The phone rang out through the apartment in Donetsk, Ukraine. Olya Maryntseva picked up and a strange, threatening voice said, “We know where your kids are.” Panic consumed her as the man detailed where each of her three children went to school. She called her husband Sergey, and they made plans to leave immediately for Kiev, where they would be safe.
The Maryntsevas were highly successful restaurateurs (one of their 18 establishments ranked top in Ukraine), and the hospitality industry was a perfect outlet for their Christian faith. Well-known in the community, the two became active in pro-Ukrainian rallies in the months leading up to the Russian invasion of Crimea to the south. For that, they became targets of Russian separatists intent on toppling the local government. Olya and Sergey stopped going to meetings together, so in the event there was an attack, the kids wouldn’t lose both of their parents.
In Kiev, Olya faced sleepless nights as Sergey had to return to Donetsk to close businesses. She was unsure whether he’d make it back alive; others hadn’t. In the end, the family lost their livelihood, their home, and most of their possessions. Sergey took an executive position at an agricultural company in Kiev, and they did their best to acclimate to a new life.
Determined to provide the under-equipped Ukrainian soldiers with additional helmets, body armor, and food rations, Olya reached out to business connections for help. And through a friend, she received In Touch Messengers, which she’d take when visiting the major military hospital in downtown Kiev. It brought her comfort to know the injured men and women there would have God’s Word as they recovered.
Trying to get back on their feet in Kiev has been hard: The Maryntsevas have been treated with suspicion for being from the east; Sergey didn’t enjoy the new job; their children, now 18, 14, and 10, still remember the terror of hearing Russian planes and tanks in Donetsk; and there’s no assurance of a return to the city they love. Yet they thank God for sparing their lives and providing a fresh start.
Olya could never shake her passion for hospitality. Today in Kiev’s business district, she welcomes customers to Nom Nom, one of their seven new restaurants. Sergey’s often in the back, showing the chef his latest idea for a new dish. It’s a place filled with the love of two people who, despite difficult odds, continue to share the peace they’ve found in Christ.
Photograph by Audra Melton