As thousands of people fled for their lives to neighboring countries when Russian soldiers invaded Ukraine, a young professional cellist was heading as quickly as possible from Italy to return home to Ukraine to reunite his family and get them to safety.
This young man, Vlad Primikove, 29, is known and loved by many with The Sanctuary, a United Pentecostal Church in Lincoln.
Primikove spent two weeks in Lincoln in 2015 with members of the church to learn about their worship, help lead worship and get a taste of American life in a rural community.
He was single at the time and came to Lincoln because of a connection between his pastor at the United Pentecostal Church International in Kyiv and then Sanctuary pastor David McBride.
Capt. Jeff O’Brien of the Prairie Grove Police Department leads the cult for The Sanctuary and he describes Primikove as “brother from another country”. O’Brien said church members “fell in love with Vlad” and they, along with many others, donated money to help Primikove’s family meet their financial needs for buy food, clothes and basic necessities during these tragic times in Ukraine.
The decision to go home
Life today is very different for Primikove than he had in Lincoln some seven years ago. He is now married to his wife, Dianna, and they have a precious 2-year-old daughter, Lia.
The family is no longer in kyiv but lives in a village of around 8,000 people near the western border of Ukraine. They fled there for safety reasons and spend their time helping to pack food and supplies to send to many other people in need in their war-torn country.
But to get there, Primikove first had to return to Ukraine because many others were heading in the opposite direction to get away from the war.
During an interview via Facetime on April 6, Primikove said he was in Lower Italy to perform in a concert with the National Chamber Ensemble kyiv Soloists when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 23.
The war had started and the borders were closing. Primikove’s contract with the National Chamber ran until March 9 in Italy. When Russia invaded, orchestra members could choose to stay in Italy or try to return home to Ukraine.
Primikove knew he couldn’t stay.
“When I was in Italy, one day I woke up with this feeling. My people are fighting there. I’m sitting abroad, doing concerts,” he said. “I knew my wife and daughter were there in an air raid shelter, starving, they’re cold. I have to do something, anything. I don’t want to shoot but I want to do what I can. to do. That’s why I came back to Ukraine.”
When Russia invaded Ukraine, Dianna left kyiv with her daughter to go to her parents in a nearby town. At the time, Primikove said his wife thought she might be gone for two or three weeks and then go home.
Primikove said a pastor prayed with him before he left Italy. He bought a plane ticket for himself and a plane ticket for his cello to fly to Rome and then flew to Romania, closer to the Ukrainian border. From there, Primikove and his cello traveled by train for four days to join his family.
“It was terrible,” he said, describing the scene at stations and riding the train. There were so many people that he had to get up during the trip.
“A lot of people died while waiting at stations because of people running and because of the heat,” Primikove said. “When the train arrives, everyone runs.”
He jumped on the moving train. There was no electricity, no light, windows closed.
“I prayed. I just prayed. I prayed a lot,” Primikove said. “I asked God, can you open doors and show me which doors should be closed.”
flee to safety
He arrived safe and sound at his family, then started looking for a car or someone to take them to safety. In the meantime, for three days, he and family members walked in and out of the apartment’s basement as the bomb sirens went off at all hours of the day and night.
“It didn’t matter if it was morning, if it was night, if it was 3am. We just grabbed the kid. We were never undressed. We always had sweaters on and always dressed” , did he declare.
As the sirens sounded, they descended the stairs to the basement of the apartment, sometimes waiting up to five hours before the sirens stopped sounding.
It was important to them, he said, that Lia didn’t feel scared by all of this.
“We played with her and spent more energy than we didn’t have,” he said. Movies and cartoons were used to distract Lia from the dangers around them.
Primikove said someone intervened to help them get to the village where they now live. His wife’s parents stayed in their apartment because of an elderly family member who couldn’t leave.
In this village, Vlad and Dianna volunteer through the Apostolic Lighthouse Tabernacle. Food and cash donations are being trucked to other parts of Ukraine.
The couple did not return home to Kyiv but Primikove believes they will return home one day and their country will rebuild. However, he said he did not believe the war would end soon.
When he left for Italy, Primikove had only his cello and a suitcase of clothes. When his wife went to her parents, she only had clothes for her mother and her daughter. Everyone thought they would be back together soon.
Like many in Ukraine, Primikove said he did not believe Russia would invade Ukraine, even though its army was along the country’s borders.
“The news in Ukraine said it wouldn’t happen,” Primikove said. “My friends said it wouldn’t happen. He’s (Russian President Vladimir Putin) too crazy to do it. He’s just showing up. He’s just showing what he’s got. But he won’t.”
Now that the war has been going on for weeks, Primikove said the only way he could deal with it was if he tried not to let his emotions take over.
For his wife, it’s harder, he says. Dianna tries to keep busy but she gets depressed, he said.
“The little things hurt him,” he said.
The family has felt the presence of God since the invasion, even before the invasion.
“I prayed and asked God to protect us,” Primikove said. “I think without God I wouldn’t be here. I felt God’s direction in everything.”
His wife also has many stories to tell of when she believed God was protecting her and Lia, and they know stories from other people of how God sustained them.
He tells this personal and traumatic story.
“I was in Italy. She (Dianna) called me for two seconds. She was running and she said ‘pray for us.’ That was it. For an hour I thought they were dead. I can’t explain it. It was so painful. I was praying, I was crying. Within an hour she called back and said: “We are fine, thank God. .'”
The Primikove Church in Kyiv has started to meet again. There, Primikove helped lead worship by playing cello, piano, and singing. Currently, he helps worship with a church in the village where they live. He said the church met every night to pray.
Primikove said his message to the world is to ask people to donate money, food, do whatever they can to help Ukrainians.
“A lot of people are helping Ukraine and I appreciate that and I’m really grateful for that,” Primikove said. “But if a lot of people are watching, I ask them to do anything… It’s not about our comfort. It’s about our life.”
He also has specific prayer requests and asks people to pray for his president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and God’s direction for him, to pray for an end to the war and to pray that people do not die on both sides. .
Primikove said he also prays for God’s justice in this situation.
“I know God has instruments,” he said. “Sometimes I feel really angry with the Russian army. What they do to children, to women, to old people. They just kill for fun. These are terrible things.”
Primikove said he was trying not to judge but still needed to calm down and do what he could to protect his people.
Primikove said he used the money raised through his connections in Lincoln, Ark., to buy food and anything the family needed, but he also sent it to help his father and other members. of his family in Kyiv and other cities.
“When you have a place to sleep and a family member doesn’t, you have to help. We have to do that. That’s our service too,” he said.