreams end as a 6-year-old dies in her blood-soaked unicorn pajamas.
Doctors cry over her —
tears can’t reverse Russian shells.
War twists a Ukrainian orphanage into a gateway for soldiers to enter an innocent country.
Putin says “the Ukraine” is Russia’s brother, its culture plagued by Neo Nazis.
Listen up “the Russia,” stop being the Nazis of old.
The Ukraine is Ukraine.
Putin, you’re the one who’s inhumane.
44 million lives, 8 billion pairs of eyes watching, waiting.
Must we have calamity?
Magnolia Taylor is a sophomore at Mounds View High School. She lives in Arden H
You capture the ongoing tragedy in rich images. One question, though: is the poem by Paul Wicklund or by Magnolia Taylor?
Phillip Yancey–still speaking mighty truths!
They are amazingly brave people! Ukraine has a border of 60 miles with the small country of Slovakia. I have family who are supporting the 220,000 people that have come into their country. They keep me updated. I thank God there are countries who are chosing to help.
Many have. There is a letter signed by MANY Eastern Orthodox scholars and clergy, including Arch priest John Behr and Arch Bishop Lazar Pahlo saying it is wrong. Just because you may not have seen it does not mean it’s not there! I have seen it. But those who have not, fear is a hard thing to look in the face. We can pray they overcome it.The last think part of our body needs is judgement and more division. And you are a man who refuses to divide. Please be careful. Our body cannot be one if you do. You have influence! What you say is listened too! The body is hurting and suffering terribly.
Just to be clear, I was referring to the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia, not to Orthodoxy in general, or elsewhere in the world.
As always, I appreciate your challenging and comforting words, Philip. Thank you. My heart grieves deeply for Ukrainians, along with the Russians. I am currently in the Middle East and the “rumors of war” are at hand and people are on edge.
A thought provoking article, Mr. Yancey reminding the importance of saying nyet at the right time, to the right thing, with the right motive. GOD bless you
At the end of WWII I was 12 years old living near Dresden experiencing Russian combat troops battling the SS forces in our town. The American Army, pushing from the West had the lines of combat in constant flux.
The images of Ukraine today are a stark reminder and I am much aware of what the people there are thrust into.
It is unimaginable to the outsider.
Humans become animals in time of war.
Thanks Philip. I shall pray with you for a change of heart in Putin. Like you said, if Nebuchadnezzar could have a change of heart, so can Putin. Dan 4:37 “In conclusion, I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt, and give glory to the King of heaven: For everything he does is true, his ways are just, and he is able to humble those who walk in pride.”
Very hard to digest truths and stories.
I live in Romania. I find it hard to see beyond my own fear of possible upcoming war and hard to face the pain of so many Ukrainians. It is overwhelming, too much for me to bear.
And I am a Christian. I trust God and love God. But sometimes I am angry maybe at Him as well. I struggle with my mental health sometimes, always have… And I find it even harder in these kind of contexts to keep myself filled with God, filled with upcoming Hope that we have in Him which surpasses earthly terror.
And my country is not even at war yet…
But I do pray we learn to see beyond ourselves, I pray that God would show up for Ukrainians in the midst of this tragedy in ways that only He can do and I pray we learn to rely on our Rock no matter what comes, always.
And know that He is with us, until the end of times.
May He fill us with courage !
Thank you for the post, Phillip!
Your comments remind me of the Psalms. Many of those poems were written amidst war, and move from struggle and anger to cries for help.
Excellent!!! May America have the courage to stand up for freedom and justice. Yes, there is usually a great price to be paid by those who speak out against evil, but there comes a time when we must, regardless of the cost. NOW IS THAT TIME!!!
Thank you, Mr. Yancey for giving words to my feelings.
Excellent Ukraine article …..
Very thought provoking…thanks Philip for this perspective. I pray a leader in our country would step up and lead as the President of Ukraine has. Here in America our prosperity has seemingly caused us to lose our way. Perhaps we must lose it in order to find it? We do not rely on God – we trust in ourselves.
Thank you for these words, which mirror my heart. My prayers are also for the people of Ukraine, refugees, those suffering the loss of everyone and everything they hold dear. And my prayers are also for the people of Russia who are being lied to, for a miracle to replace the stone cold heart of Putin with a heart of flesh, and for the Russian military who are being challenged to follow their conscience. Your words flesh out my understanding and prayers, and I am grateful to you for this. Debra
A heartwrenching history – thank you Philip. Decades of evil inflicted on a people who stil teach the west about honour. God save Ukraine!
Thank you. And God bless and save Ukraine!
Wow! Thank you!
Outstanding email form Philiip Yancy!! Paul Baxendale
Not all the Russian Orthodox stand with Kirill. Many do not. Please be clear. Otherwise you demonise thousands of Eastern Orthodox christians who pray and watch in horror at what one twisted leader of the church is doing, whilst others of the SAME denomination abhor it. And I am sure you do not mean to do that.
An important reminder, thank you. If only their leaders would show the same integrity and courage.