In the already distant past, Christians in the USSR often wrote letters to the West, trying to break through the Iron Curtain by reaching their brothers and sisters, telling them the truth about what was happening, and sharing their prayer requests.
Today there is no Iron Curtain of Soviet totalitarianism, but there is a weaker curtain of indifference and lies surrounding the war in Ukraine.
I will share about myself and my family and our experience of the war. My name is Mykhailo Cherenkov, and I am a fourth generation Baptist. Each of these generations experienced Soviet repression—execution by firing squad during the Stalinist era, followed by imprisonment, intimidation, fines, and searches.
I was born in the city of Saratov in Soviet Russia on the great Volga River. My mother graduated from university there and met my father. Both were persecuted for their faith. My mother was baptized secretly at night, but KGB spies in the church still found out about it. At that time it was illegal for young people to even attend church, let alone be baptized or serve actively. As a result, my mother lost her university diploma and her job. At the age of 20, my father received a four-year prison sentence for his faith. However, these hardships did not stop my parents, and they continued their underground ministry—distributing illegal Bibles smuggled from overseas (this was the first “Western footprint” in my family’s history).
Usually ex-convicts were not allowed to live in major cities, so we moved to the home of Ukraine’s coal industry—the Donbass region. This region is now known for the war, but it used to be known for its heavy mining industry. My father spent all his working years in a coal mine in order to feed our large family—I have three sisters and three brothers. We attended an unregistered Baptist church and regarded the world around us with caution. The world returned the favor, viewing our family as anti-Soviet sectarians.
It was then that I began to dream of another type of Christianity—the Christianity of an influential minority. I dreamed of Christians in universities and schools, of Christian writers and Christian politicians. I dreamed of more than just the salvation of a few people within the church; I dreamed of the transformation of all of society.
Dreams take time to become reality. Of course, the world changed, but my country still remained Soviet or post-Soviet. My generation had many opportunities not available to my parents—education, a career, influence. The Iron Curtain collapsed. Ukraine became “more-or-less independent” and “more- or-less democratic.” But in reality, the spirit of the Soviet Union lived on. People lived as though they had no choice, as though they had no rights or freedoms, as though they remained slaves of the government.
It was only during the Revolution of Dignity on Maidan Square in Kiev that I felt that a window of opportunity had opened, and that we could now change the world around us. Our time has come, the time of my generation, the time to serve our nation. My main ministry is in Christian missions. We run School Without Walls, through which we prepare young Christian leaders to actively serve society, and we plant Churches Without Walls, because we believe that only a renewed, transformed church can help society and transform it.
I love Ukraine and am prepared to fight for a better future for my people. I am ethnically Russian on my father’s side. My wife, Nina, was born in Moldova. But we and our three daughters (Karolina, Vasilisa, and Michelle) consider ourselves Ukrainians.
We dream of a “Ukrainian miracle” or, more specifically, a Christian miracle for Ukraine. May it be free, because without freedom there is no happiness. May it be Christian, because without Christ there is no freedom, and it is only with God’s help that we can defend our freedom. Pray for us and dream together with us.