Brotherhood is a term that is often used in the military. For me, friendship and faith helped me find a brother in the country of Ukraine. In 2013, I served as the chaplain for a coalition of international forces in Ukraine. Our mission was to train the Ukrainian Army in warfare strategies and tactics. On my first day in the country, I met Vytalyi. He stared at me as I walked through the dining facility and continued to stare when I sat down with my meal. I motioned for him to come to my table and join me, which he did. He didn’t speak English, but we communicated through an interpreter. He introduced himself and asked about the cross on my uniform which identified me as a Christian chaplain. I explained the meaning to him, and he seemed very surprised. He had never seen a chaplain. At the time, there were none in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. We spoke for a few minutes. Then Vytalyi stood up, saluted me, and left.
The next day, Vytalyi found me again. He had many questions about my ministry. I asked him if he was a believer. He said he was, and that he loved Jesus. Then he smiled and said, “I’m going to be a chaplain someday like you.”
Over the next several days, Vytalyi and I spoke often. He shared about getting into trouble when he was a young man, but that all changed when he found Christ. Because of his faith, he believed his choice to serve in the military was God’s plan for his life. He had a calling to serve God and country — a calling which I also had — and we quickly became friends. Really, we were more than friends. We were brothers – brothers in arms and brothers in Christ.
During my years in the army, I learned people would come and go in the blink of an eye. So, I always tried to make the most out of any friendship regardless of the brevity of time together. That is what I tried to do with Vytalyi. When my tour ended, I gave Vytalyi a Ukrainian Bible and reached out to shake his hand. He snapped to attention and saluted me. Then he took my hand and hugged me. I haven’t seen him since, but I have thought about him often…
Today, there is a battle taking place in Ukraine. These past few weeks I have been answering many phone calls and emails about the Russian invasion. Most people have the same question: Was the Russian invasion of Ukraine foretold in Bible prophecy?
To answer that question, I want to look at what the Bible says about Russia in the last days of history. In Ezekiel 38, written over 2,600 years ago, the prophet Ezekiel predicted an alliance of nations led by Russia would form at the end of this age, just before Christ returns. Ezekiel identifies the nations in this alliance as “Magog, Rosh, Meshech, Tubal, Persia, Cush, Put, Gomer, and Beth-togarmah.”
Today, Bible scholars call these nations the “Gog-Magog Alliance” and the end-times battle the “Battle of Gog-Magog.” To help you understand this alliance, let me give you the name of the country in the time of Ezekiel and the country’s name today. First, Rosh is Russia. Magog consists of the modern nations of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. Persia is Iran. Cush is Sudan and Ethiopia. Put is made up of the modern countries of Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. Meshech, Tubal, Gomer, and Beth-togarmah are in present-day Turkey.
The Bible says in Ezekiel 38:8 that the Gog-Magog alliance will form and attack Israel from the north “in the latter days.” The ruler of Russia, who is known as Gog, will attack the land when it’s filled with the exiles who return from among the nations. No one will come to Israel’s defense, not even the United States. When all looks lost for Israel, God will miraculously intervene, destroying Russia’s alliance of forces.
Where is Ukraine in all of this? Ukraine is part of the ancient Russian Empire. Russian president Vladimir Putin wants to rebuild that empire. If Russia takes Ukraine, Putin will control almost all the areas of the ancient Russian Empire, which potentially would set the stage for the future Gog-Magog invasion.
Some people believe Vladimir Putin is Gog from Ezekiel 38 and 39. Let me urge you to be cautious about such speculation. The Bible does not specify if Putin is Gog. However, I will say he is extremely Gog-like. Like Gog, he is a man of military aggression, pride, and greed. Putin is a bully.
Vladimir Putin was born in 1952 in Leningrad. Russia was in a post-World War II economic depression. He grew up in poverty in communal quarters. From a young age, he was mesmerized by the power of the Soviet Union. He joined the KGB in 1975 and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He began his political career in 1991 and became president in 1999. He never got over the fall of the Soviet Union and is obsessed with bringing it back. He will stop at nothing to see Russia become the most powerful nation in the world.
While it is possible Vladimir Putin could be Gog, it is too soon to draw such a conclusion. What I will say is Putin cannot be definitively identified as Gog; neither can he be conclusively ruled out. He may be responsible for the Ezekiel 38 and 39 invasion of Israel, or he may be setting the stage for a future leader.
I believe we are living in the last days. The Lord could come back at any moment. Jesus said in the last days there would be “wars and rumours of wars” (Matthew 24:6). He also said, “… when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” So, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then you should be looking up in these last days. Also, remember that God is still on the throne and prayer changes things. So, join me in praying for the people of Ukraine.
In addition to praying for the people of Ukraine, would you also join me in praying for my friend, Vytalyi? In 2014, Ukraine began integrating chaplains into their military, but mostly on a volunteer basis. Late last year, the Ukrainian military officially formed a chaplain corps and allowed paid clergy to serve alongside their fighting forces. I don’t know if Vytalyi ever became a chaplain, or if he continued his military career as an enlisted soldier. Somehow, I have a strong feeling he is in the trenches right now, fighting for freedom.
Since I retired from the army, I have often wondered what exactly makes a military friendship different? Why do I feel such a sense of brotherhood with Vytalyi and many, many others who served with me? I think it is because a soldier, sailor, airman, or marine is always in a situation that could potentially turn dangerous. Whether it is from combat zones, terrorist groups, naval vessels catching fire, or aircraft crashing, the lives of military members are in constant danger. Understanding that you could die at any moment is the key to forming strong friendships in a short amount of time. Knowing that your “battle buddy” has got your back deepens the bonds of brotherhood at an accelerated rate.
So, even though I was only with Vytalyi for a short time, I still think of him as a brother … and I stand and salute him and all those who have answered the call of God and country.