Monday, September 6, 2010

"Holding Fast Their Integrity" to the End - Jehovah's Witnesses in Ukraine

The following photos and experiences from Ukraine, are on (pgs 141-143 & 152-153 of the 2002 Yearbook)

Time of Severe Testing
The end of the 1930’s marked big changes for the borders of many countries in eastern Europe. Nazi Germany and the U.S.S.R. expanded their spheres of influence to engulf less powerful countries.

In March 1939, Hungary, with the support of Nazi Germany, occupied Transcarpathia. A ban was imposed on the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and all Kingdom Halls were closed. The authorities brutally mistreated the brothers and sent many to prison. Most Witnesses from the Ukrainian villages of Velykyi Bychkiv and Kobyletska Poliana were imprisoned.

When the Soviets arrived in the territory of Halychyna and Volyn’ in 1939, Ukraine’s western borders were closed. Thus, contact with the Poland office was lost. After World War II started, the organization went underground. Brothers gathered together in small groups called circles and continued their ministry more cautiously.

Later, Nazi armies invaded Ukraine. During the German occupation, the clergy began to stir up the masses against Jehovah’s people. In Halychyna fierce persecution raged. Windows in the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses were smashed, and many brothers were severely beaten. In winter, some of the brothers were forced to stand in cold water for hours because they would not make the sign of the cross. Some sisters received 50 blows with a stick. A number of brothers lost their lives keeping their integrity. For example, the Gestapo executed Illia Hovuchak, a full-time minister from the Carpathian Mountains. A Catholic priest had handed him over to the Gestapo because Brother Hovuchak zealously preached about God’s Kingdom. It was a time of severe testing. Nevertheless, Jehovah’s servants continued to stand firm.

War Trials
War is harsh and cruel, bringing hardship, suffering, and death to both soldier and civilian. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not spared the grim consequences of war. Still, although they are in the world, they are no part of it. (John 17:15, 16) In imitation of their Leader, Jesus Christ, they maintain strict political neutrality. For the Witnesses in Ukraine, as elsewhere, this stand has set them apart as genuine Christians. And while the world honors its war heroes, both living and dead, Jehovah honors those who bravely prove their loyalty to him.—1 Samuel 2:30.

By the end of 1944, Soviet troops retook western Ukraine and announced universal military conscription. At the same time, groups of Ukrainian partisans fought against both German and Soviet troops. Inhabitants of western Ukraine were pressured to join the ranks of the partisans. All of this presented new trials for Jehovah’s servants in maintaining their neutrality. Because of their refusal to fight, a number of brothers were executed.

Ivan Maksymiuk and his son Mykhailo learned the truth from Illia Hovuchak. During the war, they refused to take up arms, so they were detained by the partisans. Some time earlier, these partisans had also detained a Soviet soldier. The partisans commanded Ivan Maksymiuk to kill the captive soldier, saying that if he would do so, they would release him. When Brother Maksymiuk refused, they sadistically murdered him. His son Mykhailo was killed in the same manner, as were Yurii Freyuk and his 17-year-old son, Mykola.

Other brothers were executed because they refused to join the Soviet army. (Isaiah 2:4) Still others were sentenced to prison for ten years. Imprisoned brothers had very slim chances of survival, for during the postwar period in Ukraine, even those who were free were starving. In 1944, Michael Dasevich was imprisoned because of his neutrality. Prior to his ten-year imprisonment, he was under investigation for six months, reducing him to a state of total exhaustion. The medical commission of the prison prescribed a “high-calorie diet” for him. So the prison kitchen staff started to add a teaspoon of oil to his portion of porridge—the only food he was allowed. Brother Dasevich survived to serve for 23 years on the U.S.S.R. country committee and later on the Ukraine country committee.

In 1944, seven brothers from one congregation in Bukovina refused to join the military and were sentenced to from three to four years’ imprisonment each. Four of them starved to death in prison. That same year five brothers from a nearby congregation were sentenced to ten years each in a Siberian prison camp. Only one of them returned home—the others died there.