My Chief Concern—Remaining Loyal
AS TOLD BY ALEXEI DAVIDJUK
The year was 1947; the place, a few miles from our village of Laskiv, Ukraine, near the Polish border. My older friend Stepan served as a courier smuggling Bible literature from Poland into Ukraine. One night a border guard saw him, gave chase, and shot him. Twelve years later Stepan’s death had a dramatic effect on my life, as I will explain later.
BY THE time I was born in Laskiv in 1932, ten families in our village were Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. Among them were my parents, who set a fine example of loyalty to Jehovah until their deaths in the mid-1970’s. All my life, being loyal to God has been my chief concern as well.—Psalm 18:25.
In 1939, the year World War II began, the area in which we lived in eastern Poland was incorporated into the Soviet Union. We were under Soviet rule until June of 1941, when the Germans invaded and occupied our area.
During World War II, I had some hard times at school. The children were taught to sing nationalistic songs and to share in military exercises. In fact, part of our training included learning how to throw grenades. But I refused both to sing patriotic songs and to engage in any military training. Learning at an early age to stand up for my Bible-based convictions helped me to remain loyal to God in the years that followed.
There were so many people who were interested in Bible truth in our congregation’s territory that two pioneers, as full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses are called, were assigned to our area to help teach them. One of the pioneers, Ilja Fedorovitsch, also studied the Bible with me and trained me in the ministry. During the German occupation, Ilja was deported and put into one of the Nazi concentration camps, where he died.
Father’s Struggle to Stay Neutral
In 1941 the Soviet authorities tried to make Father sign a document promising to pay money to help finance the war. He told them that he could not support either side in the war and that as a servant of the true God, he would stay neutral. Father was branded an enemy and sentenced to four years in prison. But he served just four days. Why? Because on the Sunday following his imprisonment, the German army occupied the area where we lived.
When the prison guards heard that the Germans were nearby, they opened the prison doors and fled. Outside, most of the inmates were shot by Soviet soldiers. Father did not leave immediately but later escaped to the home of friends. From there he sent word to Mother to bring his documents, which proved that he had been imprisoned for refusing to support the Soviets in the war. When Father showed these to the German authorities, they spared his life.
The Germans wanted to know the names of all the people who had cooperated with the Soviets. They pressured Father to denounce them, but he refused. He explained his position of neutrality. If he had named anyone, he or she would have been shot. Hence, Father’s neutrality also saved the lives of other people, who were very grateful to him.
The Soviets returned to Ukraine in August 1944, and in May 1945 the European phase of World War II ended. Afterward the so-called Iron Curtain kept those of us in the Soviet Union cut off from the rest of the world. Even maintaining contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses across the border in Poland was difficult. Courageous Witnesses would slip across the border and return with a few precious Watchtower magazines. Since the border was just five miles [8 km] from our home in Laskiv, I heard about the perils that these couriers experienced.
For example, a Witness called Silvester went across twice and returned each time without incident. But on the third trip, he was spotted by the border patrol and their guard dogs. The soldiers shouted for him to stop, but Silvester ran for his life. His only chance of avoiding the dogs was to wade into a nearby lake. He spent the whole night up to his neck in water, hiding in tall grass. Finally, when the patrol gave up the search, Silvester staggered home, exhausted.
As related earlier, Silvester’s nephew Stepan was killed while trying to make the crossing. Yet, it was important that we continue to maintain contact with Jehovah’s people. By the efforts of courageous couriers, we were able to receive spiritual food and helpful direction.
The following year, in 1948, I was baptized at night in a small lake near our home. Those to be immersed met in our house, but I didn’t know who they were, since it was dark and everything took place in hushed secrecy. We baptism candidates didn’t speak to one another. I don’t know who gave the baptism talk, who asked me the baptism questions as we stood near the lake, or who immersed me. Years later, when comparing notes with a good friend, we discovered that we had both been among those baptized that night!
In 1949 the Witnesses in Ukraine received word from Brooklyn that encouraged them to petition Moscow to legalize the preaching work in the Soviet Union. Following that direction, a petition was sent through the minister of the interior to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. Afterward Mykola Pyatokha and Ilya Babijchuk were asked to go to Moscow to obtain the government’s answer to our petition. They agreed and traveled to Moscow that summer.
The official who received this delegation listened as they provided the Bible-based reason for our work. They explained that our work was being done in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy that “this good news of the kingdom [would] be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.” (Matthew 24:14) However, the official said that the State would never legalize us.
The Witnesses returned home and went to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev to obtain legal recognition for our work here in Ukraine. Again the authorities denied the request. They said that Jehovah’s Witnesses would be left in peace only if they supported the State. Witnesses, they said, needed to serve in the armed forces and participate in elections. Again our position of neutrality was explained, namely, that in imitation of our Master, Jesus Christ, we must be no part of the world.—John 17:14-16.
Shortly after that, Brothers Pyatokha and Babijchuk were arrested, charged, and sentenced to 25 years in prison. About that time, in 1950, many Witnesses, including my father, were taken away by the authorities. He was given a 25-year prison sentence and sent to Khabarovsk at the eastern extremity of the Soviet Union nearly 5,000 miles [7,000 km] away!
Exiled to Siberia
Then in April 1951, the Soviet State struck an organized blow against the Witnesses in its western republics now known as Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Moldova, Belarus, and Ukraine. During that month some 7,000 of us, including Mother and me, were sent into exile in Siberia. Soldiers simply came to our home at night and took us to the railway station. There we were locked in cattle cars—about 50 to a car—and over two weeks later, we were dropped off at a place called Zalari, which is close to Lake Baikal in the district of Irkutsk.
Standing in the snow in the grip of an icy wind and surrounded by armed soldiers, I wondered what awaited us. How would I manage to stay loyal to Jehovah here? We began to sing Kingdom songs to keep our minds off the cold. Then managers of local state-owned enterprises arrived. Some needed men for hard physical work, whereas others wanted women for such things as caring for animals. Mother and I were taken to a construction site where the Tagninskaya Hydroelectric Power Station was being built.
When we arrived, we saw rows of wooden barracks, housing for the exiles. I was assigned to work as a tractor driver and an electrician, and Mother was put to work on a farm. We were officially classed as deportees, not as prisoners. So we were free to move within a short distance of the power station, although we were forbidden to visit the next settlement some 30 miles [50 km] away. The authorities pressured us to sign a declaration stating that we would stay forever. That sounded like an exceedingly long time to me, a 19-year-old, so I refused to sign. Yet, we did remain in the area for 15 years.
There in Siberia the Polish border was no longer within just 5 miles [8 km] of us but was over 4,000 [6,000 km] miles away! We Witnesses did all that we could to organize ourselves into congregations again, appointing men to take the lead. At first, we had no Bible literature except for a few items that some Witnesses had managed to bring with them from Ukraine. These were copied by hand, and we passed them among ourselves.
Soon we started holding meetings. Since many of us lived in barracks, we met together most evenings. Our congregation consisted of about 50 people, and I was assigned to conduct the Theocratic Ministry School. There were few men in our congregation, so women also gave student talks, which was a procedure introduced to congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses elsewhere in 1958. All took their assignments seriously, viewing the school as a way to praise Jehovah and to encourage others in the congregation.
Our Ministry Blessed
Since we shared the barracks with non-Witnesses, hardly a day went by without our talking with others about our faith, even though this was strictly forbidden. After Joseph Stalin, the Soviet premier, died in 1953, conditions improved. We were allowed to talk more openly with others about our Bible-based beliefs. Through correspondence with friends in Ukraine, we learned where other Witnesses were located in our area and got in touch with them. This enabled us to organize our congregations into circuits.
In 1954, I married Olga, also exiled from Ukraine. Over the years she was a great support to me in my service to Jehovah. It was Olga’s brother, Stepan, who was killed at the border between Ukraine and Poland in 1947. Later we had a daughter, Valentina.
Olga and I enjoyed many blessings in our Christian ministry in Siberia. For example, we met George, who was the leader of a Baptist group. We called on him regularly and studied whatever Watchtower magazines were available. George soon came to appreciate that what Jehovah’s servants preach from the Bible is the truth. We also began to study with several of his Baptist friends. What a thrill it was for us when George and a number of his friends were baptized and became our spiritual brothers!
In 1956, I was appointed as a traveling overseer, which required that I visit a congregation in our area each week. I would work all day and then set off in the evening on my motorbike to meet with the congregation. Early the next morning, I would return and go to work. Mykhailo Serdinsky, who was appointed to assist me in the traveling work, was killed in a road accident in 1958. He died on a Wednesday, but we delayed his funeral until Sunday to give as many Witnesses as possible the opportunity to attend.
When a large group of us began walking to the cemetery, members of the State Security followed. Delivering a talk that covered our Bible-based hope of the resurrection meant running the risk of arrest. But I was impelled to speak about Mykhailo and his wonderful future prospects. Although I used the Bible, the State Security did not arrest me. Apparently they felt that nothing was to be gained, and I was well-known to them anyway, having often been a “guest” at their headquarters for questioning.
Betrayed by an Informer
In 1959 the State Security arrested 12 Witnesses who had been taking the lead in the preaching work. Several others were called in for questioning, and I was included. When my turn for questioning came, I was aghast to hear the officials recounting confidential details about our work. How could they know these things? Obviously there was an informer, someone who knew a lot about us and who had been working for the State for some time.
The 12 who had been arrested were in adjoining cells, and they agreed that they would not say one more word to the authorities. That way the informer would have to appear in person at the trial to give evidence against them. Although I was not charged, I went to court to see what would happen. The judge asked questions, and the 12 did not respond. Then a Witness named Konstantyn Polishchuk, whom I had known for years, testified against the 12. The trial ended with some of the Witnesses receiving prison sentences. On the street outside the court building, I bumped into Polishchuk.
“Why are you betraying us?” I asked.
“Because I no longer believe,” he replied.
“What do you no longer believe?” I asked.
“I just cannot believe the Bible any longer,” he replied.
Polishchuk could have also betrayed me, but in his testimony he didn’t mention my name. So I asked him why he didn’t.
“I don’t want you to go to prison,” he explained. “I still feel guilty about your wife’s brother, Stepan. I was the one responsible for sending him across the border the night he was killed. I am truly sorry for that.”
His words bewildered me. How warped his conscience had become! He felt remorse over Stepan’s death, and yet he now betrayed Jehovah’s servants. I never saw Polishchuk again. He died some months later. For me, seeing someone I had trusted for years betray our brothers left deep emotional scars. But the experience taught me a valuable lesson: Polishchuk was disloyal because he gave up reading and believing the Bible.
Surely we need to keep this lesson in mind: If we are to stay loyal to Jehovah, we need to engage in regular study of the Holy Scriptures. The Bible says: “Safeguard your heart, for out of it are the sources of life.” Moreover, the apostle Paul told Christians to beware. Why? “For fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God.”—Proverbs 4:23; Hebrews 3:12.
Back to Ukraine
When our exile in Siberia ended in 1966, Olga and I moved back to Ukraine, to a town called Sokal, about 50 miles [80 km] from L’viv. We had much to do, since there were only 34 Witnesses in Sokal and the nearby towns of Cervonograd and Sosnivka. In this area today, there are 11 congregations!
Olga died faithful in 1993. Three years later I married Lidiya, and since then she has been a great strength to me. In addition, my daughter, Valentina, and her family are zealous servants of Jehovah and have also been a source of encouragement. However, what continues to bring me the greatest joy is that I have remained loyal to Jehovah, a God who acts with loyalty.—2 Samuel 22:26.
Alexei Davidjuk died loyal to Jehovah on February 18, 2000, as this article was being prepared for publication.
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Our congregation that met in the barracks in 1952 in eastern Siberia
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Our Theocratic Ministry School in 1953
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Funeral of Mykhailo Serdinsky in 1958
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With my wife Lidiya