The Dynamic Duo


As they travel throughout Ukraine fulfilling the biblically inspired mandate of MMK to feed the poor, comfort the afflicted, and minister to the displaced, poor and old, Ira and Sasha make an unlikely pair.

Ira, always smiling and a joyful middle-aged grandmother, has the heart and gifts of a pastor. She has become a “mother” to many victims of war and a “daughter” to numerous neglected elderly women. Sasha, once a troubled teenager with a head and body full of piercings, is now a married father of two children. Together, Ira and Sasha have traveled approximately 80,000 kilometers to share God’s love with many on the front lines of war in Ukraine’s eastern region.

Widow kissing Ira for Food Packet.JPG

These are two of the tireless front-line workers of MMK.

For over two years, Ira and Sasha have represented the work of the Mission in the war zone and surrounding regions by delivering food to the old and hungry. While there, they maintain contact with countless victims of war, both young and old, ministering to their spiritual needs and building a sense of family. They minister to the elderly in the town of Turetz, which is less than 5 miles from the front line. They also bring both spiritual and physical food to a ministry partner in Druhivka and encourage the many Mission partners that extend the work of the Mission beyond the capital, Kyiv.

During lunch in Druhivka on a sunny September afternoon, between planning meetings and a visit to an old age home, they were asked to explain their motivation for fulfilling the Lord’s work in war-torn eastern Ukraine.

“I see the people’s need to be loved by God,” Ira begins simply and directly. “I can relate to the pain of the people to whom we minister, and I know the difference between having a life with God and without because I have lived both ways.”

She speaks with authority because she knows the experience of being displaced and what it means to be without a home.

“I understand their circumstances because I too was displaced and lost my home when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred.”

“I know what it means to lose everything I held dear and having to start from nothing, even though I was quite young. I know of the uncertainty and I still remember.”

“Back then, we were given apartments, but now, during this tragedy, many don’t even have enough money to rent apartments. Many don’t know where they are going to live in the future or whether they will ever be able to return to their lifelong homes. You can’t imagine the effect on the old.”

One of the major challenges that the Mission has taken on in Ukraine’s war torn region is to help and minister to the elderly, many who are alone in having to deal with food shortages, and who have been left behind, too old to travel away from the danger.

When Ira and Sasha travel to the east, they always drive a van that has been filled with loads of food including 50 lb. bags of rice, 10 lb. bags of pasta, varieties of canned goods that will be delivered to the elderly in old age homes, small individual bags of foodstuffs for the elderly who visit a Ministry sponsored drop-in center in Turetz, and Bibles.

Ira with VAN loaded with Supplies and Food.jpg

Their days are filled with activity.

Along with delivering and distributing food that feeds the elderly poor for a week, and sometimes for 3 weeks to a month if the food is destined for an elderly facility, they minister God’s Word. They spend time with the elderly, going room to room, fellowshipping, encouraging and praying with numerous bed-bound folks. Eyes light up and smiles abound when they arrive.

Ira visiting widows at nursing home in Eastern Ukraine.JPG

Their last visit even included a meal of pizza and ice cream with about 20 displaced and war-weary teenagers, many who had traveled to MMK summer Bible camps near Kyiv this past summer.

“We give the gift of God’s love,” Sasha answers, when he and Ira are asked what their motivation is to make the 800 mile round trip from Kyiv.

“We give our people the gift of hope,” Ira adds. “Many have become our friends, and we look at them as they look at us, as family.”

“Most importantly, we try to show them an example of what it means to experience the spiritual peace that God can provide for them in this very troubled time. For us, it is not just about providing food, though in the war zone, it is often very expensive and more times than not, unavailable.”

They began traveling to the region soon after the war began.

“People are still shocked, and even taken aback that we come all the way from Kyiv to be with them. It truly affects them. We immediately see it in their faces,” Sasha explains.  And these same grateful people eagerly await more KSOC outreach concerts.

“Every time we come, we see God’s hand working in their hearts when we speak with them and give them food. They can’t understand why people do this for them, without profiting in some way. They see that no one judges them or asks them for anything, not making any demands of them. They can’t believe it.”

Continuing, he says, “They often ask, why do you come from Kyiv and why do people from North America give to us? We answer them by saying that we do this because God loves them and hasn’t forgotten about them.”

“They are so appreciative,” Ira adds. ”We cry together, pray with everyone, and from that, we see that they have something to hope for. It is in this way that we have become friends, but we are family as well.”

“When asked why we come,” Ira hastens to add, “I always answer by saying, ‘I want you to learn the love of the Father.’”

And so, as happens throughout most of the days in the war region, at one location to the next, Sasha unloads bag after bag of food, while Ira goes from room to room, hugging, talking, praying and encouraging the old women, many who have been forgotten and who wait for her visit as if she were their own daughter.

Ira and Sasha are definitely a team who are oftentimes mistaken for husband and wife. But rather than be offended, they still laugh hard when they are reminded.

“Really, we are like a brother and sister. He and I are like family,” Ira says. “We know everything about each other. You know, he can be quite trying at times.” She continues laughing out loud, while Sasha sits patiently beside her, driving the van as his “sister” continues to tease him.

“But we are a quite different,” Sasha says after stifling his laughter and attempting to make a serious point. “We are a team. Our gifts complement each other. We are like instruments in an orchestra, each playing our part in fulfilling the Lord’s work.”

The elderly line up to receive Food Packets in Eastern Ukraine.JPG

And so, this dynamic duo, one a young grandmother, the other, a former troubled and rebellious youth, but now a responsible father of two, travel back and forth across Ukraine for hundreds and even thousands of miles, doing God’s work by showing by their example of joy that God loves and cares about those who have been caught within the travails of war.    

Will you join us in Prayer?

  • Pray for the safety of the dynamic duo as they travel over 800 miles round trip to minister to the displaced near the “war zone.”

  • Pray for the Pastors that live in Ukraine’s eastern region and minister to people trapped near the war zone.

  • Pray that both the young and old would experience true ‘peace’ that only God can provide.

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Ronnie Santeusanio