A Race Against Time: Despite the Risks, Ukrainian Pastor Rescues Trapped Civilians as War Rages

ORIKHIV & HULIAPOLE, UKRAINE – Weaving between military checkpoints, Gennadiy Mokhnenko knows he’s in a race against time.

“We will try to evacuate some people from a little city on the frontline, directly on the frontline,” he said. 

CBN News recently joined Mokhnenko in a multi-car convoy deep into the war zone here in southeastern Ukraine.

“Right now this is so dangerous place,” Mokhnenko added. 

Since the opening days of the war, Mokhnenko, a chaplain in Ukraine’s military, and his band of brothers have rescued thousands often trapped between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

“Every time when we evacuate people, there’s shootings and explosions,” Mokhnenko told CBN News.

Today’s mission is to evacuate some one hundred people from the small town of Orikhiv that’s under constant Russian shelling.    

Just 40 miles from the major city of Zaporizhzhia, Orikhiv lies in the path of Russian troops advancing from the south and east. Ukrainian officials fear if Orikhiv falls, Zaporizhzhia could follow. 

For now, though, Mokhnenko’s main concern is to get as many of those stranded out.

As the convoy arrives at Orikhiv’s city hall, Mokhnenko’s team works quickly to get folks into vans and buses. 

The Russians have been trying to get into the city and Ukrainians are pushing them back almost every single hour.

The team unloads food, water, and other essential supplies for those who’ve decided to stay back. All the while artillery fire can be heard in the distance.

“Right now the frontline is not so far from here. Can you hear it? The mortar, artillery? This is a very dangerous place,” warned Mokhnenko.

The majority of those leaving are women, children, and the elderly.

“I’m leaving because it’s not safe here, there’s explosions happening all the time,” Anna, a resident of Orikhiv, told CBN News.

Roman, another resident of Orikhiv, says he would stay and fight if not for a foot injury sustained during a Russian shelling.

“Where am I going to go with my leg?” asked Roman. “If I can, I would join the military, but I must escape. How do you think I feel that I have to flee from my hometown?”

Roman and the others will move to Zaporizhzhia for now.

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Meanwhile, Mokhnenko and part of his team are heading further east to deliver more humanitarian aid. 

They come across this underground bunker in the town of Huliaipole where 38 adults and 6 children have been living since the war began. 

Baby Veera is a new addition to the group. She was born in the bunker the day war started. They’ve all never left the bunker.

“Of course, it’s not been easy but where are we supposed to go?” asked one resident of Huliaipole. “There is constant shooting outside, it’s scary outside, and we have small children, so we hide down here.”

Mokhnenko’s team brings them food, water, and new clothes for baby Veera.

Not too far from the bunker, a few families that have decided to stay put in their apartments, many of them destroyed in recent attacks, are also getting help from Mokhnenko.

The town of Huliaipole is the frontline in the eastern part of Ukraine. When the war started back on February 24, this became sort of a contested area, and in fact today, it still is. The

Ukrainians are still battling for this town.

Mokhnenko, using his booming voice, yells out letting people know that his team has arrived with supplies and that it’s safe to come outside. 

Moments later, they emerge and are handed bags with food and other essential items.

“These people are great, and they do important work, thank you very much,” exclaimed Vala, a resident of Huliaipole. “I love all of them.”

Shortly after the aid distribution, the Russians launch an artillery shell, hitting not far from the convoy as it made its way back to Zaporizhzhia.

“This is really crazy,” said Mokhnenko. “When you have moments like this, your hands shake, your heart is beating, it’s not easy.”

Despite huge risks, Mokhnenko said he’s doing exactly what God wants him to do at this time.

“This is my hobby, this is my hobby, save people,” he said. 

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