Faith Tested: Baptist Pastor Salfetnikov’s Courage Through Torture and Persecution by the Russians


He was interrogated and beaten, interrogated again and beaten again. This is the impressive story of Baptist pastor Oleksandr Salfetnikov from the city of Balaklia. During the occupation of Kharkiv Oblast, he was kidnapped by the Russians and tortured for several days until he agreed to admit to being an American spy.

Oleksandr: After the second interrogation, when I was brought back to the cell, I felt like death.

He was kept in a cell at the local detention center for three days, being interrogated, beaten, and interrogated again repeatedly.

Oleksandr: They wanted me to confess that I was a spy. They wanted me to agree with their accusations.

This is the story of Pastor Oleksandr Salfetnikov. In May of 2022, the Russians nearly killed him.

Oleksandr: They knew I was a pastor. They knew my last name. They knew where I lived. They knew everything about me.

We are meeting with Pastor Oleksandr Salfetnikov of the Baptist church in Balaklia, located in the Kharkiv region. Since March 2022, the city has been bombed by aircraft and shelled with artillery. Later, the occupiers arrived. The church where our hero serves is called “Light of the Gospel”. Services are mainly conducted in Ukrainian, and parishioners pray for Ukraine. With the arrival of the occupiers, the church leadership organized the evacuation of people to areas controlled by Kyiv. Buses moved through the corridors of life without stopping.

Oleksandr: When we evacuated people, humanitarian aid was brought back.

For the first two months, the Russians supervised all events in the church. Initially, they did not interfere, instead, they collected information. In the third month of the occupation, FSB officers came for Salfetnikov.

Oleksandr: When I got into the car, they told me, “Don’t worry, they will talk to you, and then we will return you home.” But you can’t deceive your own feelings.

Three armed men forced the pastor into a car and took him to the local police station.

Oleksandr: When they brought me to the local police station, they took me outside the gate, put a bag over my head, searched me, and threw me into a cell.

The pastor’s wife, Ms. Kateryna, followed the car in which her husband was kidnapped on a moped. She waited for a long time at the gate that day and returned the next day too. She says that policemen approached her and even spoke to her.

Kateryna: They tried to talk to me too. When they asked me to bring our phones, I brought them. And they also asked the question, “Tell me honestly, is he working for American intelligence?” I smiled and said, “What intelligence?”

The pastor was held hostage by the Russians for three days and was tortured during that time. Five burly men beat him with rubber sticks and their feet.

Oleksandr: During the second interrogation, they beat me badly. I had a broken arm, and my whole body was bruised. There were no options. They beat me because they hate evangelical believers. Also, they were convinced that all believers are American spies.

The pastor does not remember how he got to the hospital. After another interrogation in the cell, he fainted and regained consciousness only a few days later in the basement of a medical institution among the seriously wounded. His wife was beside him.

Kateryna: When I undressed him and wanted to change his clothes, I saw what I never thought could be done to a person. What they did to him in three days… He was blue from head to toe, all swollen, his body was untouchable, like jelly. You touch it, and it seems to oscillate like jelly.

Salfetnikov could not walk because of his injuries. Kateryna begged the occupiers to allow her family to go to Ukraine.

Oleksandr: I couldn’t walk. My left leg failed. My wife went to them, asked them to let us go to Ukrainian territory, to take me to the hospital, but they did not allow us to go.

The Salfetnikov family was able to leave occupied Balaklia only at the end of June. The Russians gave them an hour to pack their belongings and allowed them to go only to Russia. So, after traveling throughout the European part of Russia, they arrived in Poland. There, fellow believers helped with the treatment.

Soldier: The town of Balaklia in the Kharkiv region has been brought under control.

As soon as the news about the liberation of the Kharkiv Region appeared, Oleksandr returned to his church. While he was away, the Russians stole the musical equipment and used the premises as their administration building.

Oleksandr: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name,

The church is now back to normal service. The only reminder of the Russian occupation is the broken windows on the temple premises. But this is trivial compared to the “New Life” church in Izyum.