“Wake up, come true”
In Evanston, Illinois, when a notification appeared on his phone Wednesday that Russia was invading Ukraine, Alex Telichak, 42, turned on the news and then quickly called his in-laws. They live in the western Ukrainian city of Ternopil, and he and his wife were worried that they might not be able to call them again for an unknown period of time if phone lines or internet service were down.
“This is emotionally difficult for both parties,” he said. “You don’t say goodbye, but it almost is, because you don’t know when the conversation will continue.”
His parents-in-law were among the 130,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ukraine. In 2017, Russia banned the sect, whose members believe in nonviolence and refuse to bear arms in war; Russia described it as an extremist group. Since then, about 1,700 witness homes have been raided in Russia and about 320 witnesses have been imprisoned, including in a crackdown in Crimea, according to sect statistics. Mr. Tilichak did not dare to take the risk of guessing what might happen in Ukraine.
He said the couple tried not to watch too much of the news to avoid being too upset. When it was time for bed, they kept looking at Viber, the messaging app they use to communicate with their family. “You go to bed, and you check. He said, ‘Wake up, check.’ We told them, ‘Anything, you text, you call, whatever time it is.’”
On Thursday afternoon, his wife received a message that the sirens had gone off and her parents had escaped from the old, cement-style building. Outside, a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses was driving and got into his car. Men of the devotees had been checking on them and others for weeks, making sure everyone had a suitcase, flashlights, water, and a plan.
If the parents had to leave the country as refugees, Mr. Tilicak trusted that other witnesses would receive them. “Having a community, or a religion without borders, is a great comfort to us,” he said.
He was finding comfort in the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus told his disciples not to be afraid when there are wars and rumors of wars, when nation rises against nation.
“We also understand that the Bible predicts a time when all this will disappear, and when there will be no more wars, there will be no conflicts between nations, enmity and strife,” he said. “The disciples weren’t asking because they wanted to know when things really went wrong. They wanted to know, when the solution was, and when the fix would come.”
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