When war broke out in eastern Ukraine, Vlad Makhovskiy decided he could not just sit home and watch what was happening. He would help.
This choice would lead to his kidnapping.
Makhovskiy, who runs a small business copying keys and fixing shoes, is one of many committed volunteers working with the Mennonite Central Committee partner Zaporizhzhia Baptist Union to deliver relief supplies to eastern Ukraine and transport people to safety.
He has helped more than 150 people escape from the conflict areas — mostly families and elderly people — all with little more than his van.
On one such trip, he planned to help 10 people leave Krasnyi Luch. He was not worried, because he had moved people from the area before, and the Ukrainian military assured him the territory was neutral. But when he was stopped at a separatist checkpoint, the soldiers searched his van and called for backup.
“I told them, ‘I am a volunteer. I am a believer — I believe in Christ,’ ” he said. “ ‘I am helping people to leave this war zone.’ ”
Makhovskiy was arrested and put in prison for six days. He said he was interrogated, mistreated and threatened with death. He was moved from compound to compound, not knowing when, or even if, he would be released.
But one day, he was.
A soldier approached him and told him to move quickly and quietly to a nearby car. Here he met the woman who would save his life. She heard his account and persuaded several guards to release him.
Makhovskiy remembers every detail of the day they let him go. They pointed him in the direction of the Ukrainian army and opened the car door. He stumbled into the sunlight and walked to safety, praying loudly as he went.
This experience did not dissuade him from continuing to help those in the war-torn areas of Ukraine. If anything, the experience strengthened his resolve.
Two weeks after his release, Makhovskiy was back to delivering relief supplies and transporting people.
“These six days changed me a lot,” he said. “I still have scars on my body where they tortured me, but my faith in God grew and my heart belongs to God even more. Now I want to serve God the rest of my life.”
MCC U.S. executive director J Ron Byler said without partners like Zaporizhzhia Baptist Union, MCC’s work in Ukraine wouldn’t be possible.
“MCC is so inspired by people like Vlad who are willing to put their lives on the line for the cause of Christ in the world,” he said.
MCC has committed more than $1.5 million for Ukraine aid, including a recent $800,000 contribution from the Canadian government. Between March and August, the grant will provide 1,495 families with humanitarian support, including rent assistance, shelter repairs and hygiene items. Food and social support also are provided through MCC.
As of May 7, 1.25 million people are displaced within Ukraine.