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Baptism by Flood: Kherson Christians Persevere After Ukraine Dam’s Destruction

Occupied, liberated, and now underwater, Kherson remains on the frontline of fighting—and faith, as a local seminary president explains.
Baptism by Flood: Kherson Christians Persevere After Ukraine Dam’s Destruction
Image: Felipe Dana / AP Images / Edits by CT
A flooded church in Kherson, Ukraine.

For eight months, the Ukrainian city of Kherson endured Russian occupation.

Now—along with at least seven churches—it is underwater.

Experts estimate that the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam, 44 miles upstream, released an amount of water equal to the Great Salt Lake. A new wave of evacuations is underway in southern Ukraine, with 25,000 people in Russian-controlled areas and 17,000 in Ukrainian-held territory advised to leave.

An estimated 2,000 houses have been flooded, with 16,000 people made homeless. A lack of drinking water, electricity shortages, and floating land mines have contributed to the humanitarian and ecological disaster.

The dam’s reservoir contributed 2,600 tons of fish to the local economy. Wheat prices have spiked, as 94 percent of Kherson’s irrigation system has lost its supply. And 150 tons of machine oil have been carried toward the Black Sea.

But that is just the physical damage.

Tavriski Christian Institute (TCI) in Kherson is a spiritual casualty. Liberated from Russian occupation last November, the seminary’s riverside properties suffered a new blow with the deluge. Early in the war, TCI president Valentin Siniy evacuated west with his wife, two children, and much of the student body. Today he continues education from Ivano-Frankivsk as he oversees relief efforts over 500 miles away.

CT spoke with Siniy about the state of the seminary campus, the emotional impact of the flood, and the rising challenges to faith that have led to newfound spiritual insights:

What is the situation with your seminary?

When the Russian military descended upon our cherished seminary, it was an emblem of knowledge and spiritual growth. They stripped it of its essence. Equipment from our printing shop vanished, books were burned, and I would say their very presence desecrated our sacred space.

A friend later retrieved one of my favorite pictures: an image of Jesus’ crucified feet.

But even after liberation, Russian missiles destroyed our buildings and sniper fire kept people away. I visited several times, but it was too dangerous to remain. Our once-vibrant campus, composed of five buildings, lay in ruins, mirroring the devastation that ravaged our nation.

And just when we thought we had faced the worst, the catastrophic flooding submerged our greenhouse farm. It had been a source of sustenance and support for our students and area residents—even as it remained in occupied territory on the east bank of the Dnipro River.

Now that the waters are slowly receding, our manager—also a local pastor—tells us that much can be repaired. But he has been threatened by the Russians, who also killed a pregnant volunteer woman while they confiscated the boats of those assisting others.

The Russian government is godless and immoral; it simply destroys people.

How have evangelicals been able to help?

There is a lot of dirt and debris floating about. Cemeteries and cesspools have been flooded; viruses and diseases are spreading. Our volunteers are helping on the liberated west bank, and we have delivered ten pumps with another ten on their way. Unfortunately, most of the damage has been in Russian-controlled areas.

Through the United World Mission-Overseas Council partnership, we are addressing the lack of drinking water by providing filters alongside dry food rations. And our churches continue to serve as refugee hubs, receiving again those displaced from their homes.

How are local residents dealing with yet another tragedy?

These trials have left an indelible mark on our emotions and spiritual state. War and environmental disaster have reshaped our perceptions of the world. In the face of extreme violence and suffering, our once-unwavering beliefs have undergone profound revision.

Questions about the presence of God have become more prevalent, as individuals seek solace amid their pain. They yearn for a faith that transcends simplistic assertions and embraces the complexities of their reality.

Faith is not a passive endeavor. It is a journey that demands deep introspection and unwavering commitment. Times of suffering force us to reevaluate our understanding of the relationship between faith and well-being. It is in these moments that the witness of Christians becomes most relevant—not through sermons alone, but through our presence and assistance to those who suffer. It is through practical acts of love and compassion that the essence of our religion is revealed.

It is not easy, and some are losing their faith.

What is the main issue believers struggle with?

For many, their belief had been superficial. But even among believers, in the past we used to operate according to Psalm 37 where David said, “I have never seen the righteous forsaken, or their children begging bread” (v. 25). We trusted that if we lived a moral life, God would give us a prosperous life. And if we sinned, we would suffer, but we knew that we—or others—deserved it.

Even with a more mature faith, we used to interpret 1 Corinthians 10 that our trials would not be more than we could bear. But my “sin” was not equal to this devastation, nor my “sanctification” proportionate to the level of suffering. My “righteousness” could not endure this terrible war.

So many of us were left confused—even scared—of the impact this great pain would have on our faith. I don’t know how to understand these verses now; however, I do know that Jeremiah and Job came to different conclusions. Job’s righteousness was vindicated; there was no link between his suffering and sin.

In this case, the pain simply comes from Russian aggression.

How do you answer your fellow Ukrainians who are overwhelmed?

It does not help to speak about the love of God at times like this; it is usually best just to sit in silence with them. But C. S. Lewis wrote about how suffering burns away the formalism of faith, inviting people into a deeper relationship with God. We want to be ready to help spiritually, when they are ready to inquire.

And some are. Last week, I preached at a service where three young people were baptized.

After the service, an older man approached me and asked how I have the strength to stand firm. I quoted from 1 Peter 1 about our “inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade.” And while we still have to “suffer grief in all kinds of trials,” through faith, we are “shielded by God’s power” (vv. 4–6).

These verses have become a source of inspiration and solace. They speak of the hope that is bestowed upon us through our faith in God. And it reminds me that the strength to endure extreme violence and unspeakable suffering does not come from within ourselves, but emanates from God’s strength.

What does “shielding” mean, in the face of so much loss?

It was the flood that helped me think through this passage. Later in his letter, Peter connects baptism to the time of Noah, and how faith helped them escape in the ark. His family lost so much in the world, yet they were preserved—trusting in God’s promise.

It is not our possessions that are shielded, as they were swept away in the floodwaters. Nor is it our emotions that are shielded, as we still go through pain. But what I have found is that God shields our hope, enabling us to trust in his sovereignty.

It was by God’s word that the world was created, and one day by his word it will crumble like paper. But not one word of his promises will go unfulfilled, and in Romans 8 he tells us that “all things work together for good” (v. 28, ESV). Our salvation comes through his strength—even now—as it gives us a future orientation.

This is our anchor, grounding us in the present, as we await God there.

Donations to Tavriski Christian Institute for refugees and reconstruction are collected here.

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