… about four years ago, the war came, and it changed everything.
It has been 10 years since we last saw each other. Are you wondering if I’m still living in Ukraine because of the war? Yes, I’m still here. Thank you for being worried about me. There are difficulties, probably like everywhere, but — Thank God, all is well.
I’m glad to know that you want to come for a visit. I think you will love Ukraine, and that is why I am eager to answer all your questions concerning your coming. Trust me, Carlos, that everything I write here, will be my unbiased views on the current situation in the country. I guess when you read this letter, you’ll see how «scary» everything is…, i.e., all that you have heard about this country. Also, I don’t think it’s superfluous to remind you that more than 29 years of my life are connected to Ukraine. And although I was born in another country, sometimes, I feel that it has become my real home. Oftentimes, I joke that just little bit more — and I will become a real Ukrainian. I have spent most of my life here, more than in Ghana, where I was born and where all my ancestors come from. I received my higher medical education here; I also found my better half, here. All our children were born in Ukraine, and all of them consider themselves to be real Ukrainians, patriots of this beautiful land! It was here, too, the Lord called me to serve, and through that gave me a lot of amazing spiritual brothers and sisters: Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, and other representatives of the different nationalities living here.
I think, Carlos, you can now understand why I love this beautiful land and its people! I’m honestly concerned about Ukraine and pray for her almost every day.
It has been a particularly great blessing to witness the events of the last nearly thirty years’ events that eventually led to the establishment of an independent Ukrainian State. I saw how this young state arose — slowly but surely, freeing itself from the heavy heritage of communism. It was impossible not to see the negative consequences left by many decades of socialism and atheism in all spheres of life. But at the same time, it was always a great joy to see that along with the complex political, economic, and social problems, a spiritual awakening of the people was also taking place. Church buildings and ancient Cathedrals that were confiscated or destroyed by the communist party were returned or refurbished. New houses of prayers and church buildings were built. People prayed not only in chapels and churches, but also in community centers, open squares, and stadiums. Churches were replenished continuously with new converts spiritually hungry and zealous to know more about the teachings of the Bible. Of course, the accompanying problems and difficulties were many. However, despite the numerous political and religious differences, despite the persistent corruption and the consequent discontent of the people, the revival of faith in the hearts of the people did not stop. It was impossible not to see the persistent aspiration of people, especially among those of the younger generation, to improve their own personal existence. But about four years ago, the war came, and it changed everything. It has caused and continues to inflict wounds and pain throughout the country. In addition to economic damage, tens of thousands of Ukrainians have died during these years of war, and only the Lord knows the real scale of the losses.
Carlos, in your letter, you asked questions that I have been asked more than once since this war began. Remember, after we met, how long it took to explain to you where Ukraine is and what this country is? By the way, this didn’t only happen to you. I used to see this often when I went abroad. Now, all this has changed. A brutal war in Ukraine and the suffering of her people brought her fame in the international community. But unfortunately, with the war came false propaganda. In 2014, after a sermon in one of the churches abroad, several people approached me and sympathetically asked how I, as an African, can live in Ukraine. They wanted to know about the rampant fascism, about nationalists, and in particular about hatred for everything Russian. I tried to explain to them that despite all that they have heard, I am alright in Ukraine. But I could almost feel doubt along with bewilderment in their eyes. Unfortunately, my answers did not convince them. And you know — this isn’t the only time. So I’m not surprised that you are very anxious about whether or not you should come to Ukraine this summer. But I’m sure that you’ll believe what I tell you.
My dear friend, Carlos, I will try to address the issues that concern you briefly. As someone who has lived here for 29 years, I will tell you; there are a lot of problems, but not the ones you mentioned. So, let me quickly answer your questions one by one:
- You asked me about racism and xenophobia in Ukraine. To this, I can reply as follows: Ukrainians, as a majority, are friendly and peaceful. When you come to visit us in Vinnytsia, you will see a lot of foreigners who study here. They all live here amicably. In this city, we have many students of different nationalities: Arabs, Africans, Latinos, and, thanks be to God, everyone feels at home.
There are cases of xenophobia and racism here, but I wouldn’t say it’s any more common than you’d encounter in any other country. I look at it this way: where there are sinners, there will be these defects. I don’t think that in this fallen world, there’s a country where there’s no racism. So I cannot say that there’s none of what you’re asking about in Ukraine. However, I can, with some confidence, assume that the situation here is better than in many other countries.
- Concerning the persecution of the Russian-speaking people, I want to say this: much that you hear is fiction and an absurd fantasy. As with many other issues, I think that somewhere, somebody could give reason to believe so, and for someone, it became an excuse for invading a sovereign state. The truth is that the official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian. Personally, I consider this the sovereign right of the Ukrainian state. However, in Ukraine, at least everywhere I have visited, many people communicate freely in Russian. I myself live in Vinnytsia, where most speak Ukrainian, but I speak Russian, and I also preach in Russian in the Church every week. And I can assure you that no one is harassing or oppressing me for speaking Russian. I know a lot of people who are in the same position as I am, and who are treated the same way.
- As for the war, I will say this: Yes, there is a war in Ukraine, but it is not civil, as you heard somewhere. I believe, like many others who live here, that this war would have ended long ago if there had been no active intervention from a neighboring country. Although now almost nothing is said about this in international news, unfortunately, the war is still going on in eastern Ukraine, and people continue to die.
The paradoxical truth is that part of Ukraine is occupied, and over there, you see the destruction and the death of many people. While in the rest of the country, there is peace and tranquility. For example, many people have moved to our city from the east, where the war is going on. In 2014, a whole national university was evacuated from Donetsk to Vinnytsia because of the armed conflict. So now, about 5,800 students, 213 graduate students, and 587 teachers can continue to study and work in our city.
- Regarding hunger, there are economic difficulties in Ukraine, but there is no famine in the country. All these years, despite the war, people have continued to cultivate a uniquely fertile land, sowing, and harvesting. And thank God, every year, He provides a good harvest. Therefore, in general, despite all the difficulties, there is no food crisis, of which you wrote. If you manage to arrive before winter, I’ll treat you with grapes, pears, and apples from our garden and delicious raspberry and currant jam. I will also cook you a tasty Ukrainian borsch with vegetables that grow in our backyard. I promise you that you will like it!
- You also asked about relations with Russia. Of course, relations between Ukraine and Russia are very complicated now. Personally, I think that this is very bad. But in this, I do not see Ukraine being guilty. Many residents of these two fraternal countries are very closely related, and I know that many here would simply like to see this conflict cease. I have no doubt that there are such people also in Russia because both nations suffer from this confrontation in many things. I can say one thing for sure: Ukraine wants relations with Russia to be as a country that respects Ukrainian sovereignty and independence.
We pray for Ukraine, and of course, we do not forget Russia. This war is not God’s will. And we believe that the day will come when His will will be fulfilled here, on earth, as it is in Heaven.
Now I will answer your most important question — is it safe for you to come, or not? Carlos, you need to come, at least to see everything that I’ve written to you about for yourself! I do look forward to your visit, to introduce you to a beautiful country. Our whole family will be happy to host you in our house. We will do our best to give you a real Ukrainian hospitality! There are so many beautiful places here that you need to see and a lot of lovely people to whom I want to introduce you. Can’t wait to hear from you again!
Your faithful friend,