Ukraine Trip Report—March 2023

by David Nakhla

The following is a report provided to the OPC Committee on Diaconal Ministries by the administrator of the OPC CDM after a significant and enlightening trip to Ukraine, during the war. To learn more, please consider listening to our podcast, “The Reformed Deacon—Fingerprints from the Pew: Crates for Ukraine”. You can also find this podcast on your favorite podcast player.

Photo gallery is below the report.

DATES:  March 13-20, 2023


  • MTW
    • Jon Eide – MTW Eastern Europe Director
  • OPC
    • David Nakhla – Administrator for CDM
    • John Voss, Jr. – Member of the CDM
    • Jamie Dean – OPC Communications Coordinator, OPC Reporter


  • MTW Team Members – L’viv
    • Doug Shepherd (Masha) – MTW Missionary, L’viv team leader
    • Heero Hacquebord (Anya) – OPC Missionary, L’viv MTW team member
    • Jon Powell (Olya) – MTW Missionary, L’viv team member
    • Andrew Sheppard – MTW Missionary, L’viv team member
    • Virginia Cruz – MTW Missionary, L’viv team member
  • MTW Team Members – Odessa
    • Mr. Bob Burnham (family in Brasov, Romania) – MTW Missionary, Odessa team leader
  • EPCU – L’viv
    • Olena Blida – Driver for Crates for Ukraine
    • Ruslan Kon – Manager of Crates for Ukraine Warehouse
    • Viktoria Agarkov
  • EPCU – Odessa
    • Rev. George Kadyan (Senzhana) – Pastor of EPCU in northern Odessa
    • Rev. Valeri Zadorozhniy – Pastor of EPCU in downtown Odessa
    • Misha & Lena Kozakov – Member of EPCU in downtown Odessa, volunteers in diaconal distributions
    • Masha Kalmakov – Member of EPCU in downtown Odessa, volunteers in diaconal distributions & interpreter
  • EPCU – Mykolaiv
    • Rev. Andre Vakulenko – Pastor of EPCU in Mykolaiv, wife is Anya
    • Andre’s brother, Artyom (not member of church)
  • Refugees – Odessa
    • Two women
    1. Monday, 3/13
      1. Travelled to Poland.
    1. Tuesday, 3/14
      1. Travelled to Ukraine.
      1. Interviewed Olena Blida
    1. Wednesday, 3/15 – L’VIV
      1. Interviewed Doug Shepherd.
      1. Toured of MTW College Ministry offices.
      1. Met Crates for Ukraine Distribution Team:
        1. Doug Shepherd
        1. Olena Blida
        1. Ruslan Kon
        1. Viktoria Agarkov
        1. Virginia Cruz.
      1. Toured Holy Trinity EPCU in L’viv.
      1. Toured Crates for Ukraine warehouse.
      1. Interviewed Ruslan Kon and Viktoria Agarkov.
    1. Thursday, 3/16 – L’VIV
      1. Interviewed Heero Hacquebord
      1. Toured city of L’viv.
      1. Met L’viv MTW Team:
        1. Doug & Masha Shepherd (& 3 children)
        1. Heero & Anya Hacquebord
        1. Jon and Olya Powell
        1. Andrew Sheppard
        1. Virginia Cruz
    1. Friday, 3/17 – ODESSA
      1. Interviewed two refugee women (performed by Jamie privately).
      1. Interviewed Rev. Andre Vakulenko & his brother Artyom.
      1. Delivered 10 boxes of supplies.
      1. Interviewed Rev. George & Senzhana Kadyan.
      1. Toured city of Odessa.
      1. Interviewed Bob Burnham.
    1. Saturday, 3/18 – ODESSA
      1. Toured historic reformed church building (EPCU) in downtown Odessa.
      1. Interviewed Misha & Lena Kozakov (instrumental in the diaconal outreach ministry).
      1. Interviewed Rev. Valeri Zadorozhniy.
      1. Toured the diaconal ministry work.
      1. Toured EPCU’s literature publishing house.
    1. Sunday, 3/19 – L’VIV
      1. Worshipped at Holy Trinity EPCU with Heero preaching.
    1. Monday, 3/20 
      1. Travelled home.
      • The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ukraine is there as a fruit of the labors of MTW missionaries who began working in eastern Europe after the fall of communism in the early 90’s as part of the Commission Project, a number of whom are still laboring in Ukraine: Doug, Jon, Heero, Bob, etc.  Most members of the EPCU that we met were first generation Christians, young and old.  Very encouraging.
      • Several of the EPCU congregations are self-supporting.
      • Many young men are pursuing the ministry, studying in Kiev.
      • The L’viv congregation tends to be full of young people, which is encouraging.
      • There is a growing interest in the country to move away from Russian and towards the Ukrainian language.  The EPCU has translated many works into Ukrainian, such that there seems to be a sudden increase in interest in Christian books published in Ukrainian.
      • The historic reformed church building in downtown Odessa was reclaimed by the EPCU from the communists in the early 90’s when a law was passed that allowed private property seized during communism to be returned to its rightful owner.  MTW raised $1million (the largest such project by MTW at that time) to restore the building.  It’s beautiful and so well done!
      • L’viv church member Ruslan Kon was converted through the ministry of the L’viv team and now aspires to ministry himself.
      • There is a huge sense of gratitude to all, and particularly expressed to the OPC during our visit, for standing with them at this time.  Doug Shepherd, in expressing his gratitude, described the OPC as “punching above our weight class.”
      • There seems to be a lot of gratitude and fulfillment in supplying others with these gifts.
      • We noted that there is a witness given with the goods by virtue of the church’s website and access to the Ukrainian publishing house posted on each crate.  They see this as sowing many seeds in many directions.
      • They have had several individuals search out the church in L’viv specifically to express their thanks for the gifts given.  One person even brought them a box of chocolates!
      • They have learned of a few stories where the first aid equipment resulted in physically saving the life of an individual; either a soldier or a civilian.  (Apparently it can take as much as 4 hours to be transported from the front lines to a field hospital; if bleeding is not arrested quickly and properly the victim can die simply from bleeding out.)
      • They are processing a lot of goods; this is not your typical diaconal distribution.  They seem to be seeking to be faithful to bring a gospel witness with each distribution as they are able; but they do have limits on what they can do.
      • The word they receive from recipients is that the quality of the aid being sent through the CFU program is far superior to what is coming to Ukraine via other channels.   (No more receiving weird stuff, like “vegan cat food” per Doug Shepherd.)
      • EPCU church members are active in this ministry of mercy.  Ruslan and Olena work full time in this work.  (They do receive some sort of stipend for their labors.)
        • Olena has driven the 6+ hour route between Krakow and L’viv so many times.  She transported most of the 1350 crates (48/trip) during the summer “Crates for Ukraine” effort.
        • Ruslan serves to oversee the warehouse and where shipments are sent.  He was active in listing what was to supplied in crates from the States: that which was needed by those on/near the front lines, but would be better quality while less expensive when sent from the States.
      • People are living under considerable uncertainty – of the future, the outcome, the long-term effects of the stress, of a possible airstrike or even nuclear/chemical attack according to Putin’s mood that day.  Their economy, employment, safety and future seem to all be in the balance.
      • Everyone seems to be struggling with a bit of PTSD.  They are able to talk about generalities, but when pushed into personal reflections on “where were you the day the active war broke out”, most are overcome with emotion.
      • They are convinced this war is a genocide; that Putin’s intent is to stamp out the Ukrainian people.  They point to the evidence of the propaganda he’s feeding the Russian people and by the way that the residents of captured cities have been treated.
      • They are very concerned that the support for this war, financial and otherwise, particularly from the US, may not continue.  They find themselves strongly dependent on it.
      • It is difficult for those serving in Ukraine to understand how Christians in the States have bought into the propaganda that suggests that Ukraine is to blame for this war.  Their incredulity is based on the documented atrocities being committed by the Russians against Ukraine and its citizens.
      • In the western cities of L’viv and Odessa, it seems that they seek to carry out their lives in as normal a way as possible, despite the circumstances. That said, they are all “affected people”, so they each suffer some level of PTSD.  Many probably feel a level of “survivor guilt”, hearing of the circumstances of those who live near the front or even in occupied territory.  The homes of many have been destroyed and/or looted.  Further, while there is a degree of difficulty living as the “survivors”, this conflict is not over such that those who are survivors today don’t know that they will continue as survivors tomorrow.
      • Men between the age of 18-60 could be called up at any moment and given 24 hours notice to report.  (Heero himself has been approached on the streets of L’viv; he is a resident, but also a US citizen.  He’s not sure that he could be called to serve.)
      • Men called up to serve may be asked to supply their own equipment.  It’s not clear whether this is based on shortages or due to corruption.  Regardless, the church is convinced that paying for protective equipment, especially for their church members, is a legitimate ministry of mercy to those conscripted to fight.
      • One couple pointed out that unlike most other wars, the target of the most attacks have been in villages. Some villages have been completely ravaged, while those in the big cities have been much safer.  (Clearly, some large cities like Mariupol have been utterly demolished, so this has not been true across the spectrum.)
    • Many are clearly clinging to God’s sovereignty and care throughout this experience.
    • Some wrestle with understanding why God allows some of the horrific aspects of this war to persist.
    • I felt like it gave a sense of what World War II must have been like.  Very difficult things occurring just a short ways away, but in the next village life goes on, mouths must be fed, cows need to be milked, without knowing when their turn might come.
    • The CFU effort has been a lifeline of connection between the mission team, the EPCU, and the church back in the States.  It’s not been easy, but certainly worthwhile and has brought helpful connectionalism.

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