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May 18 is a date thousands of Ukrainian pastors' wives dread

Ukrainian refugees take a ferry to cross the Danube river at the Ukrainian-Romanian border at Isaccea-Orlivka on March 25, 2022.(Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP via Getty Images)
Ukrainian refugees take a ferry to cross the Danube river at the Ukrainian-Romanian border at Isaccea-Orlivka on March 25, 2022.(Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP via Getty Images) | DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP via Getty Images

May 18 is a date that thousands of pastors and their wives in Ukraine face with looming trepidation.

It’s the day when under a new law all Ukrainian men ages 25-60 — including pastors — are liable to be drafted into the army at a moment’s notice. Already, there are reports of pastors being called up, including a young newlywed minister.

They leave behind an untold story of courage, trust — and tears.

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It’s a story I’ve experienced firsthand in Ukraine this month, frequently in tears myself, as I helped lead a retreat for pastors’ wives.

One woman candidly told me she’d had second thoughts about coming. “What does an American know about what we’re going through?” she rightly questioned.

But as I shared with the women about my grief and the testing of my faith in God after the loss of my newborn grandson, we felt a common fragility, a common bond.

Right now, thousands of pastors’ wives in Ukraine are living vulnerable “double lives” as they face the fear of the unknown.

On one side, they’re the steadfast, faithful women of courage, stoically supporting their husbands as they minister to others, often serving as chaplains on the frontline. But the other side is an anxious, emotionally fragile woman, fearful her husband won’t come home, and living every moment in dread of the unthinkable.

Unthinkable heartache

The unthinkable, though, is very real. It’s estimated 70,000 Ukrainian servicemen have died at the front, leaving behind thousands of war widows, many of them only in their 20s and 30s.

Every morning at 5 a.m., Natalia helps her husband, Vlad — a missionary pastor in Ukraine — put on his body armor before he goes to the frontline to help families and pray with them.

And every day she prays he will come home.

Recently, Vlad was injured by heavy shelling as he visited families living just a few miles from the trenches. For hours, Natalia didn’t know if he was dead or alive. Doctors said it was a miracle he emerged with non-life-threatening injuries.

Natalia hoped Vlad would abandon his compassionate sorties to frontline villages, where he often delivers food parcels and comforts the bereaved.

But he’s determined to continue.

“If I don’t go, who else will?” he told her.

His bravery — and the courage of all the pastors and chaplains serving on the frontline — is only one side of the story.

At the retreat hosted by the Slavic Gospel Association ( near Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, I spoke with many pastors’ wives who bravely carry a heavy burden. Day after day and night after night, they’ve kept their anxiety and fears bottled up. But when they’re together, they share their pain, tears flow, and their faith grows stronger.

As they delve into the Bible, there’s a common thread: God will never leave them, nor forsake them, even in the darkest of nights when they fear they will never see their husbands again.

Yet even on the grounds of a peaceful retreat center, there is the constant reminder of the conflict raging — not only the war on the frontline but also the battle these courageous women are fighting in their own hearts and minds.

As I talked with one of them, she suddenly walked away. I thought perhaps I’d said something wrong. But she’d heard a jet flying overhead and wanted to see if it was “one of ours.”

Any unusual noise triggers alarm; even an innocent leaf blower can be mistaken for menacing drones.

Trust and tears

Battle-weary, their nerves jangling on the edge, these brave women challenge me — and all of us — to live every day immersed in God’s Word, faithfully clinging to his promises.

Because none of us knows what tomorrow may bring.

Kristi Mock assists with projects at Illinois-based Slavic Gospel Association (SGA,, a Gospel ministry that partners with local evangelical churches and missionary pastors in Ukraine, the former Soviet Union, and Israel.

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