Fleeing Communist persecution in Ukraine in 1989, Victor and Irina Gaiduchik, U.S. missionaries with Intercultural Ministries, understand the anxiety Ukrainian refugees face entering the U.S.
“We left our home in the Volyn province, penniless with three children and four suitcases, for refugee camps in Austria and Italy before arriving in America,” says Victor Gaiduchik, 63. “The Soviet government had revoked our citizenship, leaving us stateless.”
Gaiduchik’s family has strong ties to the Assemblies of God. His maternal grandfather found Jesus as Savior in 1926 through the ministry of AG missionary Gustav Herbert Schmidt. He became a Pentecostal pastor and steered 20 relatives to follow him.
At 14, Gaiduchik gave his life to Christ and immediately shared his new faith on the streets. Within two years, he preached at youth services in forbidden underground churches. Up to 120 young people squeezed together standing in homes, hiding from internal security agents with the KGB.
The former Soviet Union (USSR), which dissolved in 1991, promoted atheism and persecuted evangelical Christians. Adults caught attending illegal churches were fined. Most services took place in homes or in forests before sunrise or at night.
Government officials pressured Gaiduchik’s high school teachers to lower his grades. He also received beatings while pressured to renounce Christ during compulsory military service. He could not attend a university and was denied a diploma after completing electrician training courses at a technical school.
“God helped me to survive,” he says.
He preached regularly without a salary and supported his family, working 1,300 feet below ground in a coal mine.
During the glasnost period in the late 1980s, the USSR opened doors for Christians to leave Ukraine. After jumping bureaucratic hurdles, the Gaiduchik family entered the U.S., settling in Sacramento, California.
“It was an uncertain time for us, but I knew we were in God’s will,” Gaiduchik says. “The only English words I spoke were hi, bye-bye, and hallelujah.”
Gaiduchik connected with the AG and attended Trinity School of the Bible, now Epic Bible College & Graduate School, for two years. He served at Slavic Trinity Church in the Golden State’s capital for 10 years and helped plant three churches.
He received AG ministerial credentials in 1994. Both he and his wife were appointed U.S missionaries in 2003.
The couple’s ministry currently focuses on coordinating with Slavic churches and the AG’s National Slavic District team helping Ukrainian refugees who have entered the country. The Slavic district includes 74 churches in 21 states.
According to Gaiduchik, AG Slavic churches have shipped 1.5 million pounds of clothing, canned food, Bibles, and medical supplies in three containers to Ukraine in the past 14 months.
Gaiduchik understands the nightmares of horror which current refugees face in their new country: initial numbness, fear of never seeing family members again, learning a new language, destitution, and heartbreak leaving their homes — possibly forever — plus embedded memories of burning ruins and countless deaths. He identifies with their pain.
Revival Slavic Christian Center (RSCC) in Sacramento opened its doors to refugees before Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Escaping Ukrainian and Russian families arrived without suitcases, carrying only small bags with meager belongings.
A Russian father broke down crying, “You treat us with love and give us food, even though Russian soldiers are killing Ukrainians.”
The church owns a building it planned to sell, but now accommodates a revolving group in the fellowship hall and other rooms providing food and bunk beds. Currently RSCC houses 30 refugees.
Churchgoers also have taken in refugees into their homes.
“In the beginning, the families were suspicious and questioned why we were helping them,” says senior pastor Dmitriy Pridyuk. “We just showed God’s love through our deeds and shared Jesus.”
Good Samaritan Missionary Church in Sacramento sent a missionary team to Poland and Ukraine for a one-week stay in May.
“We helped in a Polish refugee center and provided 44 bulletproof vests to chaplains and volunteers ministering on the front lines in the Ukraine’s Ternopil province,” says Vita Danchuk, office assistant with Good Samaritan.
Her father, Andrey Danchuk, pastors the AG church and has traveled with teams assisting Ukrainian refugees crossing the border in Tijuana or entering the U.S. via Mexico City.
In all these humanitarian activities, people are responding to the gospel, attending worship services, and getting baptized.
“Our Slavic brothers and sisters who tirelessly serve the refugees in Sacramento have become pastors and servants of towels and basins,” Gaiduchik says in reference to John 13:5. “Just like Jesus.”