The Protestant pastor who builds 'rocket stoves' for the Ukraine front | International

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Ihor, a 47-year-old Protestant pastor, making an artisan kitchen, in the village of Velyka Vilshanka, in the kyiv region.Luis de Vega

In the village of Velyka Vilshanka, in the kyiv region, prayers are multiplying these days for a baby whose condition is not yet known. Her mother, Dana, 39, remains hospitalized due to the high risk of abortion in the Vasilkov hospital, fifteen kilometers from her family residence. Her father, Ihor, 47, is the pastor of the local Pentecostal Church. The one on the way is the tenth son. Or daughter. They do not know. "Doctors are surprised that he is still alive," says the religious optimist about the creature's endurance in the womb. "We like to have a big family and accept all the blessings that God offers us," he says in the presence, among others, of the eldest daughter, Nastia, 21, and the youngest, David, three.

But in the midst of uncertainty, this man with huge hands continues to find time to carry out humanitarian work and help those who need it. He has been doing it since the Russian invasion began on February 24. He has volunteered to distribute clothes and food and has even opened the doors of his house to up to 34 people at a time from different refugee families from the east of the country. "When someone got stuck at a roadblock because it was curfew time, they sent him to our house," he says with a smile. Now his attention is focused on manufacturing by hand, soldering iron in hand, what are known as rocket kitchens. It is a contraption that allows you to cook with very little firewood, that withstands the wind well and that, at the same time, is disassembled to facilitate its portability, something that the military demands, he comments. "The rocket thing comes because it's what it looks like when it's turned on," he adds. It is also retrofitting hot water boilers for heating.

Pentecostalism, under the umbrella of the Protestant Church, was born in the 19th century in the United States. From there Ihor received a donation a few weeks ago. He thought that the best thing was to invest it in improving the conditions in which the soldiers are going to spend the winter at the front. He decided to buy field kitchens that work without gas or electricity, but found that the market is shot by the energy crisis that is shaking Ukraine. The Russian Army has focused in recent weeks on bombing the infrastructure that supplies water, electricity and heating, and the prices of any device that helps the population survive have multiplied. "Prices are crazy and I don't want to be one of them," he says to criticize those who are taking advantage of making products more expensive.

Ihor with his wife, Dana, and their nine children in a photo that hangs in the living room of their house.
Ihor with his wife, Dana, and their nine children in a photo that hangs in the living room of their house.Luis de Vega

After finding a tutorial on YouTube, he decided that he would not buy anything made. And he got to work. “I am a country man. I can handle it ”, he justifies, clad in a safety bib as he covers his face with the mask before the sparks start to fly. He works quickly because he knows that the power outage will not be long in coming. It is the way in which the authorities impose energy saving among the population.

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Since it started in September, Ihor has made 35 kitchens by patiently welding each of the metal pieces that it has previously cut from sheets. He has done the accounts right. Each one costs him about 800 hryvnias (about 21 euros), when in a shop he assures that they would have cost him triple. "It's better to round the edges so they don't scratch or catch on clothes," says Ihor as he caresses the one he is finishing. Dogs bark in the background and chickens scamper by the orchard.

When the war broke out, the kyiv region was the first target of the troops sent by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Velyka Vilshanka village was spared from occupation and fighting. Ihor then turned to the most needy, civilian or military. The still prevailing martial law prevents men between the ages of 18 and 65 from leaving the country. There are exceptions. One of them is having more than three children. Ihor remembers that the army that his family believes was a more than sure passport to have left Ukraine immediately. “Together with my wife we ​​decided that we would not leave. Something told me this town was safe. For many local people our family is the last hope and we couldn't leave them alone. If they saw us leave, they would leave. Since we stayed, they also stayed.”

The priest talks at the door of his house with a neighbor.
The priest talks at the door of his house with a neighbor.Luis de Vega

Ihor speaks as if he were some kind of messiah. 13 years ago he took his family, they left kyiv and settled in Velyka Vilshanka, half a hundred kilometers south of the Ukrainian capital. "We believed that these people needed God," he argues. It was audacity for a Protestant to jump into the pool like that in a country where roughly 90% of the population follows in the footsteps of the Orthodox Church. “They thought we were satanic. We had a lot of difficulties at the beginning. They gossiped a lot about us and even threatened us. But they have come to know us as servants of God. The situation has now improved ”, he thanks while the light, as he had predicted a while before, fades after noon. Nastia, her eldest daughter, who is studying fashion design in kyiv, hugs her father as she tells the reporter how happy she is in her family.

The pastor insists again and again that he does not understand how the current war has come about. "There are religious who are blessing the occupation and I feel sorry for them," he says. Beyond otherworldly considerations, there is a good reason in the village to open the doors to Ihor's family. Six of his children attend the school and represent 10% of the center's student body. “In these 13 years they have realized that we are not monsters”, thanks the Protestant pastor.

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