two women

Faith and family sustain this Kyiv family in wartime Ukraine

Sasha Shulyahina was 38-weeks pregnant when Russian forces invaded Ukraine in late February 2022. Motherhood and her faith continue to sustain her through a year of war.

The World

On Thursday, Sasha Shulyahina, who lives in Kyiv, Ukraine, celebrated her daughter Briana’s first birthday with family and friends at the church that her parents lead.

Briana was born a year ago as Russian forces pressed in on the city. Now, she’s babbling and making raspberry noises in a playpen at her parents’ church.

Shulyahina lights up when she talks about Briana: “She's just the cutest baby. She has these huge brown eyes. And she showed her personality from the first hours of us being with her.”

Last March, when Shulyahina started going into labor at 2 a.m., an ambulance arrived amid an air raid and loud explosions. Briana was born on March 16, 2022.

For Shulyahina and the whole family, Briana and the church have been a source of joy and solace through a year of war.

Shulyahina said that so far, her baby daughter seems unaffected by the war — she doesn’t notice when the lights go out or explosions are audible.

“I'm glad that she's not aware of this yet,” she said. “And I hope that we're able to not project our stress onto her, that we're able to have a calm and peaceful environment for her.”

Maia Mikhaluk and Nick Mikhaluk, Shulyahina’s parents, stayed in Kyiv when the Russian invasion began, both to remain with their then-pregnant daughter, but also to continue leading the church that they founded, International Ministry Partnerships.

Just a few days after Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, they livestreamed a worship service from the Mikhaluk’s living room. Shulyahina played the keyboard and Nick Mikhaluk played guitar.

The next Sunday, the congregation met in person, even though air raid sirens were wailing.

“I think that experience gave people some special sense of God's protection,” Maia Mikhaluk said. “At the times when you reach the depths of your fear, and you look up to God, there’s this peace that surpasses understanding.”

During war, they say, the church is a place to inspire hope. But Nick Mikhaluk, who preaches on many Sundays, said it’s also important to remind his congregants that theirs is a God who hands down judgment.

“God is [a] God of love, but he’s also a righteous judge,” he said. “For us it’s hard to comprehend sometimes, like love and fairness. But God is like that. So, we need to preach both.”

Although living through a war isn’t what anyone in the family would wish for themselves, they say their church and their faith are stronger because of it.

“This time really helps us really rethink our faith, really rethink what we value,” Shulyahina said.

Click on the audio player above to hear more about how the family and the church have survived a year of war.

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