An answer to questions about the war against Ukraine

This week, a friend asked me to speak to things he has heard recently about the war…asked for background he could share with others. Here’s my response. I think you may find it helpful.

Thanks for your questions based on what you are hearing friends and other sources say about the invasion of Ukraine.

I first worked in Ukraine in 1992 (right after independence), and have taught in Ukraine more intensely since 2012. At the same time, I was working on both a Masters and Doctorate in Worship Studies–an “action-research” approach that involved careful study of my ministry context–that nation. Ukrainian history, church history, current affairs, and their relationship to Russia since the disintegration of the USSR have been primary topics for reading and writing in preparing my projects for classroom and conference work there. As you know, we also started ServeUkraine to come alongside those friends, colleagues, students, and church leaders who are doing relief work and require aid since the Russian invasion in February.

All that to say, I’m involved, and pretty broadly informed. My reading and research involves relationships with national church and ministry leaders, multiple international news sources, foreign affairs think tanks, and long-time observers of the Ukrainian situation. I was recently part of the Nashville Consultation on Ukraine in early November which involved Ukrainian church, political, and ministry leaders as well as nearly 100 ministry leaders, academics, pastors, and donors from all over North America. The head of the Baptist Union of Ukraine (2000+ churches, largest in Europe), leader of the Pentecostal Union, an Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (pay careful attention to that name), and an Auxiliary Bishop from the Roman Catholic Church were there. The only major Christian group not represented was the Ukrainian Greek Catholic (Eastern Rite Catholic) Church, whose leader had to drop at the last minute. There were members of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament), a Member of the European Parliament, leaders of ministries currently doing work in the country, local pastors, as well as the Mayor of Irpin, one of the cities severely damaged in the earliest stages of the war (about 5 miles from our campus in northwest Kyiv–I was there in September).

Steven Brooks, Myroslava Smetaniuk, Bria Blessing Pohle, Jesse Pohle, and me at the consultation.

Am I infallible on these matters? Absolutely not. Have I done, and am I doing my homework? Absolutely. Am I current? Yes.

Your two issues: is Zelenskyy a dictator, and is he curbing religious freedom in Ukraine? Two quick answers: No, and no. Some background…

First issue: Ukraine is under martial law. Russia has been attacking Ukraine, illegally annexing and occupying Ukrainian territory and killing since 2014, and seeking to undermine its sovereignty for many years before that.

In 2013, then-president Victor Yanukovich turned from saying he would ally with Europe to switching to Putin practically overnight. The country was enraged, and took to the central square (Maidan) of Kyiv in protest, starting with students, then thousands of others joined them from November 2013 to February 2014. Religious and political leaders took part, praying and protesting, and being shot at by the government’s secret police. Over 100 were killed by snipers, and eventually Yanukovich fled to Russia by helicopter in the middle of the night. He was totally in Putin’s pocket, and many Russian sympathizers and plants were all across the country. Yanukovich was found to have skimmed off millions from the national coffers to line his pocket, build his dream estate and fill accounts in many banks. Ukrainians call the process of getting him out as the “Revolution of Dignity” and set out to make changes. They did NOT want further alliance with Russia, period.

The parliament at that point named a Baptist layman to be interim President, and a Jewish lawyer to be Prime Minister, by the way.

Putin took the opportunity to illegally annex Crimea, and then seize a large portion of eastern Ukraine with his forces in anonymous fatigues and local sympathizers under false pretenses.

Since then, there has been another elected President, Petro Poroshenko, followed by Zelenskyy, who defeated Poroshenko cleanly in the next election. (More about Poroshenko in a bit.)

When the new phase of invasion began this past February, Zelenskyy declared martial law, sought to weed out those cooperating with Russia, including a couple of political parties who were more than sympathetic to Russia and calling for re-unification, etc. Those are the groups that he has banned. They continue to root out sympathizers who are cooperating with the occupying forces. Zelenskyy and the Rada also called for “national mobilization” which declared that all men between 18-60 could not leave the country with out express special permission as they might be needed.

This is what happens in war time, in martial law. Things that wouldn’t normally happen are set in place to try and preserve the nation. That is what Zelenskyy has done. (Was FDR a dictator during WWII? Some may have thought so, but he had wartime powers that gave him a lot of latitude, and in hindsight, we are still here.)

Second issue: Up until 2018, Ukraine had three (3) separate Orthodox Churches, dating back to independence in late 1991. They were the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (answering to Moscow), the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate (answering to leadership in Kyiv), and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – autocephalous, or independent. Ukraine also has in its constitution and in its practice, the greatest religious freedom of any nation in eastern Europe, if not all of Europe. Orthodox, Eastern Rite Catholic, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, other Protestant groups, even Jews and Muslims all meet together in an All-Ukraine Religious Council to advise the government.

The Moscow Patriarchate churches have always been an issue, hence the other two splits. Ukrainians wanted and deserved their official church. After all, back in 988, Christianity came to the east through Kyiv! Moscow or Russia did not exist. Back in 2018, after a good deal of lobbying from Poroshenko (a practicing Orthodox) and others with the Orthodox Church, international Orthodox leaders granted autonomy to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU, the KP and autocephalous churches primarily), and all parishes could make their own decisions where they would go. And go they went. The OCU Archbishop I spoke with here said that the number of parishes joining the OCU has increased exponentially since the invasion. I believe the majority have joined the OCU at this point, but UOC-MP holds a lot of sway in significant areas.

Interestingly, the Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill, who the MP churches answer to, has been internationally sanctioned since the earliest days of the invasion. Kirill is totally in Putin’s pocket, spouting the same false histories about the “Russian world,” and blessing and supporting Putin’s “special military operation” to the utmost.

The churches that have been raided have been MP churches. Ukrainian security forces have found Russian passports, millions of dollars, pro-Russian propaganda, etc. Here are two great reports from the Religious Information Service of Ukraine that will give some more insight from the other religious leaders about the MP churches being searched – “SBU raids Moscow Patriarchate churches” and “In UOC dioceses SBU finds Russian passports.”

So, Zelensky has powers under martial law, and the churches being searched are really in collusion with Russian efforts to wipe out Ukraine.

For better, consistent information, I recommend the best English-language news source in Ukraine, the Kyiv Independent, and reporting from the BBC, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and the Washington Post. Use the Atlantic Council’s Ukraine Alert for in-depth commentary on all that is happening. I also have several Telegram groups that have info straight from the sources and up-to-date reporting on attacks in the nation. (You can download the Telegram app from the App Store for Mac, iPhone, etc.)

The best, most-readable, and reliable history of Ukraine is The Gates of Europe by Serhii Plokhy, professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard. It is a pretty quick read, and will give you the best back-story. It was written after Maidan (2015), and will give you context for the fact Ukrainians and Russians are not brothers, and the history that Putin is twisting at best, totally fabricating in general.

I’ve also just read A Short History of Russia: How the World’s Largest Country Invented Itself, from the Pagans to Putin by British Russian Studies expert, Mark Galeotti. written in 2020. It’s just over 200 pages, an informed and entertaining read that clarifies both history and myths about modern Russia and its relationship to Ukraine.

I didn’t intend a major epistle, but so many have asked the questions, I thought it good to put it down in a form that I could post myself and also send to others.

Thanks for checking in with me. I’ve heard so much rubbish and out-and-out lies repeated by Christians especially in the last month. I am more than glad to redress the balance, especially with some of the stories I heard from leaders last month, and in my 8-10 days in Ukraine in September. I’m happy to recommend other resources as well.


11 December 2022

Ten months of serving Ukraine: a brief summary

Prior to the war, for ten years I have operated as a non-residential cross-cultural missionary in Ukraine, in-country for about 8 weeks every year, and working there by video chat, messaging, and teaching via Zoom the rest of the time. We also ran seven national training conferences for church leaders.

Now, in the midst of the horror of Russia’s war against Ukraine, God has provided a way to support and encourage our Ukrainian students, friends, and colleagues who are now refugees in their own nation and abroad. They are using the resources they have to press in to the needs of those around them no matter their current situation.

ServeUkraine mobilizes the global Church in order to meet the urgent and ongoing needs of Ukrainians. We are focused on serving and supporting Ukrainians in ministry who are doing the work, colleagues and ministries we already have relationship with, and others, by God’s grace. We are committed to helping meet physical, mental, financial, and spiritual needs.

Since the war began 24 February, you and ServeUkraine…

  • donated salary support for 45 seminary staff families
  • bought a bus used to evacuate students out of Kyiv at the start of the war, and now for delivery of humanitarian aid throughout the region
  • provided beds and bedding, microwaves, operating expenses, plus food for a month for the 200+ individuals and families displaced from the front in eastern Ukraine at the Morshyn Center (in conjunction with World Partners)
  • paid for and facilitated 7 families and individuals to evacuate to Norway, Sweden, and the US
  • supplied financial support, supplies, training, encouragement, and transportation for evacuated Ukrainian colleagues now in the US
  • covered medical and dental expenses for displaced refugees
  • purchased a commercial drone and four sets of body armor to support humanitarian aid workers in the field
  • provided school fees for a young special need student whose family has now been displaced twice due to the Russian invasions since 2014
  • replaced 100+ windows for 22 families in Irpin, where 70% of the buildings were damaged in the initial frontline stage of the war, and even
  • replaced money scammed from and provided a stroller for Ukrainian mom and under-one-year-old displaced in Poland.

And right now, we are…

  • purchasing 10 generators to be used and shared with families in need in Irpin (with Filadelfia Church)
  • providing 300 heavy winter blankets for displaced seniors in Kyiv (with Bible and Life Church), and
  • helping with travel costs for a Ukrainian family to send their son to the US college that is giving him a full scholarship.

Personally, in addition to establishing and running ServeUkraine, I…

  • wrote two articles for Christianity Today on the conflict
  • housed three sets of Ukrainian evacuees for six weeks total
  • presented the Ukrainian situation to Arts/Mission leaders from all over Europe in Sofia, Bulgaria
  • visited and encouraged current and former students displaced in Poland, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom
  • observed work being done in Warsaw and in Ukraine to help Ukrainian refugees
  • spoke at worship and prayer evening with a student team at the Morshyn Center
  • went to Ukraine and saw firsthand the work we’ve done in Irpin, and met with families there and other contacts in Kyiv
  • taught second year students live at the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary in L’viv in September
  • took part and helped with the Nashville Consultation on Ukraine in November alongside our friends at Mission Eurasia, and
  • taught second year classes for the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary on Zoom in December.

We have seen over $110,000 invested this year in serving and supporting the urgent needs of Ukrainians in the first days of this ministry. 

Thank you.

The needs continue and we will continue to gather and give support with a more intense ministry focus in the new year. More news coming soon.

Continue to pray for and stand with Ukraine as we look to serve urgent needs.

A blessed New Year to you!

Thanking God for your partnership,


Year-end involvement giving

We are so grateful for those who have chosen to partner with our ministry of training church leaders and providing relief in Ukraine in 2022.

If you would like to give a further year-end gift to our work, you have two choices: is our relief fund that is primarily dedicated to serving those Ukrainians who are doing the work helping others on the ground since the Russian invasion.

MusicWorks International is our overall ministry fund which allows us to keep doing the work we do in training church leaders in worship and theology, and now also running ServeUkraine.

(All donations submitted online by 11.59pm on 31 December are tax-deductible for the 2022 tax year in the USA.)

Thank you.

Дякую тобі! Thank you!

As of 15 December, we have seen over $18,000 come in for our current need in three areas: 10 generators for use in the city of Irpin, 300 blankets to help the displaced without power in Kyiv, and help for specific family and individual needs.

Praise God for faithful giving!

Please consider a year-end gift at to allow us to respond quickly to urgent needs. Thank you again. #standwithukraine #prayforukraine #serveukraine

For Giving Tuesday…

The need in Ukraine is overwhelming. I experienced it first-hand in September as I spent time in Morshyn, Stryi, and L’viv in western Ukraine and then Irpin, Bucha, Pushcha-Voditsya, and Kyiv in central Ukraine. The toll in homes and buildings damaged or destroyed, atrocities committed, and lives lost is staggering, and I just saw a small portion from the start of the invasion. And now, civilian infrastructure around the country is adding to the burden with power, water, and food shortages across the nation, including the Kyiv region.

Ukrainians have shown incredible bravery and fortitude as they have faced insurmountable odds. But it has also taken many ministries, nations, and organizations to help them with the many things they need. We’ve been part of that with ServeUkraine,

Today is Giving Tuesday, a day set aside to invest in charitable work. I sent an email to over 500 of our friends and donors last week to ask them to invest in helping with 10 generators for Irpin, and 300 blankets for elderly displaced people in Kyiv. They have already begun to respond, and we have seen $6000+ of the $13,000 raised.

Will you consider helping with this need? Time is of the essence as winter in Ukraine can be very tough. We want to get funds sent as soon as possible. You can give at our information and donor page at

There is now also further urgent need for $5000 to help with medical, education, and transportation expenses for families and individuals that we continue to help both here and in Ukraine.

That leaves a total of $12,000 of $18,000 to be gathered. It may seem overwhelming, but nowhere near as overwhelming as the situations faced by our Ukrainians friends and partners. We can make a difference, now. Be brave like Ukraine!

Ukraine under siege, and how we will help

…will be the theme of updates on my trip over the next weeks.. My last full day in Ukraine is tomorrow, and it has been a whirlwind of seeing the aftermath of the horrific battles that took place here in Bucha and Irpin at the start of the war in February and March, meeting families that we have been able to help through ServeUkraine, and visiting friends and colleagues, talking and praying about the present and the future. A train to L’viv tomorrow, then into Poland. I head to the UK on Tuesday for meetings at Nexus Institute for Creative Arts in Coventry, with our partner Dave Silber, as well as several of our Ukrainian students who are now studying there.

Five days in Bulgaria

Five days is a long time for a short report.

The last five days were spent at a gathering of arts and ministry leaders from the UK, France, Hungary, Switzerland, US, Austria, Greece, Italy, Turkey, and Bulgaria who use their art to express the values of the Kingdom of God, and disciple, mobilize, and encourage others. The Arts Plus event ( took place in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia to encourage and help Bulgarian brothers and sisters to do the same. Professional musicians, sculptors, painters, actors, dancers, filmmakers, pastors, and catalysts–all strategizing together.

I gave a report on our work in Ukraine and the situation there and led a time of prayer and intercession. Both sessions were very intense as the outcome of the war has major repercussions for all nations in Europe: e.g., Sofia is only 400 miles from the nearest Ukrainian border.

It was a great time for building relationships and the chance to think and plan how we could work together to come alongside Ukrainian artists and musicians now and in the future. We heard from some amazing young Bulgarian musicians, saw the work of professional painters and sculptors, discussed, shared meals, prayed, worshipped, and laughed together.  I loved my time with new friends from the UK–Bishop Rob Gillion from Streatham and Southwark, London, and mixed-media artist Paul Hobbs.

You must see the work of Bulgarian sculptor/painter Nickolay Steffanov on the Prodigal Son ( and Paul Hobbs’ work on modern martyrs. (

It was also good to connect with Jim and Anne Mills who have been working in creative ministry in Europe for decades and have many relationships in common with us! (Kirk and Deby Dearman!)

Special thanks to fellow IWS alum Jill Ford, Amy WIlliams from OM, ACT colleagues Diane and Glenn Collard who invited me, and ACT’s Steve Thrall who works in France. Everyone attending prayed and expressed active support for musicians and artists in Ukraine.


I loved my first time in Bulgaria, and experiencing the hearts and gifts of the dear brothers and sisters we spent time with.

In just a few hours, I fly to Warsaw and Krakow, Poland where I will meet up with long-time friend and ministry colleague Jim Gilbert as well as former students and see more opportunities for ServeUkraine before heading into Ukraine on Thursday.  Please pray.

September ministry trip


Here is my basic itinerary for prayer this trip. Please pray for travel arrangements, protection, and key connections with people and partners.

6 September – Fly from Nashville
7 September – Arrive in Sofia, Bulgaria
8-11 September – Arts + Conference, “Hope in the midst of crisis”
12 September – Evening flight to Warsaw, Poland
12-14 September – Time to see opportunities in Poland
14 – To Krakow with UETS alumni
15 – Ride to Ukrainian border, drive to Morshyn
16-17 – Visit centers in Morshyn and Striy; night of worship on 16th with UETS students
18 – Church in L’viv
19-20 – Teach 3rd year students at UBTS
21 – InterCity train to Kyiv
22-24 – Time in Kyiv region
25 – Train back to L’viv, or to Krakow
26 – To Krakow, Poland
27 – Morning flight to London Luton airport
27-30 – Time in Coventry with Nexus, UETS students
30 – Ride to London Heathrow, fly to Nashville

To stay in touch for news and prayer…

In the next month, I will be visiting colleagues, students, friends we have helped, and opportunities to bring help to Ukrainians in this time.

I will be in Bulgaria, Poland, parts of Ukraine, and England during this month. Prayer needs will be posted here as I go. To receive our newsletter, send an email to

Please check back here for prayer points during this month.

What’s happening now?

I’ve never had to work with people in the midst of a war before. I’m far-removed physically from the front lines in Ukraine, but these last six months, it has been an immediate daily presence as we have sought to serve our colleagues, partners, and students in the midst.

I have been following government and news reports, pictures and videos, posts and calls from friends, and consulting with other ministries as ServeUkraine has become the focus. I’ve been on Zoom calls with leaders, students and teachers scattered across Europe and North America.

We have sought to serve the nation and needs as donors have allowed us to supply a bus to distribute humanitarian aid in the region around Kyiv, and help with beds and food for a refugee center sheltering 180 in western Ukraine. We have helped resettle folks in Norway, Germany, Sweden, the UK, and five in the US–contacts for housing, paying transportation costs, covering medical bills, clothing needs, giving them time to breathe, and being a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. We have replaced dozens of windows in the homes of families in Irpin, where many atrocities and destruction took place in the first month of the war. We have even supplied a needed stroller for a mom with a 6-month child in Poland separated from her husband in Ukraine.

Many stories to tell, but you haven’t heard them yet because of many things that also came along–the decline and death of my Dad–F. G. Heumann–after 4+ years of dementia and Alzehimer’s. Visits from all the siblings, helping my stepmom, planning and leading Dad’s service, good time with family. Getting two rounds of shingles, of all things (not the roofing supplies). Issues with trying to build this new ministry while flying it. Severe muscle spasms. Completing my time at the Institute for Worship Studies, and twice helping settle colleagues there for their classes. Major issues in building a system to keep all informed of the work. Grieving. Evacuated Ukrainian “family” with us for two and a half weeks. Top all that off with getting COVID after three years of carefully avoiding it. (So grateful for the vaccine that kept it on the mild side!) Yet, God is sustaining.

Good things are happening in spite of all of this. People are being helped. God is being glorified, as he gives us strength.

%d bloggers like this: