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“I chose Christ despite a fear of death…” /Testimony

In 1945, at Easter, all men of our village were taken to the front. I was among them We were taken to an area from which they were to move us to another city 20 km away. They drove us on foot. Then by train – and to Kiev where we were disbanded on troops. I remember, a few hours after setting off, out of the blue, there appeared a German plane in the sky and started throwing bombs at us. All the rank was divided in two parts, some went to one side, some in the other. I was lucky –God kept my life. Those who were from our side, survived, the rest were killed. Then, for the first time in my life, I felt the hand Divine.

In Kiev we were distributed equipment: clothes, weapons… Some believers refused to take weapon. The Soviet authority had negatively attitude to Christians and pursued us, forced to renounce faith, threatening with death. The management gathered all believers (there were 12 of us) and arranged interrogation. One by one, they forced us into the middle of the field and and there was such a dialogue in front of the whole unit :
- Do you believe in God?
- I do.
- Is there God?
- Yes!
- Deny Him or you shall die! 
Then a shot sounded – calling for the next one, speaking to him with a sneer: ‘Well, did God save your brother? Is He going to save you?’ And then a fatal question: ‘Do you believe in God?..‘
Bearing such thing was tough for those who were preparing to stand before this ‘human’ court. At that responsible instant, all my life as though flew before my eyes… I was so young, so much was yet to be done… Life had just began... It would seem: choose life, refuse belief in God, renounce Him – and you are safe. But I so loved the Lord that could not betray Him like Judas. I was among those who, in spite of the fear of death, chose Christ... I said that I would never renounce my Savior Jesus Christ. After such answer of mine there was a deafening shot and I heard the order to fall in the hole dug for burial and not to move. The bullet was shot into the sky, but those who came for the execution after me thought I had been killed … The test proceeded. Three people renounced God and were shot. Those who stood their round were left alive, by God’s mercy. In the end, the chief of the execution declared: ‘As they betrayed their belief, they can betray us. Such people are not reliable for the army.’

(What a terrible test and a huge life lesson for each of us. And if Ivan had renounced God then… How often do we renounce Christ today, and not even for fear of death, but simply for the feeling of inconvenience before friends or acquaintances, for fear of a slanting sight or poor opinion of oneself, fear of spoiled reputation, losing work and other things? Listening to stories similar to that of brother Ivan Haritonuk’s, one understands how serious trials can be and how petty our problems are. One can’t help but admire such heroes as our senior brothers and sisters who experienced times of repressions and persecutions and start to really appreciate the freedom we now have in Ukraine.)

Brother Ivan continues:

The remaining survivors were judged and sent into exile in taiga, into a village of Sukho-Bezvodnoe for 11 years. There we lived and worked. The food was certainly awful. Many died of hunger. It was necessary to beg on rubbish pits: collected clearing, took a boiler of 5 liters, threw everything into it, filled in with water and boiled, and then ate… Then we would have bloody diarrhea. Everyone who ate boiled slops was ill. Many of my friends died … I spent 45 days on a hospital bed. People scoffed: “Well, where is your God? Why does not He rescue you?” But the Lord was always with me, He spared my life. As it turned out, I didn’t serve the whole term and was released home in 1950.

I never lost hope in God and always talked to Him. We believers were nicknamed and scoffed. Different things happened… Once, I remember, I lost my way in a taiga. It was already dark and I remained alone. I did not know where to go. It terribly desired not to be torn by wild beasts. I closed my eyes, prayed and asked for the Lord’s help. Then I opened my eyes and went directly where my heart prompted… And I came directly to our camp. Praise God!

There was another situation: some people specially conspired to poison me. They gave me food telling to eat it and then watched what was going to happen. I prayed and started eating in a normal manner. They looked at me: strange… alive. Then they took the food from me and gave it to a dog. The dog ate and died in an instant. This is how God blessed me and once again rescued from death.

After Sukho-Bezbodny I came back to my home village and got married. There were children. Altogether, we have four children. After some years, we moved all family from Ternopil to Kulebovka and later to Ignatovka. We tried to bring up children in faith, in obedience on the basis of the Bible. Then believers were not persecuted any more, but communists treated both our children and us very badly… But we never regretted that once we chose the narrow way of faith. Notwithstanding difficulties and obstacles, we prayed to God, went to church, preached God’s Word. We thank God for His favor and love which He has shown throughout our life. We thank the Lord for all: for the life given, for all difficulties, trials and for all His mercies and favors. Now it is a hard time, and we are not as healthy. But even during the heaviest moments when one wishes but cry for lack of strength, the Lord is with us, He helps us. We are happy!

We pray that all people could know God’s love and choose the life with Christ.

Interview taken by Svetlana Iotko


Translated by Anna Sedova

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