In his words...
Pastor Ivan's story

My name is Ivan Ivanovych Pryadka, the Pastor of The Ark Church in the town of Krasnohorivka, (Donetsk region) It is just outside of the war zone of Eastern Ukraine, located 7 kilometers from the city of Donetsk. I was born in Staromykhailovka village, Krasnohorivka district and at a young age became a believer in Christ. I got married and moved to live in Krasnohorivka and began ministry as a Pastor. It was a time of great spiritual hunger in the lives of people, who sensed the approaching collapse of the soviet system.

Since that time several other daughter churches have been planted because of the ministry of Arch Church. Now, many of these churches are in the occupied territory and are considered by DNR government as inadmissible/unrecognized and are closed. The churches are still existing, but the people cannot use their church buildings for meetings; instead they gather in home groups. Most of the buildings the DNR army uses for their own purposes as in Donetsk, Staromykhailivka and in Sakhanka, a town in the Mariupol district, in the occupied territory.  

In the summer of 2014 the war forced people to leave Krasnohorivka. Right after the first shelling, when the Ukrainian Army freed Krasnohorivka, people started to leave the town in fear and panic. Some of the people were evacuated because of regular shelling’s; many left in panic, leaving all their belongings at home. People left everything they had and fled for their lives. All the shops were robbed, all goods in the homes began to decay – food, meat, vegetables, fruits everywhere, spoiled. The elderly, invalids, poor people who were left behind experienced great hunger and poverty. 

Some people, who fled far away to Russia, never came back, but those, who stayed in the neighborhood, slowly began to return to their homes to pick up the most important things and documents. Some decided not to return. This was a very difficult time of survival for us.  

Everyday regular shelling from DNR territory took place, usually starting in the afternoon or in the evening and regularly at nights or just before morning. There was no food at all! People who remained in Krasnohorivka used to hide in the basements of their houses. Often there was no electricity; gas pipes were broken from shelling’s for the last three and half years. There is no gas in Krasnohorivka and in other neighbor towns even now. When winter came, people experienced even worse conditions. 11 people in our town froze to death; mostly who were seniors, sick and invalid people. During this time people needed clothing, shoes and help; but there was none; so many suffered greatly.  

At that time, I drove all my church people to other towns and villages to escape the danger of shelling. For example, 68 of my church members were hosted in Mariupol and at the end, I had no choice but to leave town. Only one family from The Arch Church with a handicapped family member did not want to leave and stayed in town. We and many others became refugees in our own country. This was happening to hundreds of other towns and villages.

Within a short time, people started to come back for their documents; some decided to move back to their houses. I started to visit the town regularly with aid, donated by other churches. No one would bring bread to us or even food to the town, because of fear to be killed. Only volunteers and Ukrainian soldiers would bring something – it was the most difficult time for the people who chose to stay in Krasnohorivka.

There were not many people who were killed because of shelling, but people were suffering because of the shock, trauma and soon began to die because of the fear, stress and uncertainty of - will my home be shelled tonight, tomorrow. Children and senior people were mostly affected. But many, many people were injured in other towns and places because of shelling. 

It was at that time I felt led to move back and start to help. Together with my wife and two children and their families we returned to our home. Other family members did not move back. Out of 16,000 people, who used to live in Krasnohorivka before the war, less than 7,000 remained. The town became empty.

Life began to pulse again in the local church. Many people heard about our unfinished building of the church, which had started to minister again. People would come every day just to get warmed and to get some help, mainly food. Each day about 120 people came just to sit, talk to each other and wait for food. So, the church unfinished building became the place of meetings, where people would come and get warmed. They could come from the early morning and just talk and talk. We set up electrical outlets for people to charge their cell phones. Up to 20 - 30 people would come, sit on a bench outside or go home and leave their phone to be charged. No one stole anything. Everyone was traumatized by the war.   

From the beginning, I started to bring food packages from Mariupol, pack them and give to the most needy people. Other people came together with me and later they decided to open a charitable soup kitchen. From December 2014 till the end of 2016 we used to feed people 7 days a week and people would come in 4 or 5 shifts. In December 2016 we saw it was difficult and stopped feeding people on Sundays.   

People from all walks of life came to eat. Even those, who were in high positions in town, even teachers and doctors. So, it raised the credibility and respect for our church to its present time. Because of this, I was able to visit every home in town now. 

The same assistance was needed for the only state school. Whoever attended school received food from the church, for the State did not support schools or pupils. Our church cooked and fed all these children at the school. Out of 5 state schools only one was open and children from the entire town would go there. Sadly, three schools were completely destroyed by the shelling. 

On May 28th, one shell/rocket hit the church building and the same day another school was destroyed by rockets and burned to the ground. The State finally provided some financial support for rebuilding destroyed facilities, but the town experienced a lack of volunteers and even specialists, who would be willing to work. People became very passive and discouraged by the constant shelling, they did not have the heart to even repair their own property. Windows, walls broken by shelling, roofs damaged, and no money to repair them.   

One Ukrainian school, the only school where pupils studied all subjects in Ukrainian was deliberately shelled. Most of the apartment buildings are 5 floors and remain without glass. Almost all of them have broken windows and there is no sense to install new glass as one explosion and the windows are destroyed again. So, we invited people, volunteers from different churches to put plastic instead of glass into the window frames.

When we started feeding people, they came just to get warm, and later to wash their clothes and to bathe. There was no water in the town, so people could not wash themselves for a long time. To get water we would get plastic bottles and go to the wells out of town. In the beginning of summer 2015 we dug our own well, installed our own water system, filters. We were not able to do it earlier, because no one wanted to risk their lives to dig the wells in Krasnohorivka, because of the regular shelling and rockets.

When the shelling started, you could hear the whistle of the rockets flying over your house or flying in the near distance and then the explosions. It is a horrible experience to count the seconds before it explodes. The DNR militants always use different types of rockets, mines, during the shelling and after you begin to recognize which and the type by the sounds. When you hear the mine whistle and then explosions for 500 meters; you feel as if the entire building is moving. One type of rocket, HAIL, would have the same effect within a kilometers distance and more. We are thankful God protected us and our property, it was not hit.

Usually after shelling all the roads are cleaned by the military, but the fields are not cleaned till spring time. That’s why when you drive along the side the road you can see signs - Attention! Mines! So, all the signs you can see around the road for mines does not necessarily mean, that someone placed mines there. There are many unexploded bombs, which special military forces need to detect and destroy them. Although, terrorists do come at night often and plant mines. Two young children were recently killed when they stepped on a mine. Sometimes militants would not come for several days to clean the roads, so you must drive around the road and you could see unexploded mines sticking up from the asphalt. Yet there could be mines along the road sides and fields. 

The most difficult time was in winter; there was no gas, lack of coal or wood and no heating. Often electrical lines were cut in the shelling. We were looking for different heaters, which would help people to survive the cold. From a mission in Chernihiv we were able to get more than 100 heaters and gave to those who needed them. Also because of electricity being cut often, people needed simple candles. We managed to get candles and supplied them by thousands for the people.

In spring of this year, the DNR soldiers deliberately bombed a maternity and neurological hospital, technical and a state high school. Fortunately, the mothers were relocated before the shelling, but patients in the neurological hospital were hurt. The people were left in shock, stupor, unable to take care of themselves and needed help to evacuate.

There weren’t any people, who would be able to restore the damage of the shelling and shrapnel. Specialists came from different churches work to rebuild the new roof on the hospital and in the schools. Despite all this, I was prepared for such difficulties. From the early days of soviet persecutions, my house and other properties used to be burned to the ground, so I had immunity against this.

At present, we are coordinating different people; volunteers from different churches, who are able to do reconstruction. There are many militaries in town only 1 kilometer from the front line. So, we use different people and help everyone we are able. Last year we initiated work in town – to cut the grass, take away garbage, rebuild, and repair.

So, the church became a real answer to the different organizations in town. Not many people in a town were anxious to help each other and I do not condemn them. You have to understand people’s mindset in such an extreme situation. But we as Christians should come first out of that condition. And it is not because of we are so clever or better. We have Jesus Christ in our lives who motivates us. Someone has to be the first to be bold. We have to live and to work. There needs to be some people in society, who should inspire others. So, we show the example. People need to be inspired and motivated by others. And God gave us boldness and wisdom to understand this situation and begin.

From the beginning people were amazed, others did not understand us, but now many people have become more active and working together. New shops are opened in our town, and our society is beginning to be more alive.

Still, there are many people in great need. Many factories are closed and little work. Since we began to receive humanitarian aid, people come to us every day and ask for help. For example – the technical school principal came and asked for help for their students, so we gave them a huge amount of clothes. Lately the same request came from the state schools and the teachers would come and choose what they wanted for their pupils. The same happened with the sanitary unit, hospital, and kindergarten school. Individuals come every day to get help.

Today many people will come to Krasnohorivka to help - chaplains, volunteers and everyone stays at our church. Even the military know this building and come for help, even to get washed and a bowl of soup. Our Church tries to work with children summer camps as well as Christmas time. Each vacation we gather children at our building for programs.

It was a pleasure this September to meet the Canadian team from Masters Foundation who supplied us with much wonderful dry soup mix. With this soup mix we are able feed many children, people, sick people, older people, invalids and even the military. 

In February, 2021 Pastor Ivan unexpectedly passed away. He was a pillar in the community, known to all. From the first day we met Pastor Ivan, our hearts were knit together. He was a man after God’s heart, a man of humility, compassion, integrity, a true servant of our Lord.

Masters is still committed to Ark Church. We covet your prayers for the family especially at this time- and for the continued ministry (supplying bread, pasta, food packages) to the needy in the town and the surrounding villages. 

Masters Foundation has supplied several tons of soup mix to Ark Church donated by The Ontario Christian Gleaners. The church is feeding the hungry, clothing the needy, and reaching out into the community. 

The damage done by the shelling, rocket fire, have destroyed homes, hospitals, and schools. It has damaged ambulances and vehicles, and left steel fences riddled by shrapnel.

If you would like to help continue Pastor Ivan's vision in any way, please contact Master’s. 

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