Igor Stakhovskiy cracks jokes and blinks furiously as his car, loaded down with eight passengers, inches up a hill at walking speed. His is one of the few cars in Kyiv* that is not a bright, sleek Toyota Jazz or a new black Volkswagen—it's a pastor's car. Once it reaches the summit and starts rattling down the hill toward his apartment, Igor resumes telling me about his call to ministry and the little evangelical church he pastors.
I am crammed in the car with the whole Stakhovskiy family, one that could not have existed at any other point in Ukrainian history. Igor's wife, Raia Stakhovskaya, a strawberry blonde who fits the stereotype of a kindly Ukrainian woman, is from a family that has been Baptist for generations—a family that has several martyrs in its lineage. Igor was part of a wave of new believers who converted around the time the Soviet Union fell. After their third daughter was born, the Stakhovskiys adopted twins who had suffered intracranial hemorrhages. No one at the orphanage expected the babies to survive, but they seem to be out of danger a year after the Stakhovskiys took them in.
The little girls, strollers, and church equipment make for a crowded elevator ride up to the family's one-bedroom apartment. Igor serves tea in the living room, apologizing for his five daughters' beds, which seem to line every wall of the apartment. Five years ago, the window behind him looked out over the bank of the Dnipro River; now one can only see a row of bleak, 20-story condos.
Igor tells me that after finishing his military service in Moscow in 1991, he visited a Baptist church with his mother. Why not? he thought at the time. There, a friend presented the gospel to him and told him it was the hour of his salvation. ...