Today we spent 6hrs inside a maximum security Ukrainian prison visiting our dear friend and brother in Christ, Vlad.
He’s already been behind bars for 6 months and continues to battle his unjust state seemingly to no avail. His next appeal is set for May 22, and many are praying for a favorable decision.
Getting in wasn’t as difficult as I had thought. After taking our passports and cell phones, the guards barely looked at us, just waved us through a series of checkpoints that beeped away without much concern. Within our backpacks we could have had anything, literally. We brought Vlad requested fruit, some veggies, some magazines, and McDonald’s for lunch. This was his monthly visitation, and I felt very privileged to join his wife Vicka, Dan and Tom.
Upon seeing Vlad, he and Vicka embraced with tears. It was an emotional moment, and one that sobered me quickly at the thought of only seeing my own wife once per month. The anticipation, the longing, the friendship, the love. For a moment, Vlad’s life was back to normal and everything was right in his world. We all embraced, and then searched for a spot to camp out for the day.
There were only a couple of rooms, not setup for group visitation, not even tables. In fact, we ended up just meeting in the room where you would normally see prisoners talking to their visitors through the glass and phone. I can’t imagine the conditions Vlad and the other prisoners have adapted to inside the secure zone, what we had was a rudimentary, dirty, and old as you could stand. We didn’t have toilets either, that’s one way to keep the visit times down I guess, but we all managed to stick it out as long as Vlad was permitted, which was the full 6hrs.
Vlad is doing very well. He has joy, and gentleness about his spirit that blessed me. He hasn’t accepted his situation as being right or just, but He has found peace in Christ and it shows. His very first request was that we spend time as brothers in prayer, something that he has missed and longs for again. It was wonderful to lay hands on Vlad, the person, the friend, and physically connect.
This afternoon gave a new perspective to fellowship. We need it, but Vlad really needed it. It’s simple, refreshing, and healing to the soul. Vlad was full of questions. How were his friends, his family, the church he was keenly part of for that past 3yrs? He drank up the updates and refreshed his parched soul.
You can tell he’s had plenty time of reflection, even among the overcrowded prison which is supposed to hold 2,500 and currently has 4,500 inmates. Vlad is part of the ‘work’ detail which is segregated from the rest of the inmates. He man’s a concession stand which the inmates can use with a points system. Because his case has not been completely resolved, Vlad isn’t treated quite like the rest of the hardened criminals and seems to have built a few relationships with the guards and is known as someone trustworthy.
Among the 1000’s of inmates, Vlad only knows of one brother in Christ, an Orthodox believer. Together they visit the ‘church’, which is a small room inside the prison. They have enjoyed some fellowship and prayer together, and Vlad has developed a new appreciation it seems for the Orthodox faith – amazing how unity in the essentials becomes so much more clear in a situation like that.
Pertaining to his case, it’s quite complicated and I won’t try and lay it all out in this blog. However I was able to ask Vlad many questions directly that have puzzled me from the start. I can share the following –
– The other party has a lot of money invested in this guilty decision, even upwards of $30k.
– Their motivation is not exactly clear, but because they were ultimately found guilty the first 4 times in court, it’s obvious they have gone above and beyond to reverse the decision.
– By finding Vlad guilty, the guilty goes free, but they’ve additionally included $100k cost for emotional damage, court fees, medical bills – and that is what they are continuing to pursue aggressively.
– They tried first to sue the company Vlad was driving for, but that company has gone out of business, now they are trying to sue the Leasing company of the actual vehicle.
– Vlad is trying to get Amnesty, he is also hoping the Appeal could be moved to European court for a more fair hearing (where it could be heard ‘all over’ from the start).
– Vlad hopes that if he does have to serve several more years, he could be moved closer to a less crowded prison where he could have more visitation.
– Even if Vlad came up with $100k (for example), and paid the fine, someone still has to be guilty in this case (at least for now, if it continues this law could be relaxed for some reason), and therefor it’s not just about money.
I’m thankful for seeing my brother and friend today. It gives fresh perspective on freedom, on the problems in my own life. I get to face them with my best friend by my side. A lot can go wrong in our lives, but Vlad’s situation gives perspective. He hasn’t given up hope, but rather placed his hope in Christ. We encouraged him in prayer, and with fellowship, but he blessed us with the reminder that with Jesus Christ, we have all we need in this life.
We look forward to hearing more news, to progressing through this as a church and continuing to pass on news for the church following around the world. If you haven’t joined the facebook page, the page is – Justice for Vlad Schaslyvyi
Bruce & Deborah