‘You wake up, you check’
Evanston, Ill. In 2012, when news came on his phone Wednesday that Russia was attacking Ukraine, 42-year-old Alex Teleschak rushed to turn the news on and then quickly called his wife’s parents. They live in the western Ukrainian city of Ternopil, and he and his wife worry that if the phone line or internet service fails, they will not be able to contact him again for an unknown amount of time.
“It’s emotionally difficult for both sides,” he said. “You’re not saying goodbye, but it’s almost like that, because you don’t know when the conversation can continue.”
His wife’s parents are among 130,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ukraine. In 2017, Russia banned the sect, whose members believe in nonviolence and refuse to take up arms in war; Russia called it an extremist group. Since then, the homes of about 1,700 Witnesses in Russia have been raided and about 320 Witnesses imprisoned, including an action in Crimea, according to sectarian statistics. Mr. Telyschak did not dare to guess what might happen in Ukraine.
He added that the couple tried not to watch too much news to avoid getting too upset. When it was time to sleep, they kept looking at Viber, the messaging app they used to communicate with their families. “You go to bed, you watch. You wake up, you check,” he said. “We told them, ‘Anything, you text, you call, whatever time it is.'”
On Thursday afternoon, his wife received a message that an air raid siren had gone off, and her parents had fled their old concrete-style building. Outside, a member of their Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation was driving and put them in his car. The men in his circle had been checking on him and others for weeks, making sure everyone had go-bags, flashlights, water, and a plan.
If the parents had to leave the country as refugees, Mr. Tellishk trusted that the other Witnesses would take them in. “A community, or a religion that is borderless, is a great comfort to us,” he said.
He finds comfort in the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid when there are rumors of war and war, when the nation will rise against the nation.
“We also understand that the Bible predicts a time when this will all go away, when there will be no more these wars, these conflicts between nations, and there will be no more hostilities and conflicts,” he said. “The disciples weren’t asking because they wanted to know when things would be really bad. They wanted to know when the solution would be, when the solution was going to come.”