Published on February 15, 2023 by Kristen Padilla  
Ivan Rusyn

“We didn’t believe that in the 21st century such a war could happen.”

Ivan Rusyn, president of the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary in Kyiv, Ukraine, spoke these words to faculty, staff and students at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School during a visit to the United States, Feb. 7-8.

But even though they didn’t think war was possible, the seminary had a crisis plan in place should it occur, Rusyn said.

Then, on Feb. 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine.

Rusyn, who had returned home from a visit to the United States four days prior to the start of the war, went to the seminary campus in Kyiv on Feb. 24 to begin implementing the school’s crisis plan and to pray. Later that day he returned to his home in Bucha, which is located outside Kyiv. The next morning, he and his wife, Luda, woke up to the news that the Ukrainian army had exploded almost all of the bridges that unite Bucha with Kyiv. Rusyn and Luda took shelter in their apartment building’s basement until they could escape five days later.

Since the start of the war, Rusyn’s seminary has been hit by six missiles and most of his faculty are now refugees. But the seminary has not closed its doors. Rather, it’s expanding its ministry in response to the conflict, having developed a relief ministry and a new program in children’s counseling.

God hasn’t left Ukraine

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Rusyn said quoting Martin Luther King Jr. during the school’s Global Voices event on Feb. 8.

“This war is about the very existence of Ukraine as a separate ethnic group with its own culture, values and language,” he said. “Unfortunately, there is no space for Ukrainian identity under Russian dominion. If we are defeated, we will be destroyed. Our culture will be erased. Russia doesn’t want just to kill our bodies; they want to kill our souls. We are created in a way that we cannot fully celebrate and enjoy freedom, democracy and justice if there is a small nation that is being killed and destroyed.”

Rusyn asked for prayer that Ukraine would win this war, for the Ukrainian people who are suffering and for the church to continue its work.

“There’s no good news from Ukraine at this moment,” he said. But “God does work. I don’t have a non-spiritual explanation of how Kyiv is sustained. It was surrounded by Russians. Then Russians just disappeared from Kyiv’s area. The only explanation I have is that it was God.”

He continued, “God is present in Ukraine. He hasn’t left us. I can smile because maybe we cry out all of our tears.”

Weapons into crosses

Rusyn led a special time of prayer for the people in Ukraine in both English and Ukrainian during the school’s weekly chapel service on Feb. 7. He also spoke to several classes during his visit. Rusyn emphasized that Jesus’ incarnational ministry is the model for ministry among people, especially during times of war.

“Jesus came not to cancel suffering but to suffer with us,” he said. “If we are following Christ and his mission, we have to be present with people. We have to go through the same path they are going.”

Rusyn has a vision for how he wants to use the broken pieces of missiles that have hit his campus. He wants to turn them into crosses.

“We want to turn weapons into crosses, our tragedy into service.”

Rusyn’s final message to the Beeson community was a plea for advocacy.

“I want you to know that our nation is suffering and our fight is for our freedom, our values and our culture,” he said. “Our people need your support, spiritual support, support with resources to care for those who are wounded, and advocacy in your society.”

As he left Beeson, Rusyn said, “It was a great encouragement to me to have discussions with faculty and students. I'm energized, and I'm happy that Beeson and the wider Christian community care about Ukraine and about the Ukrainian church.”

Listen to Ivan Rusyn on the Beeson podcast on Feb. 28.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.