Bravery in facing genocide

Sumy pastor asks U.S., world to help Ukraine

(NOTE: EyeonCleveland founder John Kerezy had the opportunity to spend several hours with Vitaly and Julia Orlov on September 19. Here is part of their story. There is a podcast, linked at the bottom of this post, if you want to hear more about Ukraine’s situation today.)

Pastor Vitaly Orlov left his home in Sumy, Eastern Ukraine, on February 6. He participated in a Ukrainian National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC, then headed west to Nevada for a Family Alliance seminar there.  A licensed family coach and community leader, and also pastor of Sumy Christian Church, Orlov was horrified at the news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

His wife Julia and two children were still in Sumy, just 30 miles from the Russia border. Sumy was quickly surrounded by Russian military forces, and his family was trapped.

Pastor Vitaly Orlov (right) with Cong. Louie Gohmert and Diyana Gabyak of Slavic Full Gospel Church at the Ukrainian National Prayer Breakfast in February

“I couldn’t speak (at the seminar). I was stunned, crying out to God,” Orlov recalls. “When Julia and I were able to talk by phone, I told them to do all they could to evacuate immediately. Many thought then that this (invasion) would be over in days.”

But something amazing happened. Ukrainians chose to fight the invaders, and fierce battles erupted all over Eastern Ukraine and further west, in and around the capital of Kiev. Russia wasn’t prepared for stiff resistance, and it reacted with horrific vengeance.

“Russian soldiers couldn’t overcome Sumy, so they prohibited anyone from entering or leaving,” Orlov says. “We know a family, a husband and wife with two kids, whom the Russians just shot dead. They dropped bombs on Sumy’s civilian areas from airplanes. It was ruthless.”

After 10 days of being surrounded, Julia and many others in Sumy were becoming emotionally depressed and desperate. She and others accepted offers to sneak out of Sumy in private vehicles and small buses. It was dangerous, navigating around Russian soldiers at checkpoints all around.

“Stories you’ve heard about people saying ‘take my car and evacuate’ are true,” Orlov relates. People risked their lives to help others get out of danger.

“One of our church brothers, Alexi, was driving back and forth, evacuating families. He and another driver were heading back into Sumy and was on the phone with the family he was trying to help. He said to them ‘Wait a minute. I see Russians in front of me.’ The Russians just began firing, and the two cars exploded. Later someone counted 30 bullet holes in Alexi’s burned out car. He took three bullets to his heart and died instantly.”

Julia and the Orlov’s two children, ages 12 and 20, were able to get out of Sumy and gradually worked their way west. Meanwhile, in the U.S. and all over world, Vitaly Orlov and other Ukrainian pastors took action.

Defying murderers of civilians

“In the first month of the Russian invasion, Sumy was surrounded and there were shortages of food, water, everything,” Orlov recalls. “We were able to purchase a bus to help some people evacuate. We also obtained trucks, loaded them with food and other relief supplies, and move the items to Lubny in central Ukraine. From there we transferred the relief supplies into smaller vans for transport into Sumy. Drivers risked their lives to bring in this food, and medicine, to people trapped there.”

Orlov knows that thousands of Ukrainian volunteers also risked their lives to bring life-saving supplies to those living in Russian-occupied areas as stores’ food shelves went bare. Sumy Christian Church and other churches turned into distribution centers. As it was unsafe to even go outside, Sumy and many other churches went to all-online worship services.

Julia (left) and Vitaly Orlov with their children Anna and Gleb

“We used small vans and dozens of walkie talkies to develop communications and help people in need,” Orlov adds. “We know that our team at Sumy helped at least 5,000 people with food needs and medications. This pattern repeated itself all over Ukraine.”

As the war ensued, Russians retreated from some areas and Ukrainians and the world soon knew of the inhumane and criminal actions of Russian soldiers. “We saw small towns such as Trostyanets which were nearly completely destroyed by the invading Russians,” Orlov says.  (Here is a link to an NPR podcast about Trostyanets https://www.npr.org/2022/04/26/1094776614/deep-scars-remain-after-russian-troops-pulled-out-of-trostyanets)

Orlov returned to Europe, and help coordinate rescue and relief efforts in and around Sumy from Warsaw. Later Julia and the children we able to find their way to Lviv in Western Ukraine, and then eventually continued on into Poland as refugees. The Orlov family was reunited in Southern Poland.

“Our church purchased two tons of food supplies, but it went really fast as we helped the people of Sumy,” he says. “After the Russians retreated and it was safe, we began giving away food on the streets of the city. Then we were also able to distribute the food from our church as well.”

Even as the Orlovs were coming together in Poland in April, others were adding to the relief efforts. Slavic Full Gospel Church sent dozens of people to Ukraine and to Poland with food, medicine, tourniquet and first aid kits, and even bulletproof vests to help protect those on the front line against the Russians. (Put link to one of the stories from April here.)

After assisting relief efforts from Poland for months, the Orlovs chose to come to the United States to thank churches and U.S. government leaders for their support of Ukraine. Pastor Vitaly is also preaching at Ukrainian churches and informing people of conditions in his homeland.

What the US and the world needs to know

In a 20-minute interview (MP3 linked below), Orlov outlined what he’s seen and learned about Russia’s wanton aggression against Ukraine over the past seven months.

“This is not just a local military conflict. It is a full-scale war by the Russians against Ukrainians…it’s a genocide against the Ukrainian people,” he says. “They are using every kind of weaponry except chemical and nuclear. There have been rockets aimed at 22,0000 targets, mainly civilian infrastructure, not military.  Only 500 of these rocket attacks were aimed at military targets.

“Russia has launched 3,500 cruise missiles in six months against Ukraine. In a seven-year civil war in Syria, Russia used only 100 cruise missiles. The comparison is just horrifying,” Orlov adds. “In big cities such as Mariupol and Kharkiv there are tens of thousands of homes and buildings destroyed, and we estimate that up to 100,000 civilians have been killed.

 “Russia has (also) stolen tens of thousands of children and took them out of Ukraine. They just stole these kids,” Orlov says. “About 11 million Ukrainians have been displaced from their homes. Five million kids are not going to school, either online or anyplace else. Thousands of people who have been murdered, murdered by brutal tactics.

“Russians and the Russian Federation are killers and murderers. Russian soldiers are acting in a worse way than the German soldiers in WWII,” he says. “They are raping women and children.  They are killing fathers and mothers in front of their children. It’s horrible, animal-like behavior.  We know evil spirits are behind this.”

At around the same time as this interview, the non-profit think tank the Institute for the Study of War https://www.understandingwar.org/ has reported substantial evidence about the torture and mass killings of 400 civilians in the town of Izyum. The organization is reporting that “… the Bucha atrocities were not isolated war crimes but rather a microcosm of Russian atrocities throughout Russian-occupied areas.”

From the institute for the Study of War website.

Ukraine’s urgent needs

According to the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, one out of every three Ukrainians have fled their homes due to Russia’s invasion. “Some 7 million people have been displaced internally within Ukraine and some 13 million are estimated to be stranded in affected areas, and unable to leave due to heightened security risks, destruction of bridges and roads, as well as a lack of resources or information on where to find safety and accommodation,” the UNHCR reports. Here’s the link: https://www.unhcr.org/ua/en/internally-displaced-persons#:~:text=Some%207%20million%20people%20have,to%20find%20safety%20and%20accommodation.

“Over half of all businesses have closed down in Ukraine. There’s no place to work, and no social support from the strapped government,” Orlov says. “People don’t have money and they are coming to our church to ask for food. “We need generators, warm clothes, sleeping bags, even wood.”

With the onset of winter, there are widespread predictions that Ukrainian refugees could die due to a lack of warm places to live. Another dire need is in the area of health care.

“The Russians have destroyed more than 900 hospitals in Ukraine. As many as 90 percent of our badly-wounded soldiers die because we lack first aid supplies, and we don’t have the medical support for them,” Orlov says. “Sumy has a training center for medicine, but right now we lack the medical supplies needed for the soldiers, let alone for our students. Basically one goal now is for obtaining sufficient medical supplies. We want to instruct people to provide emergency medical help. So, we need professionals who can teach, and we need first aid kits, tourniquets.”

On the military side, Ukraine continues to need good weaponry. Orlov points out how the recent arrival and usage of HIMARS rocket and artillery systems helped change the course of the war over the summer. “The Ukraine Army is probably one of the best in Europe right now, and they’re showing what they can do with good weapons,” he says. “We just need more good weapons (like those) to kick out the killers and murderers.”

Gratitude, and plans for the future

Orlov says all Ukrainians give thanks to the United States for its military aid, humanitarian support, and response to the refugee situation. “The U.S. is the country that has helped Ukraine the most, and it continues to help,” Orlov says. “People see this in Ukraine, and they are very, very grateful for this help.”

It is the hope of many leaders that the U.S. would establish family-type relationships with their counterparts in Ukraine. “We want to create a ‘sister cities’ situation between universities, medical centers, and cities,” Orlov explains. “Maybe a medical facility in Ohio could help with training and education with a medical facility in Ukraine, and do this on a systematic basis.”

One thing Orlov is certain of, as his fellow pastors and church members have seen it: God’s hand, over and over again, helping Ukrainians. Prayers are being answered.

“What Putin is doing is the same kind of (evil) work that the Germans were doing in the Second World War,” Orlov says. “Putin wanted to occupy Ukraine in one week, (coming in) like a great Goliath. But we stopped them, we’re pushing back, and it’s a miracle.

“A lot of Ukraine military personnel feel there’s a supernatural power with them, so they can advance. We have been praying that some kind of terror would happen on the Russian side. And it’s happening right now. They (the Russians) are afraid. It seems we are living in Old Testament times right now.”

Here is the podcast (the entailed contains more than this):

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