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Anna Ivanova sits between ministers Vladimir Paziy, left, and Vitaly Rodichev in Kramatorsk, Ukraine.
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Photo provided by Jeff Abrams

‘Oldest Christian in Ukraine’ dies at 100

Anna Ivanova survived the Nazis and the Soviets. She said she would only leave Ukraine if her next stop was heaven.

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These days, stories of death in Ukraine are all too common — and mostly tragic.

But this one, Ukrainian Christians said, feels like a triumph.

Anna Ivanova

Anna Ivanova

Anna Ivanova, who survived the Nazi occupation in World War II and nearly seven decades under the Soviet Union, died May 14 in her home in Kramatorsk — about 10 miles from the front lines of Russia’s invasion. She was 100.

She may have been “the oldest Christian in Ukraine,” said Jeff Abrams, minister for the Tuscumbia Church of Christ in Alabama.

Anna Ivanova takes notes during a Bible study in Kramatorsk, Ukraine.

Anna Ivanova takes notes during a Bible study in Kramatorsk, Ukraine.

“She refused our many offers to evacuate to a safer area,” said Abrams, who makes multiple trips to the Eastern European nation each year and directs Rescue Ukraine, which provides shelter, heat, food and medical assistance to Christians in Ukraine and refugees spread across Europe and the U.S. 


Related: War in Ukraine: Links to The Christian Chronicle’s coverage


“She said she survived the Germans and would survive the Russians,” Abrams said of Ivanova, who also told the minister, “my next stop will be heaven.”

Ivanova grew up under Soviet atheism. “Her true love died during World War II,” Abrams said, “and she never married anyone but Jesus.”

She responded to the Gospel message when missionaries from Churches of Christ began working in eastern Ukraine after independence in 1991. Abrams baptized her in her bathtub in 1995.

Anna Ivanova and Jeff Abrams.

Anna Ivanova and Jeff Abrams.

“She refused our many offers to evacuate to a safer area. She said she survived the Germans and would survive the Russians (and that her) next stop will be in heaven.”

Kate Gladkykh, a member of the Church of Christ in Kramatorsk, remembered asking Ivanova why she decided to get baptized. 

“She said that once she realized how sin is all about death and God is all about life, there was no doubt in her mind she wanted to be with God,” Gladkykh said.

Anna Ivanova chats with fellow Ukrainian Christians during a fellowship meal in Kramatorsk, Ukraine.

Anna Ivanova chats with fellow Ukrainian Christians during a fellowship meal in Kramatorsk, Ukraine.

Ivanova was part of the first generation of Churches of Christ in what minister Oleksandr Rodichev called “post-atheist” Ukraine. Christianity was new and missionaries from America were a novelty. Many Ukrainians were baptized.

“But not all of the first ones kept the faith,” Rodichev said. “Many of the first ones passed away a long time ago. Not all showed diligence, and not all grew spiritually as they should.

“‘I’m thankful for those who have been faithful before me because they are why we have Christians in Ukraine now. Anna is an excellent example of a servant who loved the church and was involved in the church’s hospitality.”

"This is the last picture of me and Anna," said minister Oleksandr Rodichev, left. He visited Ivanova at her home in Kramatorsk after the neighborhood had been bombed. "Her home was entirely undamaged."

“This is the last picture of me and Anna,” said minister Oleksandr Rodichev, left. He visited Ivanova at her home in Kramatorsk after a bomb attack. “Her home was entirely undamaged.”

In Kramatorsk, Ivanova cooked meals for the congregation and maintained dozens of flower arrangements in the church building.

“Every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday she’d be at the building checking on everything and making sure it was taken care of,” said Gladkykh, who now lives in Alabama and worships with the Tuscumbia church. “Then, when she started getting sick more often, I remember her writing all of the rules of how to take care of our flowers and plants.”

Anna Ivanova celebrates her 100th birthday in 2024 with the Kramatorsk Church of Christ.

Anna Ivanova celebrates her 100th birthday in January 2024 with the Kramatorsk Church of Christ.

The end result was a “pretty big notebook” of rules, Gladkykh said, and Ivanova decided to give the instructions to a young Christian named Rita. Ivanova “wanted somebody really responsible and involved, so not so many candidates were suited for this position. But Rita was!” 

When the Russian invasion began, many church members fled west to Ukrainian cities farther from the front lines or to the nations of the European Union. Ivanova decided to stay, despite the pounding of artillery shells. 

A block away from her apartment, buildings lie in ruins. 

An apartment building stands in ruins one block away from Anna Ivanova's home in Kramatorsk, Ukraine.

An apartment building stands in ruins one block away from Anna Ivanova’s home in Kramatorsk, Ukraine.

On Jan. 25, the church members who remain in Kramatorsk celebrated her 100th birthday.

She admired Abrams and Kramatorsk minister Vladimir “Vova” Paziy for “their ability to bring God’s Word to people’s hearts,” Gladkykh said. “I remember one time seeing her getting emotional about one of Jeff’s sermons. To me it was surprising, because Jeff talked about how sinful we all are and how we need to confess our sins to each other and to God. 

“I remember (Ivanova) saying how true that is,” Gladkykh said, “but, honestly, she is the purest person I have ever known!”

Anna Ivanova sits between ministers Vladimir Paziy, left, and Vitaly Rodichev in Kramatorsk, Ukraine.

Anna Ivanova sits between ministers Vladimir Paziy, left, and Vitaly Rodichev in Kramatorsk, Ukraine.

Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine

Filed under: Christianity in Ukraine Churches of Christ in Ukraine Conflict in Ukraine Crisis in Ukraine International Obituaries Pray for Ukraine Russia Ukraine conflict Russia Ukraine war Top Stories Ukraine Ukraine aid

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