Daniel was born in Donetsk, a region in the south now being surrounded by Russian troops but still under Ukrainian control. During the Soviet era he served for 17 years as a helicopter technician for the Soviet Army in Kazakhstan. The harsh realities of military life, an absent father and a broken marriage left Daniel hopeless and alone. He ended up in Siberia, a frozen wasteland that reflected the “cold, loneliness and darkness I felt inside,” he tells me.
But Daniel is a fighter and over the next five years he struggled with depression and the darkness that can bring a soul to the brink of despair. “I can barely remember what happened during those years,” Daniel says. “My life was a mess. I wanted it to end.”
Ahuva, “the beloved”
I learn from Ahuva, the young girl who would later marry Daniel, that “he couldn’t even speak when we first met. Some days he was catatonic,” she recalls. “He wouldn’t eat and couldn’t sleep. I was moved to tears seeing him like that.” Eventually, Daniel was admitted to a local mental hospital just beyond the frigid Arctic Circle.
In spite of everything, Ahuva stayed with Daniel, though nothing seemed to help. She brought a friend over who had been to Christian revival meetings in Ukraine. “At first I didn’t know what was happening,” Daniel remembers. “My mind was so confused I couldn’t even understand what she was saying.” But as the young Ukrainian Christian prayed for Daniel his countenance slowly changed. He became peaceful and a smile he had not known for many years began to emerge.
“That prayer changed my life,” Daniel now says. “I can’t explain it. All I know is that 15 years later I am a different person,” he grins.
Two weeks after that visit and seeing the changes in Daniel’s life, Ahuva also gave her life to Yeshua, Israel’s Messiah. The couple began sharing the Good News of how the Messiah could help others, too. They got married and started a home group for new believers in Siberia. “I feel like Yeshua gave me my life back,” explains Daniel. “Everything I had lost God has given back to me, and more. It is a miracle,” he says.
“If you are a Jew, what are you doing here?”
As part of his journey of faith, Daniel began to consider his Jewish heritage, which had been erased like it had for many Jews during the Soviet Russian communist revolutions. Inspired by what he found in the Bible, a book he only now read for the first time in his life, the couple decided to made Aliyah to Israel. “In Soviet Ukraine we used to hide the fact that we were Jews,” Daniel reminisces. “My family even changed their name so that no one would know. Now we love living in Israel and being a part of our people. We love our Messianic Jewish congregation here, where we are learning to grow in our faith and restoring our rich Jewish and Biblical heritage,” he explains.
The couple have a boy born here in Israel, even though the doctors in Siberia said it was impossible for Ahuva to bear children. Their faces light up when they tell the story of how their little boy is the most precious thing in the world for them. “He is God’s love gift to us,” they both chime.
The couple now lead a home group for other Ukrainian Jewish immigrants who have come to Israel. Daniel works as a truck driver and in his spare time is taking courses at a local Bible college.
There are many Ukrainian and Russian Jews like Daniel and Ahuva living in Israel who represent a Messianic hope that wars and revolutions cannot stop. In fact, most Messianic Jewish congregations in Israel (136) are Russian-speaking. Let’s continue to lift these folks up in prayer that many more will find hope, and in the midst of so much trouble will experience God’s love for our people.