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'We're Praying': Ukrainian-American Pastor Reportedly Abducted by Russian Forces

03-25-2022
Dmitry Bodyu and Helen Bodyu via Instagram
Dmitry Bodyu and Helen Bodyu via Instagram

A Ukrainian-American pastor was reportedly kidnapped from his home by Russian forces last Saturday. 

Helen Bodyu told NBC News her family watched as eight to ten troops took her husband, Dmitry Bodyu, 50, from their home in Melitopol. 

She noted the soldiers were not aggressive. 

"They just came in in the morning," she told the news outlet via phone. "They took our phones, gadgets, computers, documents — and took him somewhere. I don't know where."

The Bodyu family has not heard from Dmitry since his abduction. 

PRAYER STILL NEEDED: Orphan's Promise Aid Worker Kidnapped in Ukraine

News of Dmitry's kidnapping took days to become public because the city was captured and troops confiscated the family's cellphones and other devices.

"They walked in and they just started kind of questioning him right away, like, 'Are you guys American citizens?' — that's kind of, like, one of the first questions they had," his daughter, Esther Bodyu-Ogawa, said.

Dmitry was born in the Soviet Union and emigrated to the United States at 17. He later moved to Crimea before working in Ukraine.

He serves as the pastor of Word of Life Church in Melitopol. His last Facebook message urged Ukrainian citizens to visit the church if they needed shelter during the invasion. 

"If you need help of any kind or you have nowhere to stay or afraid to be at home...the church is open," he had said. "I am in the church building...very thick walls...solid building. That's why you can be there. We will try our best to supply as much as possible."

"May God's peace be upon your hearts and keep you safe," he added. "Let's all pray and call on the Lord that the Lord will keep us from every harm in the name of Jesus Christ."

Bodyu-Ogawa told NBC News soldiers vaulted a wall around their home before entering the premises. The 30-year-old said they looked through her father's social media postings before taking him. 

"All he's doing is just helping such a huge amount of people that were hiding in the church, which was, like, over 50 people," she said Thursday. "And he was feeding all of them, too, throughout this whole situation."

The family is shocked he was targeted but speculated he was abducted because of family business holdings in local restaurants. 

"It could be because we're American citizens. It could be because he's, you know, a big influencer," Bodyu-Owaga said. "A lot of people follow him and really want to know what he's preaching about and what he's telling people, making sure he's not, like, talking about Russia and trying to tell people, 'Yes, this is a bad thing.'"

Dmitry's daughter said soldiers came back Monday to return their devices and pick up a Bible and sleeping bag for her father. 

"We're just hoping for the best, and we're praying for him, and we're praying that he's strong," she added.

A spokesman for Ukraine's deputy prime minister, Irene Vereshchuk, told NBC News her office was unaware of the alleged abduction.

Russian forces invaded the city of 150,000 after they advanced from bases in Crimea in late February.

Vereshchuk said Russian forces had kidnapped or abducted at least 14 local leaders since the invasion.

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