Maringa, BRAZIL – Yevhen Antonet, a Pentecostal pastor, is in Brazil with his family, trying to raise awareness about the war in Ukraine.
Antonet, who is here with his wife and three children, said that people in Latin America are so far from the battlefield that they tend to not be aware of the situation.
Sitting in a meeting room in the Second Igreja Presbiteriana Renovada, a Presbyterian church here that works with Ukrainian refugees, Antonet talked about his work and the reasons behind it.
Affiliated with the Modern Christian Church in Poltava, Ukraine, Antonet said he is part of the Global Kingdom Partnership Network, a global network of Evangelical churches. He said he has been asking for Christian churches in Brazil to pray for Ukraine.
“Not to tell just about the sufferings, but also the needs of the Ukrainian people,” Yevhen said.
Although he isn’t a refugee, Yevhen took his family out of Ukraine to escape from the daily stress of bombing alarms and the constant risk of being attacked. It’s thanks to his family that he could leave, he said. Ukrainian men must stay unless they are volunteering outside the country or if they are the father of three or more kids.
Life today in Ukraine is not easy. But Yevhen said Ukrainians remain fearless.
“Many people are working in critical infrastructure. Some big families come to other countries because for them, all their life is connected with their kids,” he said. “Not because of the bombs because we, Ukrainians, are not living in fear. We understand that is a hard time for Ukraine, but we are not living in panic. Many programs are helping us.”
Organizations such as UNICEF and governments around the world are offering aid to help Ukrainians survive. Also, some of Ukraine’s allies are providing supplies for the Ukrainian army.
Asked to identify the main difficulty that Ukrainians are facing, the pastor quickly answered that it was psychological stress, since they are always receiving distressing news of death and sexual assaults.
“When Russian soldiers rape our women, we (men), a pastor like me, we get very angry,” said Yevhen angrily. “It’s not a war, it’s terrorism.”
He said the Russians are physically and psychologically torturing Ukraine and not following the rules of war.
“It’s a very hard time for us.”
Terrorists or Nazis?
Russian media is reporting on alleged “Nazism” in Ukraine, which Yevhen said is Russia’s political strategy.
The the true threat, for him, Yevhen said, is a blend of Russian nationalism and Nazism, which he called “Russiazism.”
Ukrainians who love their country, speak the Ukrainian language, believe in Christianity and are heroes for Ukraine are considered “Nazis” by Russians, Yevhen said.
“We don’t see Nazism, we have nationalism,” said Yevhen.
Since Russian invaded Ukraine, the country has been suffering a genocide of innocent people, according to Yevhen, killing civilians, destroying cities and taking Ukrainian prisoners to Russia.
Yevhen did not condemn all Russian people or even all Russian soldiers.
Although Russia invaded Ukraine, Yevhen said some Russian soldiers are helping the Ukrainian Army. But when those helpers are caught, they get in serious trouble.
How Ukraine is dealing with the war
Ukraine has been under the threat since 2014 when Russia invaded the Crimea region and made it part of Russia.
Yevhen said that faith is crucial to Ukrainian resilience. He said Ukraine adopted Christianity before it came to Russia.
In Ukraine, religion has been a light in the darkness, while in Russia, it doesn’t work like that, Yevhen said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “is using religion to change minds” about the war, said Yevhen.
“Putin is like a puppet: it’s not only one person, it’s a system,” said Yevhen. “This structure needs to be killed! If you ruined the system, the war would end.”
Beyond faith, the pastor said, it’s also thanks to citizens and government support that Ukraine is handling the conflict and even seeing some military victories.
“In some regions, they stopped professional Russians (soldiers)” Yevhen said excitedly.
Through his constant effort to keep the country fighting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s popularity has grown, according to Yevhen. Before the invasion, Yevhen said Ukrainians saw Zelensky – who did not have a background in politics – as a young and inexperienced candidate.
Since the Russian invasion, he’s had to engage his whole nation to fight against domination by another.
For Ukrainians, Yevhen said, “There are two different Zelenskiyys; one before the war and another after.”
Yevhen and his family left their home in Poutava, Ukraine to visit Brazil, another peaceful country, to share their country’s perspective on this war.
Under the leadership of President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s allegiance is closer to Russia than it is to Ukraine, a fact that Yevhen attributed to financial reasons.
“Brazil is in silence because of an economic influence,” Yevhen said.
Yevhen and his family plan to leave Brazil this month, but he’s not giving up on his mission. They’ll be embarking on a new adventure in the United States, where he plans to continue his fight for Ukraine.
Nicole Luna is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.