When Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, February 24, 2022, Andrii Dmytrenko had planned to go to school, but at 5 a.m., his mother woke him up and within two hours they were in the car leaving his hometown of Kyiv and nearly everything he knew and valued.
Little did his family know that in leaving for his uncle’s home, they were actually getting closer to the worst battles around Kyiv and in threat of being encircled by Russian troops. With smoke on the horizon, Andrii’s father made the decision that his family needed to leave the country after one week. On their journey to the western border of Ukraine, Andrii heard a rocket missile above their car.
“I did not see it, but I heard it,” he said. “I had heard that sound before only in cartoons, but it was super loud.”
Along the way, they stayed in the home of a family with two sons. They were awakened by missile alarms in the middle of the night. Huddled in the basement of a residential building listening to the sirens, Andrii remembered the youngest boy who was only 3 or 4 years old.
“The little boy drew a picture of a tank as if to say the tank will protect us,” he said.
Andrii, however, found true comfort in reading his Bible, which he made sure he took with him despite leaving his home in a rush.
“I would read the Bible using my phone’s light,” he said about being up in the middle of the night due to the alarms. “What else can I do when I’m facing that big of danger?”
When they finally reached the border, Andrii was able to cross with his mother and sister, but his father was forced to stay behind.
“My father could not cross the border because there is a law that males between 18 and 60 years old are not allowed to leave Ukraine at all during the war,” he said. “I was 16 when I crossed the border, but my father could not, so only he went back to Kyiv and took care of our cat.”
After a week in Romania, they moved to the Netherlands to stay with relatives. While living in Breda near the Belgium border, Andrii’s mother began looking for educational opportunities in the United States for her children. This fall, Andrii’s sister is attending a K-12 Christian school in the Buffalo, New York, area, while Andrii learned about Montreat College through friends of the family who live in Charlotte and have visited Kyiv on mission trips. When he learned Montreat College was offering a Ukrainian Student Scholarship Fund, Andrii knew he needed to apply.
“In Ukraine, you cannot be certain about tomorrow, so it’s impossible to study right now,” he said. “I am so grateful that Montreat College has given me this opportunity.
With both of her children in the United States studying, Andrii’s mother made the decision to return to Ukraine despite the dangers back home.
“In Ukraine, she had a house, a family, and a husband whom she loved, and they had been separated for almost a year,” Andrii said about his mother returning to Ukraine. “She was crying on the border when we were saying goodbye to my father, but now she knew her children were studying and safe. If everything was good for us, she knew things would be good for them as well.”
Within four days of being on U.S. soil, Andrii began his classes at Montreat College in the spring semester. In Ukraine, he had been accepted to the Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture, but at Montreat, he is majoring in cybersecurity with a concentration on data analytics. However, his primary goal isn’t to get a particular job. Rather, he simply wants to have stability in his life, something that was abruptly taken from him back in February 2022.
“War taught me that life can be unpredictable, so I don’t have a certain plan for working in a certain position at a certain company in a certain country,” he said. “When I left my motherland, I started to face a lot of challenges and was required to act as a complete adult, responsible for my life in its entirety.”
No matter where his journey takes him beyond Montreat College, Andrii is certain to have his Bible with him.
“I took my Bible with me everywhere,” he said. “It was with me in Ukraine and in western Ukraine. It was in Romania with me. It was in the Netherlands, and it is now with me in the United States, and it’s my textbook for classes here at Montreat.”
Andrii’s journey to Montreat College has been a whirlwind, but he knows that God has a plan for him. Despite being more than 5,000 miles from his home and parents in Kyiv, he is blessed to be part of a caring community where he knows he is not alone.
“Suddenly, on February 24, I understood that I cannot live without God,” he said. “When you face death, when it is 100 meters from you, literally at the end of everything, you need God. I learned that nothing in this world matters. It doesn’t matter which clothes you wear. It doesn’t matter if you have an expensive or cheap car or what job you go to in the future. Only life in him matters. He’s the only firm foundation. He’s the only thing that doesn’t depend on time or space here, and even if somebody in this world will take everything from me, nobody can take my God from me.”