You won't hear these stories anywhere else. But for Christians, they are an encouraging reminder that Ukranians are people of deep conviction, who are well used to keeping the faith in dark times
Watching the resistance of the people of Ukraine to the onslaught of the Russian army over the last few days has been both inspiring and horrifying. Their military forces have resisted far more effectively than anyone thought possible; the population seems resolute in their opposition; and the nations of the world have spoken almost as one in condemning Russia’s aggression. At the same time, we’re conscious of the human cost of this war, and of the physical, mental and spiritual toll it’s taking on those affected by it.
To the outside observer, it might seem very odd that for many Christians in the country, their response to what’s happening has been shaped not primarily by patriotism, anger or fear, but by their faith.
Bible Society has been in close touch with our colleagues in the Ukraine Bible Society, and we have heard some remarkable stories. In the bomb shelters, the churches, the shrapnel-strewn streets, on the roads crowded with refugees, Christ has been present and the gospel has been shared. We should not really be surprised at this; these are people of deep conviction, many of whom kept the faith during the darkest days of communism and who know what it means to suffer for Christ. When the airwaves carry news about bombs and battles, and our screens are filled with images of death and destruction, it’s easy to get sucked into believing that those are the only stories that matter. But there are other stories, and in the days to come they’ll be the ones that matter even more.
For instance: staff from Ukraine Bible Society have been delivering food, bottled drinks, medicines and Bibles to people in bomb shelters in Kyiv. Last weekend, when there was a curfew, they were given special permission by the military to do this.
A pastor went into a Bible Society office asking for Bibles, but there weren’t any left in stock. He asked if there were any at all. ”Even with half pages missing, or damaged,” he said, “these Bibles would be of immense value to people my congregation serves.”
On Wednesday all of the Church leaders in Ukraine gathered in St Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv to pray for their country at the request of President Zelenskyi. A Bible Society representative read Psalm 31.
One report said: ”People are afraid and it is not easy to stay the course, but the Bible Society staff remind themselves that they are on a mission and are focused on getting God’s word to people who need it because they understand how absolutely mission critical that is right now.
”We’ve had many, many pastors and priests coming to pick up Bibles. In the city, people are coming to church in the middle of the week, to evening prayer hour and many new people are coming. People are experiencing fear and the Bible can help.”
These stories don’t make headlines. But they speak of a kind of spiritual heroism - believers faithful to Christ’s calling in the most difficult circumstances imaginable
In the meantime, the war is getting closer and closer to them. An enormous bomb in Kharkiv fell close to the home of the Bible Society regional director and destroyed the school where his children studied; they all survived, but he says the people there are in bomb shelters 24/7.
An estimated one million people have now left the country, with many more fleeing to safer areas in Ukraine. Local churches are helping them by providing shelter, food and clothes, and pastors are providing scriptures.
These stories don’t make headlines. They lack the glamour of military action. But to those with ears to hear, they speak even more clearly of a kind of spiritual heroism which is even more impressive: these are believers faithful to Christ’s calling in the most difficult circumstances imaginable.
What’s clear is that amid the fear and uncertainty, and the crying need for food, shelter and body armour, another desperate need is for the word of God. The Ukraine Bible Society is reaching out with all the practical help it can offer, but it’s also asked for Bibles – 56,000 of them – and our own Bible Society is trying to supply them. Perhaps we needn’t imagine that a family in a cold shelter is going to engage in an in-depth study of Romans, but we can understand that a Bible can be a deep comfort in these times of such trial. It speaks of the angel with believers in the fiery furnace; of God parting the Red Sea for the fleeing Israelites; of a time when swords will be beaten into ploughshares.
Psalm 31 has become particularly meaningful in Ukraine. The Bible Society there has made a video in which contributors read it from their bedrooms, from bomb shelters, from the streets and the fields. Perhaps the most powerful verses are these: "Praise be to the Lord, for he showed me the wonders of his love when I was in a city under siege. In my alarm I said, ‘I am cut off from your sight!’ Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help.” (v21-22).
We continue to pray for Ukraine, and to thank God for the astonishing witness of his people there. Whatever the result of this war, may he honour their courage and faithfulness.
Details about Bible Society’s Ukraine appeal are here