A heart to serve: Slavik Rymskyi shares his story of escaping Ukraine

Published 1:22 pm Monday, April 24, 2023

By LIZZIE BOWEN | Staff Writer

PELHAM – Ukrainian Pastor Slavik Rymski stands before those gathered at the Pelham Library to tell his story of bringing his family from the Ukraine to America and how he furthers his ministry during these trying times.

“In February 2022, Russia invaded and occupied parts of Ukraine escalading the conflict that began in 2014,” Library Supervisor David Smith said. “Since the escalation of war, Serve Ukraine has worked locally and internationally to assist the citizens of Ukraine. This organization works daily on getting desperately needed supplies to Ukraine and supporting churches in their calling.”

The goal of Serve Ukraine is to eliminate the suffering of Ukrainian people and to be affective in giving solace to the community. Rymski uses 100 percent of the funds received from Serve Ukraine to meet the needs of Ukraine.

“I come from a family of persecuted Christians,” Rymski said. “My grandfather was also a minister during very dark days for Ukraine when the communist party undertook a massive program to make all (in Ukraine) atheists.”

Rymski said the times his grandfather lived in almost 100 years in similar to the time he is currently living in as history repeats itself.

“Thousands of churches were destroyed,” Rymski said. “Religious freedom was prohibited, and people were taught not to get involved with church or religion. Church used to be portrayed as an evil and dark place.”

Rymski tells the story of his grandfather being intimidated by officers in Ukraine in attempt of convincing him to stop sharing his faith.

“When KBG officers interviewed and interrogated him they said, ‘Stop what you’re doing and go home or keep living in God and go to prison,’” Rymski said. “He was sentenced to 10 years in Siberia for just having faith. He did not recant. When he came to his village after serving for seven years, he found his wife and child buried in the cemetery.”

According to Rymski, although officers did everything in their power to ensure Christianity was muzzled, the church still continued to multiply.

On February 21, 2022 Rymski was ecstatic as he had just finished building a new church and was ready to see what God had in store for his community. He was unaware his life would change forever.

“I was leaping for joy,” Rymski said. “We had plans how it would change our whole community, how it would serve people and how the whole building would be filled with people. The next morning, I kissed my wife goodbye, and I went to the United States to a conference in California.”

Rymski asked his wife is she felt it was safe for him to leave for the United States, and both of them agreed at the time that they felt there was no danger coming.

“We both thought there was no danger coming for Ukraine.” Rymski said. “That was a Monday of 2022, and three days later on a Wednesday at 9 p.m., a pastor friend came running to me. Just by looking at him, I knew something had happened. He was breathing heavily, and he was red. He said, ‘Slavic, you must go home immediately. Russians started bombing Ukraine, and they invaded your country completely.’ That news struck me down completely. I could not believe a neighboring country could do that to us.”

As Rymski was struck with the news, his mind went immediately to his wife and children and their safety.

“All these thoughts came to my mind,” Rymski said. “How big is the scale board? Is this the nuclear attack? Will I ever get to see my family again?”

Rymski called a friend of his who is in the Parliament of Ukraine, desperately trying to find ways to get his wife out of the south of Ukraine.

“I pulled myself together,” Rymski said. “When we are under pressure, when we are gripped with fear and when we go through difficult times, you realize that there is God. He is always there to help, and He listens. I remember earnestly getting on my knees and praying and pleading with God to bring my wife and my children into safety.”

Rymski called his wife at 6:20 a.m., she had just woken up and was getting the children ready for school, unaware of what was going on.

“I said, ‘Sweetheart, listen to my very carefully, something terrible has happened in Ukraine,’” Rymski. “Dump everything and run.”

A few minutes later, Rymski hears his wife on the phone running through the house stuffing things into a suitcase to escape.

Rymski’s family lived not too far away from the Moldova border, and the plan was for his family to escape to the Moldova border and for Rymski to fly to her, so that they could be reunited once again.

“Moldova enforced a state of emergency and shut down all airports,” Rymski said. “They were fearful they would be invaded as well. I did not know what to do. I could not return to Ukraine because airports had been destroyed or bombed. I could not return to Moldova because of the state of emergency.”

Rymski was frantically looking for other airports to reunite with his wife as she continued to drive away as far from the chaos as possible. Rymski received a phone call for a friend saying he was frantically awoken in a dream.

“My friend said, “Don’t try to return to Ukraine, bring your wife and children to the United States,’” Rymski said.

Rymski then purchased tickets to fly his family out of Bucharest, Romania to Birmingham so that they could be reunited once again.

“It was Saturday night, February off 2022,” Rymski said. “I was in Birmingham, just waiting to give my wife a big hug. All those past three days, I was without any sleep, coordinating, being on the phone and doing everything a true husband would do.”

Between the bus Rymski’s wife was on breaking down and her missing her flight due to an airport interrogation, Rymski felt hopeless as though his family would never be reunited with him.

“But a few hours later, she was in my arms,” Rymski said. “I was thanking God for the answer to my prayer. I was very happy that God gave them safe travels, just looking at my little children brought tears to my eyes. I was very grateful.”

Rymski referred to his wife as an “invincible fire” and showed pictures of her holding her children during the escape.

“We looked at each other, and we knew that our country was in trouble,” Rymski said. “We decided we had to do something. We put together a nonprofit. I called my father and asked what he needs, and he said there is no food on the shelves. We need supplies.”

During that time, Rymski began retrieving supplies and funds to send over to the Ukraine and started one of the largest feeding programs in the south of Ukraine.

“It will take years and years to rebuild Ukraine,” Rymski said. “I hope and pray that after this war is over, the world and community will help us to rebuild.”

Serve Ukraine can be found at outreachwork@gmail.com or on Facebook at Facebook.com/ServeUkraine.

It is evident throughout all that Slavik Rymski seeks to bring honor and glory to God as well as serve and protect his family. As he concludes his presentation at the Pelham Library, it is evident of the lives he touched.