Five Ukrainian Christians who were caring for hundreds sheltering in a church basement until they were killed in the fighting have been remembered by residents of Mariupol in Ukraine.
Partners of Release International broke the news of their story.
Days before their deaths, the Christians rescued a man trapped inside a burning building while the city was under attack and led him to the Lord.
The believers were gathering food and medicine for the 200 or so people who had to take shelter for weeks in the basement of Central Baptist Church in Mariupol. They were taking care of church members, relatives and neighbours, including some who were not Christians.
As they were braving the bombardment to gather supplies, they found writing on a nearby fence saying: ‘Help us. There is a baby that needs food.’
By the grace of God, they were able to find and deliver baby formula, even as the area came under constant fire.
Then a neighbour told the Christians that the owner of a home nearby which had come under attack was trapped in his basement.
The house had been shelled many times by Russian Grad missiles. It was smouldering, and finally burst into flames. There were no firefighters and little water, so the Christians had to improvise ways to fight the fire while they worked to rescue the man.
They sawed through the floor to get to the basement, where the owner, Vova, was unable to move. He was buried up to his waist with one leg pinned and a broken arm.
Stanislav Burdun was on the rescue team. He called out to Vova: ‘You will live. Do you believe that God will save you?’
Vova had been buried for ten hours and was frozen. The rescue team had to throw water over him repeatedly to extinguish the flames that were reaching towards him. But finally, they were able to pull him clear.
They carried Vova to the church using a door as a stretcher. They gave him tea, washed him, changed his clothes and took him to the hospital in the morning. Later they were able to visit Vova in hospital.
He had survived and declared he believed in God.
Stanislav’s wife, Victoria, believes God saved Vova’s life. She said: ‘Three times it seemed that everything was in vain. But we prayed and God helped us put out the fire. There was no shelling during this period. We thank God that he gave us the time to save him.’
Victoria says the team had no fear during the rescue operation, because weeks ago 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!’
Victoria’s resolve would soon be put to the test.
On March 9, five rescuers, including her husband, left the church basement and drove off in a minivan in search of medicine and fuel. They never returned.
Later the burned-out shell of their vehicle was discovered, along with the bodies of four of the men. The car appeared to have taken a direct hit from a grenade launcher. A fifth man, Victoria’s husband, is still missing, presumed dead.
Two of the dead were from Central Baptist Church in Mariupol. The remaining three were from Bethany Church, Mariupol.
Release International partner, ‘Pavel’, who is based in Kiev said: ‘I feel the terrible pain for my dear brothers. Very painful…’
Another partner of Release, Voice of the Martyrs Korea, is supporting each of the five widows with an emergency gift, including Victoria.
They say: ‘They bore faithful witness to Christ unto death.’
And thinking back to Vova, who was rescued from the rubble and put his faith in Christ, they add: ‘We will have one more brother in heaven because of their ministry.’
Please keep praying for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, that they will know God’s presence with them, remain faithful under fire, and lead others to Jesus during this time of trial.
And please pray for the Russian Orthodox priests who are risking all to take a stand against Russia’s war, which has the backing of their church.