Skip to main content

EXCLUSIVE: Besieged Church in Kherson Rises from 100 to 500+ Attendees as God Moves in War Zone

Share This article

KHERSON, Ukraine – In more than two years of fighting, the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson has been captured and liberated. Now, Kherson is a city under siege as the Russians are trying to seize it once again, and its people are under constant bombardment. In the midst of it all, Ukrainian Christians are risking their lives to serve those trapped by war. 

Pastor Andrii Skantsev of the Church of Jesus Christ in Kherson told us, "They are shelling 24 hours a day, 7 days a week."

Many buildings here are destroyed.

"Sadly, I've gotten accustomed to the explosions and destruction," Kherson resident Myra Butorova said.

CBN News traveled to this frontline in the south and found a virtual ghost town. Streets are practically empty. Homes have been left vacant. Most everything is boarded up. That's because 85 percent of Kherson residents fled more than two years ago.

For Andrii Breniov, a dentist who decided to stay back, it's been a constant struggle.

"I have constant tension – when you go to work, when you go home from work, when you are at home. It's never-ending and made worse when the explosions are nearby," he said. 

Yet, it's this extremely dangerous and volatile environment where Pastor Oleh Derkanchenko feels called to minister. He pastors Antonivka Kherson Church.

"My church to the Dniper River is about 700 meters. The width of the river is about 700 meters. So the Russians are about one-point-five kilometers from us and from there they are bombing us very often."

The Dnieper River divides Kherson with the left bank controlled by Russian forces and the right by Ukrainians. Derkanchenko's church sits on the Ukrainian side. "There are times when Russian shells fall 25 meters left of the church and sometimes 30 meters right of the church but nothing touches us. God protects us," he said.

Before Russia's 2022 invasion, Pastor Derkanchenko says about 100 people would regularly attend his Sunday services. Today, in the middle of a raging war and less than a mile from Russian forces, his church is overflowing.

"Since Christmas of 2022 around 500 people sometimes as many as 700 people attend the church. We have a full yard of people on Sundays," Derkanchenko said.

***Please sign up for CBN Newsletters and download the CBN News app to ensure you keep receiving the latest news from a uniquely Christian perspective.***

Kherson has seen it all. Invasion. Occupation. And liberation. 

And now, despite the danger of Russian forces possibly crossing the Dnieper River to retake Kherson, the church doors remain open.

Two years after the war started here in Ukraine, the church is thriving. CBN News visited one site that used to be the home of an evangelical church. It was destroyed after a bomb fell on the roof – signs of bullet holes and shrapnel holes are everywhere. The church is no longer meeting here – instead, they meet every Sunday in a tent. 

"People understand that the church today is a center of hope and inner peace," Derkanchenko said.

On a recent Sunday, several people professed faith in Jesus Christ and were baptized in a tub.

"And just imagine we even have people who come to the war zone just to visit our church from other districts. People often tell me that they feel calmer here in the church than at home and it's only God's kindness," Derkanchenko said.

Download the FREE CBN News app!

Serving here is obviously not without risk.

Pastor Andrii Skantsev said, "The Russians know exactly where our church is. During the occupation of Kherson, literally 50 meters from here there was a vehicle with Russian agents inside that were monitoring what we were doing in the church."
Now Skantsev spends his days with a small band of brothers delivering aid. 

"When the Russians were retreating, they began to shell the entire city and one of the shells landed right here next to the church, you can see the damaged walls," Skantsev said.

Pastor Skantsev says his church has also seen explosive growth.  "Before the war about 150 people attended the church but after the start of the war two or three times more people started attending the church. Some got baptized, converted to Christianity. We had twice or thrice the amount of people who got baptized during the war."

Most here know the Russians will have a tough time getting across the Dnieper River. That's because as they retreated in 2022, they blew up the Antonivsky Bridge, which Pastor Derkanchenko can see from his church office.

"We are also praying that God can help our forces liberate the Russian-occupied territories on the left bank because we have relatives and friends who live there," Derkanchenko said. 

For now, though, the daily bombardment continues and the church stands in the gap for its people and nation.
"Those people who decided to stay in this conflict zone are asking for help, and being here is extremely important," Skantsev said. "And to remain here is probably what it means to be a Christian, to show Jesus Christ." 


Share This article

About The Author

George Thomas Headshot

Born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and of Indian descent, CBN News’ Senior International Correspondent and Co-Anchor, George Thomas, has been traveling the globe for more than 20 years, finding the stories of people, conflicts, and issues that must be told. He has reported from more than 100 countries and has had a front-row seat to numerous global events of our day. George’s stories of faith, struggle, and hope combine the expertise of a seasoned journalist with the inspiration of a deep calling to tell the stories of the people behind the news. “I’ve always liked discovering & exploring new