Ukraine is an Orthodox country, but there are a handful of Lutherans with German roots. Your church in the capital Kyiv has been through a lot and now has to prove itself in the war.

The anti-tank barriers and barbed wire barriers begin right at the German Church of St. Catherine in Kyiv. It is not the small yellow church that is endangered by the Russian war of aggression, but the neighboring building. President Volodymyr Zelenskyi directs the fortunes of his troubled Ukraine from a large gray palace. But of course the war that has been raging for more than eight months is also affecting the congregation of Lutheran Germans in Kyiv.

“God of heaven and earth” is sung by the congregation on this autumn day in the service. About 30 women and men came. The sky over Kyiv was calm and peaceful at night – apart from a short air raid alarm, on earth there was water and gas in the metropolis. Only the electricity was switched off again and again for several hours because Russian missiles damaged the power plants.

Singing is in German; the liturgy, the creed and the Lord’s Prayer are also in German. The Bible readings and the sermon, on the other hand, are read by community secretary Jelysaveta Safronova in Ukrainian. The congregation does not currently have a German pastor because of the war.

And what if the sirens suddenly wail and announce an air alert? “Nothing. We continue to hold services,” says Safronova. Not because the community is reckless – “there aren’t that many bunkers”. It is a good ten minutes’ walk to the next refuge in a subway station. Worship services are short.

The parishioners practice gallows humor. There’s something romantic about candlelit dinners, says one woman. “There wasn’t that much romance before.” The fate of her family is typical for the war months: her daughter-in-law is safe in Leipzig, her son, who is a capable Ukrainian citizen, is not allowed to leave the country. “At some point this war has to be over,” she says. “And if there is justice, then we will prevail.”

Before the war, the parish of St. Catherine had about 300 registered members, says Safronova. “Some have moved to Europe.” But about two-thirds stayed. And among them the substitute preacher perceives a greater unity than before. “People have become more helpful.”

The fate of the Ukrainian capital and the small German church are closely intertwined. In 1857, wealthy German merchants and craftsmen in Kyiv had the church built on a hill. The steep street up to the church is still called Ljuteranska (Luther Street). Under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, the congregation was banned in 1938 and its pastor murdered.

In the early 1990s, the few ethnic Germans from Kiev in the now independent Ukraine began to gather again in church. She had come to Ukraine from all parts of the former Soviet Union, Russian was the colloquial language. For many, the rediscovery of their Germanness and their Lutheran faith was the first step towards emigrating to Germany.

But many others stayed, making the church their home; Delegated German pastors helped with the construction. In 1998, the Ukrainian authorities officially returned the church to the community. It has been renovated and redesigned. The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria and foreign cultural policy support the Kiev Church.

In the orthodox Ukraine, Protestants, especially Germans, are a tiny minority. The German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ukraine has 24 congregations. St. Catherine plays an important role in ecumenical cooperation in Kyiv, says German pastor Ralf Haska. He worked on St. Katharina from 2009 to 2015, and he is still in contact with the Ukraine from Marktleuthen in the Fichtelgebirge (Bavaria). “The church is an important cultural site in Kyiv.” There is a church choir and concerts.

When in 2014 the government shot demonstrators on the Maidan, Independence Square, the church served as an underground hospital for the injured – Haska was a pastor at the time. “The community has always welcomed people with open arms,” he says.

In the early years, many parishioners were in need of humanitarian assistance, and to this day, help is welcome. There are many retirees with low pensions, says Haska. But the church tries to help others as well. “It’s impressive how the community members look for financial means and then pass on the help.” In cooperation with the Ukrainian fund “Wilni serzem” (free in the heart), 4,000 people have been helped since the beginning of the war, says community leader Lidija Zelsdorf.

At the end of the service Lyudmyla Ponomar, the parish bookkeeper, stands on the altar steps. She lists the projects being worked on in the devastated area around Kiev. “We help with building materials, food and clothing,” she says. In the village of Osera northwest of Kyiv, many houses were destroyed by fighting. They are helping a man repair his 74-year-old mother’s house.

Another location is further away in the Chernihiv region. At first, the people who were bombed out mainly needed clothing and crockery, says Ponomar. “Now they’re asking for building materials and technology.” Many houses have no good windows and the roofs need to be repaired. Volunteering is important to her: “The Ukrainians are very close.”