Crisis! in Tajikistan

Persecuted Christians Rescued from Islamic Fundamentalists

October 1997

Synopsis of the situation:

In the summer of 1996 Christians among others were being persecuted by Moslem fundamentalists in Tajikistan which is in Central Asia bordering on Afghanistan. The situation becoming acute as physical harm was continually threatened. Our friends in Khust, Ukraine were heavily involved in relocating 250 Ukrainians from in and around Dushanbe, Tajikistan. They had hoped to start the evacuation through the winter of 1996-1997, but because of the uncertainties of where to settle they delayed until the warmer spring weather. Most of the group trickled out through the summer of 1997 and most settled in the village of Kammeshani near Kherson at the mouth of Dneiper River in Ukraine. Maurice Frohn, elder from the United Kingdom and I visited the refugees in June 1997 in Kammeshani.  At that time only 78  had come out of Tajikistan. By August the last ones, the pastor and his family evacuated.

We want to thank the many people who have been praying for their safety (not one was lost) and for the finances necessary to provide food, medicine, clothing.    

  • Click here for Maps howing the relocation route
  • Close up map of Tajikistan

Many have generously come to the aid of these people. Through organizations such as Compassion Humanitarian Relief we are able to ship containers of food, medicine and clothing. The shipping was paid for the State Department of the United States by programs as "Operation Support Freedom" and now "Operation Provide Hope." We were able to ship tremendous amounts of goods leveraged by the donations.  For every dollar donated about $35 dollars of actual aid was delivered.  We had much food donated; we purchased medicines at 6% of cost.   

The Story:

On this Web site I had given continual updates during the crisis.  Now, I'd like to consolidate these reports into one narrative of what took place.

November 2, 1996

My sister Lydia returned from Ukraine Friday, November 1st. She called me and said that she had met with Victor Pavliy of Mission Nazareth of Khust the day before, October 31st, in Kiev.

A emergency was developing with Sabbatarians of Ukrainian, Russian and German descent in Tajikistan in Central Asia. Immediate action is necessary to save lives. Moslems fundamentalists are threatening to physically harm the Sabbatarians and their lives are at great risk. Already the Moslems have vandalized property and have broken windows in their place of worship.

Since spinning off from the former USSR the Moslem fundamentalists in the newly independent republics have taken a belligerent position towards those of other faiths. The Tajik government is unstable and can give its citizens little protection.

This problem is coupled with the extreme poverty and malnutrition. Over twenty of the group have recently died from malnutrition. The elderly have been hit the hardest. A month's pension pays for only seven loaves of bread.

The Sabbatarians in Khust have taken it upon themselves to help evacuate as many of these people as they can. They will bring the people from Tajikistan to Khust and have them live with other families. This is a Herculean task.

They are going to use a large portion of the aid that we have shipped to provide food, clothing and medicine for these brethren. This past week we shipped a forty foot container from Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota with mostly food and clothing. Another one, a forty-footer is going out the latter part of this month which will included dental equipment collected by Pennsylvania UCG elder Jim Johns and his wife Suzan.

The Sabbatarians are going to help evacuate about 250 from thirty-five families. Some of those who are of German nationals who hopefully can be moved to Germany. The other refugees will be have to stay in Khust.

The Sabbatarians in Khust are so thankful for the help we have given them. It HAS MADE A BIG DIFFERENCE! What is moving to us is that the Khust Sabbatarians are launching a massive relief effort of their own with the help we've given them to help the Central Asians. Victor Pavliy is in Kiev right now working through the documentation needed to start the evacuation process.

They plan to move the families out one by one in fear that a massive movement will cause undue attention and reprisal. The Sabbatarians in Ukraine are asking for your prayers. For those who have helped financially, we thank you. At this point we have about $10,000 in contributions which we will use for immediate relief. 

Tuesday, November 5, 1996 at 6:48 am EST

Civil war
of similar kind that took place in neighboring Afghanistan is occuring in Tajikistan. About one hundred people are dying daily in guerilla activity. I have just spoken by telephone with Mission Nazareth director Victor Pavliy who gave me more background and facts regarding the current crisis.

The atrocities that the Moslem Fundamentalists are committing are unspeakable. A Russian colonel had his ears and arms cut off and thrown in front of his home for his family to discover.

Cherie Zahora, United Church of God member in Indianapolis gives a summary of last Friday's 20/20 television program. Click here for her report.

The non-Moslem population is at grave risk. Victor Pavliy told me that the Sabbatarians are harassed and threatened. Last week windows were broken in their meeting hall. The Moslems have also stated that "one grenade will take care of all of them." This was in reference to their assemblies which must now stop.

As I write this the Sabbatarians in Tajikistan are preparing for evacuation. They are selling their homes for whatever they can get for passage to Ukraine, which ironically is becoming a safe haven. The group of 150 will come with only the clothes on their backs and a suitcase. The Khust community was going to absorb this group, however, it found a haven for them in Kammeshani. They had tried to resettle them in other parts of the world such as Australia, but were unsuccessful.

The first forty foot container we shipped to Khust was for the Sabbatarians and the community in Transcarpathia in anticipation of a hard winter, but they are choosing to unselfishly share it with the refugees coming from Tajikistan.

We want to thank Compassion Humanitarian Relief which facilitated the shipment of a forty foot container last week to Khust containing 11,000 pounds of food in addition to clothing and medicine. We are in the process of purchasing large quantities of macaroni. Through United Church of God elder Lonnie Gjesvold large amounts of flour are being donated through his Minneapolis, Minnesota milling connections.

Victor told me that in their prayers in Khust they thank God for foreseeing and preparing ahead of time the necessary life-sustaining aid that is provided through our efforts. 

Here are some questions relating to the current situation:

  • Q: How far is Tajikistan from Khust, Ukraine
  • A. 2400 miles by air, at least a thousand more by land
  • Q. Explain the physical location (near Afghanistan?)
  • A. Yes, Tajikistan neighbors Afghanistan
  • Q. Will all Sabbatarian families be evacuated?
  • A. Yes, the number is about 250 and the plans are for all to leave Tajikistan

  • Q. Are the Germans of German decent or German nationals?
  • A. These are Germans who have settled and lived in parts of Russia for many generations. They have maintained their national identity. It is hoped that Germany would be willing to help these people in this crisis period.
  • Q. How long have they been in Central Asia and why?
  • A. During Stalin's pre-World War II years there was resettlement of many from Russia and Ukraine to Central Asia. That's who these people are.

November 14, 1996

I just spoke with Victor Pavliy of Mission Nazareth in Khust to ask about further developments and information that I could share with readers of this page.

He told me that they are very busy preparing for the 250 refugees from Tajikistan. This involves making sure that the families in Transcarpathia can accommodate the refugees. One of the biggest concerns is that there be adequate heat during the normally harsh winter for these people who will come from the desert area of Central Asia. Most of the people will come from the environs of Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe.

There is no question that the people must leave. Victor relayed an incident at a recent wedding ceremony and reception where guests had stones thrown at them by local citizens.

The plan is to fly them to Moscow. From there they will continue by train to Khust.

The outpouring of support of from people in the West has been overwhelming!   

Victor Pavliy expressed that we use caution in how we discuss this situation publicly--for obvious reasons. Again, thanks for your support. This is an exciting project with us working together and making a difference in people's lives! 

November 22, 1996

Here's the latest from Khust'sMission Nazareth director Victor Pavliy:

In a telephone conversation with Lydia Kubik-Bauer who phoned him asking about specific needs, Victor Pavliy updated her about what's going on.

Sabbatarian representatives from Tajikistan visited in Khust and have now returned back to Dushanbe. They hand-carried some of the medicines that we sent along on the 20 foot container that arrived in Khust on September 19th. Most of the medicine was non-prescription variety such as cough syrup, Contact for cold and flu. Victor Pavliy also told Lydia that he received the $3,000 I wired him. This will go a long way in providing fuel and other supplies for the refugees.

Victor and Lydia spoke about the most essential supplies to ship next. They are rice, oil, pasta and flour. All these items are going out on our December 20 foot container to Khust.

December 1, 1996

In a telephone conversation with Victor Pavliy Friday evening, November 29th we learned the following:

Russian radio is reporting deteriorating conditions in Dushanbe, Tajikistan as more Russian military are being ambushed and murdered. It looks like the Slavic population will be fleeing the country in larger numbers soon. Victor Pavliy and other Sabbatarian leaders are not able to get through to Tajikistan by telephone but they are working with Sabbatarian families throughout western Ukraine to help take in the refugees. They have spaces for about 30 of the 150 committed.

I am leaving for Ukraine next Sunday, December 8th and will be meeting Victor Pavliy in Kiev where we will discuss these developments.

December 22, 1996

Victor Pavliy, director of Mission Nazareth came from western Ukraine to visit in Kiev to visit Maurice Frohn and me on Monday and Tuesday December 16th and 17th. We discussed various subjects, but one of the most important was the evacuation of Sabbatarians in Tajikistan to Ukraine. Contact with Tajikistan has been made since my last update. They have spoken with their pastor Franz Klassen who lives in Dushanbe.

Here's what's happening. The heavier fighting is taking place about 100 kilometers from where the Sabbatarians live in Dushanbe. They want to still try to sell their homes, but they may not be able to and just have to flee. The value of most homes is between two and four thousand dollars. They are prepared to move all at once if the war moves in closer.

On the Ukrainian end Victor Pavliy, Mission Nazareth and the Sabbatarian churches have been preparing households to accept the refugees. So far thirty families have agreed to take a family in. These people are poor themselves and this is not an easy proposition for them to take in people in the cold. We have provided money for fuel and I told them that we would continue to help them in their endeavor. The people in Tajikistan would like to hang on a little longer and make the move with the warmer weather. In any event, there is no future for them in Tajikistan and they will be gone by spring.

A forty ton container is leaving for the Sabbatarians on Monday, December 23rd from Minneapolis due to arrive in late February. It contains the following:

Description 			Weight in pounds
Over the counter medicines 		 3212
Pasta and thin spaghetti		     5352 
Long grain rice		      		 2500
Flour					             1000
Diatomaceous earth 		     	  600
Eight sewing machines			      320
500 pair of eyeglasses		       45
Assorted vegetable seeds 		      238
Surgical scrubs and drapes		  280
New children's toys	              240
Dental equipment and supplies     12000
Men/Women/Children's clothing     12075        

Thanks to all who have contributed.

January 17, 1997 

On Thursday, January 16th I spoke with Mission Nazareth Director Victor Pavliy who is heading the Tajikistan refugee relocation effort from Ukraine. I asked him for an update for all of us in the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, UK, the Netherlands and other parts of the world who have shown concern for the precarious situation for Christians in a quickly growing hostile Moslem society. The Civil War is nearing the home of Sabbatarians who live in primarily two areas of Tajikistan.

Victor informs me that the war had actually gotten to one of the areas, but that no Sabbatarians were harmed. The hostilities have moved away from this area for the time being.

I strongly urged Victor Pavliy and Mission Nazareth to expedite the evacuation because conditions can change very quickly and it may become impossible to flee. I told him that brethren here have collected over $30,000 for the evacuation and that we stand ready to do whatever it takes to get these persecuted people out of Tajikistan.

Victor then told me that he wanted to contact Franz Klassen, the Sabbatarian leader in Dushanbe and for me to call back it two hours.

Victor got through to Franz Klassen. There is no question the people have to leave. They have given up on the idea of waiting much longer to sell any assets. They will simply have to walk away from everything.

They live in the desert area of Tajkistan and are reluctant to leave at this very moment because of facing a cold winter and uncertainty in Ukraine. They hope to wait another six weeks when the weather will start warming up. I still urged them to start the evacuation process.

Franz Klassen and Victor Pavliy jointly asked me to let all of you know that they have called for prayer and fasting for intervention from God to help with the logistics in the evacuation. We discussed some options which are better not stated right now. I'm also intentionally vague about exact locations and numbers of people which has grown from some from the original number. They asked if I'd ask all of you to join in prayer and fasting as well. I told him I'd inform everyone here on my web site.

They both expressed their heartfelt thanks for the contributions you have made. They said what they ask for most is your prayers.

I am going to wire some of the cash that we have received to them next week so they can act quickly regarding transportation and other immediate expenses. Also, a 20 ton container with food, medicine, medical equipment and clothing is on the ocean as I write. It is due to arrive in Odessa, Ukraine the first week of February. Much of this will be direct aid to the refugees. The area the refugees are going to is poor, yet the people say, "we have potatoes and we will share them with you."

The refugees will be coming to Khust in Transcarpathia and from there resettled into other Ukrainian cities.

Today I received The Voice of the Martyrs magazine that describes the situation in Tajikistan with these words:

"Christians who hoped for religious freedom after the fall of the Soviet Empire found instead persecution from another souce. Islam is growing at record proportions. Tajikistan is in political turmoil, which makes it almost impossible to bring in missionaries. Pray that the government would see that stability is found only in Christ."

February 13, 1997

"But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day:" Mt. 24:20

On Wednesday, February 12th I again spoke with Mission Nazareth Director Victor Pavliy who is heading the Tajikistan refugee relocation effort from Ukraine. Here's the latest on the situation.

The 250 brethren in two cities are wanting to wait the winter out and flee to Ukraine as spring approaches. It's not that far off. They MUST LEAVE. They know it too well. The civil war had died down in January, but has since flared up. They continue to ask for our prayers. They have taken Matthew 24:20 as their guide: "But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day:"

I told them that our people are concerned for and praying for their safety and have donated generously for their care when they arrive in western Ukraine. Our third container arrived in Khust the day before I called Victor Pavliy and was being unloaded as we spoke on the phone. Much of the food, clothing and medicine is for the brethren who will be arriving from Tajikistan.

Victor Pavliy currently is working out the legal immigration details and transportation plans.

February 21, 1997 

An interesting development occurred this week as I found that Franz Klassen's brother David lives in Portland, Oregon. Franz Klassen in the pastor of Sabbatarian Christians in Tajikistan. David emigrated from Tajikistan some years ago and has settled in the Northwest. He speaks excellent English. He is a deacon in an independent Sabbatarian church called "The House of God" which has 150 people attending. All are immigrants. No one has been part of the church for more than six years.

The Sabbatarians in the Northwest shipped twenty tons of food and clothing on two containers to Tajikistan in December. Both containers have arrived to St. Petersburg, Russia. From here the containers will go on the Trans-Siberian railroad to Tajikistan....what a trip!

David Klassen is in touch with his brother Franz regularly by phone and spoke to him Thursday evening, February 20th. Here's the situation.

The two containers of food and clothing will sustain the impoverished and hungry Sabbatarians for two months. A new problem is an outbreak of typhoid fever. One of the brethren has it. The civil war is constantly endangering them.

Why won't they leave now?! David Klassen and I are strongly urging them to flee because of the uncertainty of the civil war.

It's not that easy. Documents are still being put together by Mission Nazareth for their safe passage into Ukraine. The Ukrainian government is unable to help economically. It relies on international aid for help. The only help is what we and a few others have given them. From the response to this web site and In Transition we have shipped three containers to Khust. Much of the fifty tons of aid will go for the refugees once they arrive. We have about $40,000 that many of you have contributed to help them. They know that. But, they are still hoping to sell at least some of their property which will be for the cost of passage. No money is allowed out of Tajikistan. They are very concerned about coming to Ukraine in winter and settling in with other families. And, then what will they do? In a land where unemployment runs at 50% how will they get on with life? They are concerned for their children.

Franz Klassen is going to travel to Ukraine in about a month from Dushanbe, Tajikistan to work out details for the relocation with Mission Nazareth and the brethren in Khust.

March 22, 1997 

Here's the latest. The leader of the Sabbatarian Christians in Tajikistan, Franz Klassen was able to sell his home in Dushanbe in the past few weeks. He is leaving for Ukraine to facilitate the evacuation. This is not easy process. It has been made possible through teamwork by brethren in western Ukraine, Mission Nazareth in Khust, our container shipments and monetary contributions. The families coming from Tajikistan are going to be resettled throughout western Ukraine. The Ukraine government is bankrupt. All support is through the generosity of private families in Ukraine and our humanitarian shipments. So far we have been able to ship about $500,000 worth of food, medicine and clothes. Every dollar donated has been leveraged more than thirty times over.

A note about what our container shipments have done. Victor Pavliy of Mission Nazareth told us that Ukraine has been hit with a flu epidemic this past winter. In Khust the clinics were completely out of cold and flu medicine and were sending upwards of 30 people a day to Mission Nazareth where our container shipments went. They were able to help the community out with the medicine we shipped them. In the immediate area of Khust a comment was made: Unlike other winters, no one died of the flu thanks to your help!

Back to Tajikistan. As spring approaches the reality of moving is realized. As stated several times before it is not easy for the people in Tajikistan to leave the only lives they have know and move to Ukraine which has its economic problems. But, they realize that they have no future in increasingly hostile Islamic Tajikistan which has turned on them.

There has been a lull in the civil war the past month. Hopefully, it can last while the evacuation occurs.

March 28, 1997 

I spoke to Victor Pavliy of Mission Nazareth this morning at 1:00 am my time.

The Sabbatarian leader from Tajikistan is in Khust right now and he and Victor Pavliy are deciding about what steps to take next.

Victor Pavliy told me that after their Kiev trip next week that we will then better discuss how best to use the aid money for the evacuation.

While the civil war has died down, there is a looming threat from Afghanistan. The railroad leading out of Tajikistan runs close to the Afghanistan border at on point. Afghan troops have been pulled up to the border. The fear is that if these troops take over the railroad in Tajikistan across the border, they will trap people and it will be far more difficult to leave. Victor passed along this concern and asked for all of us to continue to pray for safe passage.

Next, he spoke of the resettlement process. Housing in the Khust area is relatively expensive. Khust is near the Hungarian and Rumanian borders. Being so close to prosperous Hungary has caused prices for housing to rise. A one bedroom apartment costs from $4000 to $5000. This is a lot of money when you consider that wages are $50 to $70 a month.

One possibility found is resettling the people in the city of Kherson where one can buy a home for about $2000. There is housing already there and perhaps the entire group can be resettled in that area. That's what the thinking is as of this moment.

Victor also spoke about how Mission Nazareth has received extremely needy people sent to it by the government and other agencies who are pleading for help. Everyone is out of medicine and our shipments have been helping.

Mission Nazareth is remodeling the downstairs part of their building making it into a small clinic. The building had formerly been a synagogue and in Soviet times a movie theater. The dental chairs and other equipment that we shipped will be functioning from there. They have not done anything with the dental equipment yet, they need dental specialists from Uzhgorod, 60 miles away on the Czech border, to come over and help them get set up.

Victor told me that the first cases of AIDS have been reported in Khust. In fact there are ten cases documented and this has been a news item of late.

Again, Victor thanked all who helped donate equipment, supplies and medicines for doing so.

Please see the thank you letters section.

April 4, 1997

Here are the latest developments.

The Sabbatarian leader from Tajikistan left Khust back to Tajikistan via the city of Kherson which is at the mouth of Dnieper River. This is where the refugees may be settling and he will examine the possible housing they will move into. Then he will return to Tajikistan and coordinate the evacuation process. This past week plans were worked out and approved by the Ukrainian government. Ukraine will accept these people. Those of Ukrainian origin will be able to become citizens after one year. Those of other national orgins (there are a few Germans) will be eligible for Ukrainian citizenship after five years.

Victor Pavliy of Mission Nazareth told me last night in a telephone conversation that the President of Tajikistan controls only 13% of his country which includes the capital city of Dushanbe and one other city. Closer in map of Tajikistan Afghanistan which lies to the southwest is possibly going to become embroiled in the internal conflicts.

Victor also told me that housing values have deteriorated. A three room home/apartment on the outskirts of Dushanbe is worth only $150. The same housing in the center of Dushanbe may fetch $1,000 to $2,000.

I will be going over to Khust, Ukraine next month to see for myself what is happening and give a report on the the aid that we have sent in the past year. I also want to synchronize our word processing software so that we can easily move Russian files back and forth on the Internet. We've had problems with cyrillic software that I'll only be able to solve on-site.  We have nine articles from the Good News already translated. We will then discuss how to publish them in Ukraine. The Garden Grove/Redlands churches in the California have donated a laser printer to the Sabbatarians.

Victor Pavliy told me also that on April 1 he and others traveled 250 miles west to Budapest and met Worldwide Church of God ministers John Halford and Randy Dick. Mr. Halford and Mr. Dick explained some of the changes in the Worldwide Church of God to them. Victor Pavliy told me that the Sabbatarians reiterated to them their doctrinal position which is where we in the United Church of God stand.

This summer there will be former Ambassador college students working in Ukraine teaching English as a second language in a project that was begun in 1994 and has unofficially continued since.

May 9, 1997

The Exodus Has Begun!

This morning Victor Pavliy of Mission Nazareth called me to let me know that the exodus from Tajikistan to Ukraine has begun. The first families are enroute to Ukraine. It's because of assurance of support from us that they feel confident that not only can they leave, but that they can count on somewhere to go to. Other families will be following suit shortly.

I will be traveling to Ukraine in June to both the Chernihiv/Chernobyl area and Khust where the Sabbatarians live and will see first-hand what is happening.

This last Wednesday, May 7, I got word from the State Department that we have been approved to ship more containers to Ukraine through a similar program as we were shipping through last year. This is very good news! From your contributions we have about $45,000 that we are going to spend on helping the relocation project. Since we can leverage every dollar about 30 times on goods shipped via container, this will buy A LOT of much needed life-sustaining humanitarian aid. Some of it will go towards housing. Every dollar that you have contributed will pack a hefty punch!

Victor Pavliy and I also talked about the development of the Ukrainian Good News magazine. Their first issue was four pages and the first page can be seen on this web site.

In June I will bring over the first 13 articles that we've translated into Russian and they will be included in their editions of the Good News. We are both very happy that this is going to work out well for all of us. They will also be translating these articles from Russian into Ukrainian.

June 12, 1997

The News is Getting Better...

Victor Pavliy, director of Mission Nazareth wrote to me on email this morning and told me the following.

Humanitarian aid that we have sent to Mission Nazareth has already been sent on to Kherson, a city about 125 miles east of Odessa. That's where 50 of the 250 people from Tajikistan have come to resettle. The exodus is continuing. I will be visiting the pastors of Kherson and Dushanbe in Kherson in less than two weeks along with Maurice Frohn. We are happy that this migration process has already begun.

We will give you timely reports from Ukraine on Compuserve. 

Thanks for your interest in and support of this relocation effort.


Monday 23rd June 1997

Visit to the Tajikistan Refugees

by Maurice Frohn

The Black Sea Express arrived at Kherson 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.

Michael and Elena Nadtochayil

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

    Photos of the Tajik refugees as they settle in Kherson/Kammeshani

  • Mykola Yakovlev and Victor Kubik examine home purchased for $1000 for Tajik family. Needs work
  • Looking at garden planted for vegetables
  • In front of newly-built House of Prayer
  • Yakovlev, Pavliy and Kubik look over another home under repair for Tajik family
  • Group shot of refugees at House of Prayer in Kammeshani
  • Tajik refugee sleeping at makeshift housing
  • Meeting discussing aid distribution. Left to right: Yakovlev, Kubik, Pavliy, Nadtochayil
  • Another shot with the refugees.
  • Outside the House of Prayer with the refugees
  • Tajik father and son getting kitchen organized
  • Container aid has arrived! Sacks of flour and rice from Minnesota
  • Vegetable oil from container shipments

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 Taliban, 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 Klassen 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 Klassen 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. 

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

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

August 14, 1997

95% of the Brethren in Tajikistan Have Fled the Country

In a telephone conversation with Mission Nazareth's director Victor Pavliy on August 13, 1997 I learned the following:

  • 95% of the Sabbatarian brethren in Tajikistan have fled the country and have arrived safely in the village of Kammeshani near Kherson in Ukraine. Only three or four families are left in Dushanbe. They are holding out hoping to get something for their homes. Their pastor, Franz Klassen, is one of the captain of a sinking ship, he is among the last to leave.
  • Two weeks ago I wired Mission Nazareth $35,000 from donations that many of you have contributed that will specifically go to prepare for the winter and getting their dwelling places livable. Coal and wood is being acquired for the families in Kammeshani where unemployment is almost 100%. We are continuing to prepare two more containers amounting to 40 tons of humanitarian aid that will be leaving from Minneapolis, Minnesota in the coming months. I have made large purchases of over the counter drugs and we have had a large donation of baby food made by a major manufacturer in the last few days. Things are coming together quite well. Thank you again for your continuing help!
  • After a peace treaty was signed supposedly ending the civil war in June, hostilities erupted again as reported in this Reuters news release August 11th.

Monday August 11 5:15 PM EDT

Tajik Presidential Forces Seize Valley

By Chris Bird

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (Reuter) - Tajik presidential forces recaptured a key aluminum-producing area from a mutinous commander Monday and seized the initiative on the third day of fighting in the former Soviet republic.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattarov told reporters the government had restored control over the area of the Gissar Valley to the west of Dushanbe. It includes the town of Tursunzade, housing the country's biggest aluminum smelter.

Sattarov also said the government of embattled President Imomali Rakhmonov was eager to resolve the latest conflict through peaceful means.

Russia, which has 20,000 peacekeeping troops in Tajikistan, watched nervously from the sidelines, ruling out any hasty involvement in violence which flared just weeks after a four-year civil war formally ended.

Rakhmonov signed a peace deal with Islamic opponents in June. But his grip on power remains weak because of a carve-up of territory by rival warlords, some of whom fought clashes in the capital Saturday.

It is the warlords, and not Rakhmonov's Islamist foes, who are involved in the new fighting in the remote, mountainous republic of 5.7 million people bordering Afghanistan.

Rakhmonov hit back Monday by capturing Tursunzade, 41 miles west of Dushanbe, and areas around it.

The region, an important source of funds for Tajikistan's shattered economy, had been held by maverick Col. Makhmud Khudoberdyev since January.

A tank and several armored vehicles belonging to the presidential guard were stationed near the town's large aluminum plant. Workers said output was unaffected.

"Since the morning government forces have taken control of the three regions west of the Tajik capital," Gaffar Mirzoyev, commander of Rakhmonov's presidential guard, told reporters.

Government troops remained under pressure near the village of Leur, on the main road about 12 miles south of Dushanbe leading to cotton-producing areas of Tajikistan.

Puffs of smoke came up from a parched mountainside as the presidential guard fired shells and rockets at forces under Khudoyberdyev.

"It was quiet overnight but we started fighting at about 8:30 a.m.," said a tired, unshaven commander in charge of a ragged collection of soldiers on the main southern road.

Saturday Khudoyberdyev moved forces toward Dushanbe from his southern base in Kurgan Tyube to help warlord Yakub Salimov in a battle with a mutual rival, Ukhrob Kasimov.

Kasimov, an Interior Ministry commander, drove Salimov out of northern Dushanbe Sunday. Civilians and private transport were back on the streets and shops were open Monday.

Khudoyberdyev, who commands an elite government armored brigade, seized on the unrest in Dushanbe to advance his own, as yet unclear, political ambitions.

The fall of Tursunzade to the presidential guard allied with Kasimov's forces appear to have weakened his power base and strengthened Rakhmonov's tenuous grip on power.

Western observers see the Russian troops in the republic, who dominate a force from the Commonwealth of Independent States carrying out peacekeeping duties and guarding the frontiers, as the main guarantee of the embattled president's survival.

Moscow, worried by any signs of instability in Tajikistan or Afghanistan, took a cautious line over the fighting.

"The experience of Tajikistan shows that any hasty measures can only aggravate the situation and lead to very serious complications," Russian Foreign Ministry official Valery Nesterushkin told the Interfax news agency.

Rakhmonov appealed Sunday to government troops to remain loyal and told the rival groups to stop fighting within three days or face destruction.

But his spokesman, Zafar Saidov, told Reuters the president had not asked peacekeeping troops for assistance. "The question of asking for Russian help is not being considered," he said.

September 3, 1997

Pastor Franz Klassen Escapes Dushanbe, Tajikistan Sunday, August 10
Rebels take over the airport the next day

In a telephone conversation with Mission Nazareth's director Victor Pavliy on September 3, 1997 I learned the following:

  • Franz Klassen, pastor of the Tajikistan churches left Dushanbe by air. The next day the airport was taken over by the rebels and closed. He got to the airport by bicycle. He has arrived in Khust where he and Victor Pavliy and planning the future of the refugees in Ukraine who have settled outside Kherson, over 500 miles from Khust. I'll be talking myself to Franz Klassen shortly by telephone. According to him there may be one or two families that have not left Tajikistan as yet.
  • The money that we have wired to Mission Nazareth is being used in the following manner:
    • Four tons of coal have been purchased for heating for each family
    • Each family is being given an allotment to winterize their homes in Kammeshani. The total allotted for home improvements for the 160 or so people is about $18,000.
    • The remainder of the fund is administered by a council of the Tajiks and the church in Kammeshani for food and other needed items.
  • The refugees are grateful to YOU for helping them. They are writing a more formal letter to all those contributing with the story of their ordeal and their thankfulness for saving them. Victor Pavliy told me that they have been provided for things ran out like cooking oil, medicine, that more would appear from what we had shipped.
  • Victor Pavliy tells me that the harvest in Transcarpathia was poor this summer. Because of the extreme amount of rainfall they lost most of their tomatoes and the potatoes are rotting. He predicts a difficult winter for food. We are preparing two containers for Transcarpathia for shipping before November.

September 9, 1997

Telephone Conversation with Pastor Franz Klassen who Escapes
Dushanbe, Tajikistan Sunday, August 10

On Monday, September 8th I spoke with Franz Klassen, pastor of the Sabbatarians in Tajikistan who have now mostly resettled to Ukraine. This was the first time I have been able to speak to him directly. He was at Mission Nazareth and is leaving September 9th for Kammeshani about 500 miles away to join the remainder of those who resettled. We were both so excited to have this first personal contact.

He told me about the horrible conditions in Tajikistan and how he barely escaped. He left Dushanbe on August 10th with his wife and EIGHT children ranging in age from 20 years old (married daughter) all the way down to six months.

He told me about the civil war starting again and seeing the bodies of victims killed in the conflict just before leaving. Nearly 50 people were killed on the day he left Dushanbe. The next day, August 11th, the airport was captured and closed. There are still some brethren who have not left Tajikistan.

The day before this telephone call he FAXed me note of thanks to all who have been helping in this relief effort.

We are able to leverage every dollar contributed 40 times over in actual aid delivered. We are able to buy medicine at 6% of wholesale.

September 30, 1997

Last Sabbatarians Flee Tajikistan Abandon Homes; Leave All Behind

The final three or four families could wait no longer and fled Tajikistan in the past two weeks. They are all safe from the Moslem Fundamentalists and the civil war that has become as they described it "a serious war." The last families simply abandoned all their possessions and fled to Ukraine.

They are so thankful to all of you helped them make this escape possible and provided these two congregations who escaped intact to Kherson in Ukraine. Your help has made it possible to supply all families with winter fuel (four tons of coal per family), common over the counter medicines, food and clothing.

Email from Vasyl Mondich in Ukraine
Here's what's happening with the Tajikistan refugees....

March 24, 1998

I just received an email from Vasyl Mondich, the pastor of the Khust Sabbatarian congregation. I have been friends with Vasyl since my first visit to the Sabbatarians in the fall of 1992. At that time he was leader of all the Sabbatarians. He served a four year term that expired about two years ago.

Khust, Ukraine pastor Vasyl Mondich
with wife Svetlana and with children
Lyuda, Vasya and Victor

He writes this summary of what has happened to the Tajikistan refugees and how they're getting along after fleeing persecution from Islam. I want to thank all those who helped support the relocation process that came to an end about late last summer. To see Maurice Frohn's and my visit (as written by Maurice) to the refugee resettlement, please click here.

Dear Victor!

I am sending this article about the church from Dushanbe [capital of Tajikistan]. May God bless you.

Warm regards,
Vasyl Mondich

P.S. Greetings to Beverly from Svetlana and Lyuda.

The recent civil war in Tajikistan resulted in the Dushanbe church's immigration to Ukraine. As a result of this war, people sold their houses for very low prices and then fled to Kherson. The members from Tursun-Zadde and Reharre fled together with members from Dushanbe.

There were 36 families who fled together. However, there will be more refugees. Because of the tense military situation in Dushanbe, it was no longer possible to sell the houses. Those families who fled Tajikistan at the last minute left their houses behind without being able to sell them. For this reason some families had little or no money to buy new accommodations in Ukraine. From all different places, brothers and sisters in Christ reached out and shared the small supplies of food they had.

In all congregations, people lifted up intense prayers to God for help. Winter was coming, yet people had no money for heating. One ton of coal costs between 120 and 160 griven. As well, one cubic meter of firewood costs 30 griven ($1 US is about 2 griven). During one winter, each family need between 2 and 4 tons of coal, and between 2 and 3 cubic meters of firewood (depending on the size of the houses). Afterward, God answered their prayers: He motivated the hearts of the brothers Victor Kubik and Maurice Frohn, so that they would visit Kherson!

During this visit, Victor Kubik showed much interest in all the problems of that congregation, the refugees and local brethren. Also, he persisted in finding answers to the questions which are connected with immigration. So with the assistance of Brother Victor and Brother Maurice, the following much-needed food was shipped: pasta, rice, oil, and flour. Also they shipped life-sustaining medication, which was especially needed for those who had become ill during this difficult winter. Also, Victor Kubik helped out beyond measure in the area of finances, for which all involved are especially thankful.

The biggest part of this financial help was used to acquire houses for the refugees. Twenty-seven houses were bought for families, and another six for young couples (those who had no money to buy homes). The rest of the money was spent on coal and wood.

There is almost no employment. A few people found work at a very low wage. Usually the women cut trees and clean gardens. The men do construction work. They are paid with goods: bran, wheat, apples, glasswares, stakes for supporting grape vines, etc. The brethren then get hard cash after selling these goods with which they have been paid.

Most of the families are quite large. If a family were to be called small, it would consist only of a widow or a single person. The unemployed have hope that God will show them where to find work. The pastors and the Kherson church are wholeheartedly thankful to all those people who answered and took part in providing for their needs. We pray that God would reward you a hundred times over and bless you in everything.

We also ask you to pray for the congregation in Kherson, so that God would allow for the rest of the refugees to come to Kherson and to help them with all their needs and problems. We pray for those who have no financial base in order to secure housing. We are thankful to God and also to those who helped meet the needs of the Kherson church. May God bless you all.

Vasyl Mondich


September 7, 1997

FAX from the Tajikistan Refugees in Ukraine Thanking Those Who Helped Them

To:  the United Church of God

To brothers Victor Kubik, Maurice Frohn and to all friends who helped with the churches which have resettled from Dushanbe, Tajikistan to Kherson (the village of Kammeshani).

We express deepest gratitude for the brotherly help from you. We are taken care of with the absolute necessities: food, medicine, clothing and heating for the winter. We have received this as a sacrifice from you, a sacrifice pleasing to God who understands our every need and will supply it to the glory of Jesus Christ.

II Cor 9:8. 12
8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.
12 For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God,

Thanksgiving be to God for what has been placed in your hearts and given to our hearts.

Pastors Nicolai Yakovlev and Franz Klassen


Related Stories

-- Victor Kubik