Interview with refugee and second-year music student, Daniel Saykov.
Could you introduce yourself?
My name is Daniel Saykov. I am 18 years old. I am originally from Luhansk region. There are five of us in my family. I have a father, mother and two sisters. Five years ago, when we were still living at home, my dad was an assistant pastor. My mother was a worship leader. I am a third generation believer. My father and grandfather are also believers.
What forced you to flee your home?
On one day in 2014, when I was 14, I came back from school and laid down on the grass. I remember napping, my eyes closed. When I opened them I saw a man wearing a military uniform. Actually, there were five of them. They were seizing all our documents, electronic devices, laptops, and telephones to find out who we were. When I asked what was happening they ordered me to follow them.
We went outside where my dad was told that he was suspected of fighting on the side of government forces. In all actuality he was just an ordinary miner and church minister. At that time, he was 42-43years old. Earlier he had undergone two surgeries on his kidneys. Actually, we wanted to leave when the conflict in Eastern Ukraine first broke out, but my father was confined to his hospital bed. So, we stayed… “I surrender and will do whatever You want,” he prayed and was healed immediately. As soon as he was released from the hospital, the insurgents came and arrested us.
It was a miracle that they had not searched my sister’s room, because if they had looked in there, they would have found an open laptop with pro-Ukrainian themes on social media like “With Ukraine in heart,” “Pray for Ukraine,” and “No to War.” We could have been in trouble even at home.
We were taken to Krasnodon. We found ourselves in a room with a large flag on one of the walls. There was an officer there who said that my dad allegedly took part in the anti-terrorist operation. As it turned out, one of my classmates had betrayed us. It is true that before I used to point at shells and say they could not have flown from the Ukrainian side since they were angled in the opposite direction. I never tried to persuade anyone, I just explained my understanding of the situation. It was obvious I was for peace, rather than the chaos that had come to my land.
When my father was asked what battalion he was from, he said that he was an ordinary miner, a believer. After that he was led to a wall, beaten up and taken to another room. I was also interrogated by a soldier who asked me similar questions, for example, “What unit is your father from?” “Who has visited you lately?” There was nothing like “Are you for Ukraine?” or “Renounce Jesus.” After repeatedly stating that my father was not in the military, my classmate, Nikita, was invited in to defame me yet again. I saw that he was intimidated and wanted to be released.
In the next five minutes they let me listen to the screaming of a someone being tortured in an adjacent room. I was afraid that man could be my father who had serious problems with his kidneys. So, I started praying… I was raised in a Christian family and knew God personally. I asked Him to help my dad, if it was him, to withstand the trial.
I had about seven minutes to pray. Then an officer came and started beating me up. I remember his huge fists flying all over. At one moment he gripped me by the throat and tried to strangle me. “If you don’t tell the truth by morning, I will gun you down,” he said and resumed beating me up.
We were taken captive on a Monday and were not given anything to eat during our detention until Thursday. Every night in the cell I heard, “Hang yourself” or “We’ll cut your legs and execute you by shooting.” Of course, I was scared. Being only 14, I was concerned not only for my dad and myself, but also for my mother, sisters, and friends.
How did you end up being released?
God did not forsake us. In three days my mother went to Krasnodon to offer a ransom. She was asked to bring food, rather than money. Many of our friends helped to load a truck with different types of food to exchange for us. When we were released a volunteer called us and urged to leave the occupied territory. “Next time you might find yourself in a much bigger trouble,” he said. So, we fled to the government-controlled territory and then moved to Kyiv.
What is God doing in your life today?
I could not understand why the captivity took place in my life. However, over time I came to recognize that it had worked for good. Today, I have made many friends and have gotten to see new places. All of us now live in Irpin, which is close to Kyiv. My father is an assistant pastor at Philadelphia Church. I am involved in worship ministry playing five musical instruments. My older sister teaches vocals at a seminary. My younger sister wants to become a photographer. My mother is a children’s ministry leader.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now I am a second-year music student. UETS is helping me to assert myself more in God. I know Him personally. What am I dreaming about? I want to grow further in music ministry. I like to study God’s Word and share it with other people. I have a girlfriend who I’d like to create a family with when I graduate from seminary. Thanks to God my parents have set a good example of a godly family for us to follow.
What are your feelings towards the people who tortured you?
At that time I felt angry and sought justice, convinced that it was my land that I had the right to protect. But now, four years on, I see God’s will in what happened. Over time God has been telling me to surrender them into His hands. Today, I feel a kind of disrespect towards those people, but I do not hold a grudge against them.