Invading Russian troops have reportedly abducted a 50-year-old Ukrainian American pastor in the southern city of Melitopol, a month after they captured the city’s mayor and released him six days later in exchange for nine Russian soldiers.
About 10 Russian soldiers arrived at the home of Dmitry Bodyu, bishop of the Word of Life Church in Melitopol city last Saturday and took him away, his family said, according to NBC News, adding that the troops also confiscated his American passport and the family’s phones and other devices.
The Russian troops were not aggressive and seemed to know he was a pastor and a U.S. citizen, the pastor’s wife, Helen Bodyu, was quoted as saying.
His eldest daughter, Esther Lily Bodyu Ogawa, said, “They walked in and they just started kind of questioning him right away, like, ‘Are you guys American citizens?’ — that’s one of the first questions they had.”
The soldiers returned the following day and asked for his Bible and a sleeping bag, The National News reported.
“I am worried,” Bodyu Ogawa was quoted as saying. “I mean, deep inside, I believe and I want to believe that he’s safe and he’s going to come home. But of course, from not knowing exactly what’s going on and how he is and not getting any information, that’s what is, of course, building up that worry inside.”
Along with the pastor, others who are being held captive by Russian troops in Melitopol are Sergiy Prima, the chairman of the District Council of Melitopol; activist Olga Gaisumova; and police officer Dmitry Stoikov, according to the Religious Information Service of Ukraine.
The pastor immigrated with his parents from the Soviet Union to the U.S. when he was 17, but returned to Ukraine later in life, according to his family. In 2014, he left Crimea after the Russian annexation because of his American citizenship.
After the Russian invasion, the pastor had urged residents to seek shelter in his church.
His last Facebook message before his abduction, read: “If you need help of any kind or you have nowhere to stay or afraid to be at home...the church is open. I am in the church building...very thick walls...solid building. That’s why you can be there. We will try our best to supply as much as possible… May God’s peace be upon your hearts and keep you safe. Let’s all pray and call on the Lord that the Lord will keep us from every harm in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Russian forces occupied Melitopol, a city of 150,000, on March 1.
On March 11, Russian forces abducted the city’s mayor, Ivan Fedorov, and released him six days later in exchange for nine Russian soldiers, according to Reuters.
Since Russia began its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, at least 1,081 civilians have been killed and 1,707 injured as of a Friday update from the United Nations. Among those killed are 93 children.
“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and airstrikes,” the U.N. statement reads.
In Russia, police have arrested thousands of people protesting against the invasion of Ukraine amid widespread censorship of social media and news outlets.
About 100 Christian leaders in the U.S., more than 280 priests and deacons of the Russian Orthodox Church, and over 400 ministers of Evangelical churches in Russia have called for reconciliation and an immediate end to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
“We mourn the ordeal to which our brothers and sisters in Ukraine were undeservedly subjected,” the Russian Orthodox clerics wrote in their open letter. “The Last Judgment awaits every person.”
The clerics added: “No earthly authority, no doctors, no guards will protect from this judgment. Concerned about the salvation of every person who considers himself a child of the Russian Orthodox Church, we do not want him to appear at this judgment, bearing the heavy burden of mother’s curses.”