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Right at Home

Published on April 06, 2023

David Smale

Life was good for Oleksandr “Sasha” Pastukhov.

He was a successful Greco-Roman wrestling coach and journalist. He coached local athletes in Kyiv and covered Ukrainian athletes around the world, including the Olympics in Tokyo. He found joy and fulfillment in his roles in the world of wrestling.

Then everything changed.

NfoYgor6 - Edited“It was supposed to be a normal day for me,” Pastukhov said of the early morning of February 24, 2022. “Wake up, go coach and live life as I always did. But my wife woke me up at five in the morning and said, ‘Sasha, wake up, the war has started. We are under attack.’”

Pastukhov and his wife, Yulia, felt the building shaking and could see the windows trembling. They didn’t see the explosions but could tell they were nearby.

There was no way they could stay in their seventh-floor apartment, so they packed important documents and all the valuables they could gather and headed west. They lived close to the international airport in Kyiv, which is also near several military bases that became targets.

Focused on getting their kids out of danger, Sasha and Yulia decided to go to her grandmother’s house in a village around 140 kilometers (86 miles) away.

Normally a drive of a little more than two hours with country roads, the drive took more than eight hours that day because of the mass evacuation from the area.

“It was basically a line of cars filled with people trying to get out,” Pastukhov said. “We heard those big military planes flying over us. Of course, you don’t know if they’re Ukrainian or the enemy’s. But you hear them, and that noise is scary.

“We were not moving. There was no way for us to get out of the traffic, and I couldn’t imagine a worse-case scenario.”

“There’s no way you can have any plans in that situation. So, I just prayed to God to help us and tell us what to do.”
-Oleksandr Pastukhov
For a man whose life was well-planned, it was unimaginable.

“There’s no way you can have any plans in that situation,” he said. “So, I just prayed to God to help us and tell us what to do.”

When they got to Yulia’s grandmother’s house, things calmed down for a few days. Away from the invasion, Sasha described it as “peaceful.” But then the military planes started flying over the village. They knew that it was only a matter of time before they might be in danger again, so they made the decision to keep going west.

A friend who worked for FCA called him and suggested that they go to Greece. “I was like, ‘What? Is that even possible?’ God really took care of us,” Sasha said.

Little did Sasha know, but God would do more than answer a prayer for their new home. When they got to Greece, they quickly found a church where they were welcomed, and even though they didn’t understand the language, Sasha and his family felt right at home.

“The service was in Greek. I was sitting there understanding nothing at all, and I felt so good. My wife felt that way too.

“We felt so loved, accepted and cared for by people that didn’t owe anything to us.”

3dORA0YCThrough the process of adapting to a new culture and engaging in FCA while in Greece, Sasha realized he had been missing something in his own walk with God. Back home in Ukraine, he never read the Bible. He describes his religious experience as more ritualistic.

“When I started coming to FCA meetings, I saw a very different way of worshipping God,” he said. “I started hearing about this personal relationship with Jesus and realized that God does not want any of my works, He does not want any of my accomplishments; He just wants my heart."

Sasha and Yulia are experiencing life in a new way, with believers who demonstrate the contrast between religion and faith.

But, ever the coach, he worries about the wrestlers still in Ukraine.

“Coaching is more than training athletes to be physically strong and technical. I’m raising up men who will be citizens of their country, protectors, treat other people with respect and love their teammates, families and opponents.”

Sasha’s philosophy of caring for the whole of his athletes remain a key component of his deeper mission.

He tells his athletes they only have a brief season with him as their coach, “but there’s a higher Coach, the main Coach, and that is God. He’s the one who’s wrestling with you on that mat. And He’s the one who gives you strength.’”

To partner with Ukraine on upcoming initiatives, visit fca.org/supportukraine.