Monday 23rd June 1997 -- Day 6

Visit to the Tajikistan Refugees

The Black Sea Express arrived at Kherson from Kyiv at 11.10 am.

Our taxi driver hurtled along the disintegrating roads most lined with beautiful cherry trees bearing fruit to the suburb village of Kammeshani 6 km west of Kherson. We bumped along potholed tracks to the home of Mikola Yakovlev, minister. A table was covered with the pale yellow flowers of the linden (lipka, lippa) tree. These are dried at room temperature for one week later to be steeped in boiling water for five hours in a thermos to make tea.

We met Michael Nadtochayil, a tall bearded builder and his wife

Michael and Elena Nadtochayil

Elena, daughter of the pastor, Mykola Yakovlev. Elena and another young woman clear the flowers and place a large plate of chips and bowl of fine chopped cucumber, spring onions and lettuce on the table followed by large bowls of black and red cherries and wild yellow cherries, cherry conserve and May acacia honey. The men eat and talk while the women quietly watch and gently serve whenever necessary, then withdraw. Customs from the first part of our trip to present have changed as shoes are taken off at the entrance, a standing blessing is said and there are no toasts at all.

This is largely a Russian speaking area of Ukraine. The Tajikistan (Tajiks) Sabbatarian refugees are settling in this area because house prices were reasonable and they have received police permission, even thought this is not an official refugee resettlement area such as Vinnitsi, Cherkasy or Ternopil. What was most important is that they found brethren who could help them get settled in and give them spiritual support.

In walked the minister, Mykola Yakovlev, a slight man with a greying painted beard.

Pastor Mykola Yakovlev & Victor Kubik

So far 78 refugees out of 200 Christians have escaped from Tajikistan. They are unable to leave all at once because they have homes to sell. In general, the refugees were in good condition. One woman has given birth in the new homeland saying that they now have the first Ukrainian among them. Another woman is to give birth any day. They had traveled for six days in an unventilated train through the heat of the desert to the cold of Moscow before turning south to Kherson which lies on the Dnieper River close to the Black Sea.

As they left Tajikistan certain men had boarded the train with the objective of robbing them as soon as they crossed the border into Russia. In one carriage women (not from our group) were raped. Carriage doors had to be tied with rope to keep out undesirables and robbers were bribed to leave them alone.

Part of the 78 refugees in safety of Ukraine

Because it was obvious to some on the trains that these people were permanently leaving, the Tajiks had to hide their money, one used the heel of her shoes because each family was allowed to carry only a 1000 dollars per person across the border out of Tajikistan. One customs officer demanded money and the whole family knelt and prayed asking God for deliverance--the officer withdrew.

The church building or the House of Prayer is on Katovski Street, village of Kammashani adjacent to Kherson. This church was founded in Kammashani in 1976 with two families and an elderly pastor. Michael Yakovlev has been their most recent pastor for five years and new church building was opened on 16th August 1995 when they had 120 local members. Mykola Yakovlev said he prayed for new members to be added, but not this many! 200 people from Tajikistan are moving here and augmenting the existing congregation of 120. The 78 Tajiks have been arriving since May 1997, some as recently as the last few days, and more are coming.

There is a civil war in Tajikistan between two Islamic factions: those who live in the country and those who live in the capital of Dushanbe. In effect, it is the city versus the rest of country. The Russians support the government of Tajikistan which only controls Dushanbe at present. Afghanistan which lies on the southern border is supporting the country Moslems through the activity of Taliband, Islamic seminary students who are massed at the border and also infiltrating the adjacent Central Asian republics, but especially Tajikistan to kill at night. They aim to purge the country with holy war or Jihad. One Baptist family which included a one year old baby was wiped out. Franz Klaussen is the pastor of the Tajiks due to arrive soon. He is having difficulty selling his home. His grandfather was imprisoned for 25 years for his beliefs. Michael Yakovlev knew David Klaussen brother of Franz. It appears that there have been pockets of Christian Sabbatarians in Central Asia since at least the time of the Czars.

In Ukraine there are several Sabbatarian congregations. The attitude towards the annual holy days varies. Some members have observed the annual holy days for 30 years. For some it is optional. In the Kherson/Kammeshani congregation most have united in observing the annual holy days since 1994. The Tajiks have not observed the annual holy days and this will be discussed later between them. In 1993 Victor Kubik had delivered a Ukrainian and Russian translations of a booklet on the subject of the annual holy days to Khust and Rokossova which found its way to central Ukraine and influenced the recent change to observe the annual Sabbaths. A church in the republic of Georgia in the Caucuses has observed the annual holy days for many years.

We crossed the road to visit the new church building. Newly-arrived refugees live in the basement and around the town in different homes. New homes are bought in the price range from $1000 to about $7000. Mykola Yakovlev and his son-in-law Michael Nadtochayil have put in tireless hours helping spot new cottages and then painting, installing new floors and helping the recently resettled people get on their feet. Five have been purchased, three more are lined up.

Tajik children in front row of Monday night Church service

As many had only what they carried, beds and furniture had to be found. The refugees are living with other families throughout the village, but quick progress is being made to place one and two families in the newly acquired cottages.

The Tajiks have been helped with aid of flour, oil, pastas, rice, medicines and clothing from Compassion Humanitarian Relief largely contributed by the United Church of God brethren all over the world facilitated by Victor Kubik in Indianapolis and his sister Lydia Bauer in Minneapolis. Victor was happy to see the familiar packaging for flour, spaghetti and cooking oil. As they were about to run out of potatoes , a lorry load of potatoes was delivered from Volin in northwestern Ukraine.

After supper of mante, a Kazakh specialty resembling meat-filled dumplings and cherries we attended a church service in the House of Prayer. It was a warm windless evening. Services are held every evening of the week including Sabbath starting at 8.0 pm with a three hour Sabbath services on Saturday at 9.0 am. The church is bright and cheerful inside. Men sit on the left women on the right and children in front. The concentration was intense, the singing magnificent and fervent prayers were spoken aloud. An address was given by each minister present. I spoke first about what true religion is, then Victor Kubik about Christian responsibility to help care for the needy based on Matthew 25 and finally Victor Pavliy about two congregations combining into one and working together harmoniously.

Agul Nasurdinova, one of the Tajik refugees, was a singer in the National Opera company in Dushanbe.

Monday evening church service with Tajiks. Agul Nasurdinova in white dress in front

She sang special music and a Transcarpathian song, "A New Command I Give to You." The congregation was slow to disperse, still talking after 10.0 pm.

We went back to Michael and Elana's Nadtochayil's home to prepare to leave at midnight for Moldova also known as Bessarabia. We talked and looked over newly translated articles by Roger Foster, Cecil Maranville, David Treybig and others into Russian from the Good News which thrilled them. We also listened to a translated cassette tape of a Bill Bradford sermon which they found helpful and wanted more of the tapes that Nadya Bodansky and Darlene Reddaway have made. They found the tapes to be fresh and helpful.

We talked more awaiting our chauffeur. Mykola Yakovlev spoke about how since there so many children arriving and with their own children they had to maintain discipline. In services some children who have to be disciplined must stand through the service. This is effective although the pastor have more difficulty dealing with the with mother than with the child. Also, Mykola would reminisced how during the Khruschev period Sabbatarians would have their names broadcast over the radio and published in the paper with instructions not to employ them. A problem for the future is that there is almost 100% unemployment in the Kherson district.

Just in time! Potatoes from Volin

Victor and I are unable to send our email out tonight through either the Odessa or Budapest CompuServe nodes. Perhaps it's water in the lines. Prior to our coming there have been heavy rains and large hail that killed over a dozen people in nearby Rumania.

At 12.30 am Victor Pavliy, Yakovlev, Victor and I are driven through the night to the Moldavian border arriving at 5.20 after nearly an hour of unnecessary and detailed examination of passports and documents the officials sullenly sent us through. An armed soldier opens the frontier gates.

Dawn broke as we drove along an endless flat straight road lined by an avenue of walnut trees for mile after mile eventually reaching Tarispol, capital of the Autonomous Trans-Dniester Moldavian Republic recognisable, as with so many cities, by the huge unfinished concrete flats. We drove along wide straight roads to a bridge across the Dniester River, and passed a former Russian fort, the scene of a brutal battle between Moldavians and Russians in a 1992 civil war. Buildings are pocked with bullet holes and mounds cover the bodies of thousands bulldozed in the worst atrocities since World War II. We zigzagged through a Russian army road block.

So humanity goes on.

Maurice and Victor