Updated: Jul 30
Recently I (Russell) had the opportunity to visit some of the church pastors in Ukraine. It was a good time to eat, speak and pray together. Each church has its own unique culture, opportunities and challenges that it is facing. In the following articles I will try to introduce you to those men and women who are working hard to grow and develop healthy Vineyard churches in Ukraine. Please hold them in your prayers as you read.
We currently have 3 Vineyard churches in Ukraine; one in Kremenchuk, one in Kyiv and the other in Lviv. There is also a homegroup that is meeting in Odesa and a charity that looks after disabled children and adults in Zhytomyr. It would be great if in the future there will other new churches and charities in these and other regions of Ukraine. Perhaps you could look at the map below and pray for the expansion of God’s kingdom over these cities and regions.
Alexander Goncharenko – Pastor of Kremenchuk Vineyard
Alexander (Sasha) Goncharenko was born and raised in Kremenchuk. He is the father of 2 daughters, and husband of one wife. He was formerly a photographer and an electronic department salesman. Currently, he is full-time pastor of the church in Kremenchuk.
It has not been an easy ride since he became pastor of the church back in 2016. He remembers distinctly how before this he had promised God in prayer that he wanted to serve, and was willing to do the jobs that even others didn’t want to do. Then in 2016 he was asked to take on the role of pastor of the church. It was then that God reminded him of those prayers and promises that he had made. Despite many difficulties and hardships he has faithfully served the church, and continues to do so in these difficult days of war in Ukraine.
The best parts of the job for Sasha are seeing people grow in faith and in their giftings. He loves the opportunity to pray for people, and help people to see the gifts they have been given by God. Although Sasha often seems inconspicuous, it is because he is busy serving those members of the church and wider community.
The biggest challenges that he sees in the near term are ones that will affect the entire city – a lack of heating. Several Russian missile attacks have left the city’s heating system inoperable, and so it is looking set to be a long, cold winter in Kremenchuk. Another big challenge is the loss of jobs and the increase in internally displaced people. Whilst I was visiting I had chance to see how the church had furnished the local bomb shelter, and also how Sasha was serving the church and the community through support and distributing humanitarian aid, as well as helping elderly members of the community fill in paperwork and applications for support.
Sasha’s biggest prayer now is for wisdom, and also for time to enjoy the greatest gift of God, which are his family and relationships that God has given him. There is also a dream of being able to rent a place where the church can meet on a more stable basis.
Photo: Vasiliy (left) and Sasha (right) in Kremenchuk
Denis and Olya Kondyuk – New City Vineyard Church, Kyiv
Denis and Olya are the husband and wife team who lead the New City Vineyard Church in Kyiv. They started the church in 2020 just in time for the start of Covid-19, and are now pastoring the church through the troubles of war. Despite these difficulties they remain optimistic about what God is doing.
Denis was born in Vinitsa region of Ukraine, as a student he moved to Kyiv, where he stayed and is currently a lecturer in theology. Olya was born in Kyiv, before moving with her family to Perm, then Mongolia, before returning to Kyiv in 1989. They are both currently working at the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary just outside Kyiv as well as pastoring the New City church.
For Denis and Olya it is important that the church has firm Biblical foundations and that it is a place where people are able to think about faith and be ready to think and give rational answers for what they believe.
The dream is also for a church that serves those who want to serve the city; that includes volunteers and those want to be involved in changing society. Many people are already serving in many spheres, and Olya highlighted that it would be great if the church could come alongside those people and together find answers to difficult questions. New City church would love to see more professionals involved in church life and able to influence the culture with Godly values.
One of the best parts of church life is how people want to stay around at the end of the service and chat further. New City church has offered a place for people to come together and discuss life and its challenges as well as to pray together. Olya mentioned how it is great to worship together with others, especially through song and music. Slowly this aspect of church life is growing.
For Denis the chance to work together with others and see how things come together whilst being led by the Holy Spirit. He also valued the way that church was able to demonstrate care for each other. He mentioned how another member of the church, also called Denis, had supported him and his family through these difficult times.
At the moment the team is still small, and Denis and Olya feel that this is not the right time to overwhelm people with new projects and tasks. That said, the do have a vision to see the team grow, and see people who are willing to take on some responsibility for leading new initiatives. Part of that dream is to find a space which will allow events to happen, people to gather and think and discuss together. It is particularly a place to bring together both believers and non-believers.
Another aim is to allow the stabilization of weekly meetings, and develop an increasing openness to new people. Now seems like a crucial time to take the opportunities that God is providing; particularly to help those who are leading in the church and serving others in the wider community. Serving those who serve is a major part of Denis and Olya’s vocation, whether it be working with volunteers who are delivering humanitarian aid, business people involved in economic spheres, or indeed any leaders who are serving in all areas of society. Denis also recalled the need for much wisdom to find those who are genuinely in need.
At this stage of the war people are tired and losing motivation and energy so now is the time to get ready for the long haul. Of course Denis and Olya hope for a quick end to the war, but are also preparing for the fact that it may last for some time to come.
Vasiliy Kostetskiy – Lviv Vineyard Church
Vasiliy was born in Vinytsa Oblast, but his parents moved to Crimea when he was only 1 year old. It was there, in Simferopol, that he became a Christian. He served in the church as a childrens’ pastor, and recalls the advice that ‘all future pastors should start with children’s ministry’!
After the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 he felt called to move to Lviv in Western Ukraine. This idea to move to Lviv had already been planted in his heart some years earlier while he was studying at the Vineyard Leadership School. He’d had a dream of going to Lviv and starting a church there. Whilst in Kyiv, after receiving this dream, he had an incredible experience of seeing an amazing salvation and radical change in the life of a woman he had prayed for. It was, for Vasiliy, a confirmation that he was making the right decision to go Lviv.
One of the highlights of church life for Vasiliy is the missionary journeys; whether it be trips on to the streets to serve food to the homeless, or praying for people to be saved and receive healing, or all of these together. Whereever he is Vasiliy loves serving people through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and equally enjoys teaching others how to do the same!
At the moment, the biggest challenge for the church in Lviv is building a team. Vasiliy dreams of gathering those who share the same values and who are willing to take responsibility for areas of ministry.
As part of the compassion work of the church, the Lviv Vineyard has also recently started a charity fund. This charity is particularly focussed on meeting the many needs of those in Ukraine at this time of war. Vasiliy is very open to new partnerships and would love to help facilitate missionary visits to Lviv and further in to Ukraine, to serve those areas which have even greater needs.
It should also be mentioned that Vasiliy’s daughter is Katya, who is married to Pavel, and that this family are currently seeking to grow a church community in Odesa. Please also keep them in your prayers.