Former ETBU football coach’s Ukrainian friend saved thousands from Kyiv

Published: Apr. 9, 2022 at 1:39 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 9, 2022 at 6:20 PM CDT
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LONGVIEW, Texas (KLTV) - A Ukrainian minister, who is good friends with a former East Texas college football coach, is back in the United States with his family.

Their bond has been sharing their faith and saving lives.

Former East Texas Baptist University football coach Mark Sartain had for years visited Ukraine to work at a Christian camp set up through a Ukrainian ministry, where he developed a close friendship with Ukrainian minister Alex Siminov.

When the Russians invaded Ukraine, Sartain was informed Siminov was going back in to rescue people.

“We’ve been glued to every source and resource we could possibly absorb trying to find out what was going on day to day,” Sartain said from his Harleton-area home.

Refugees streamed across the borders of neighboring countries, but many were trapped in the Kyiv area.

Siminov and some of his followers risked their own lives time after time, going back to rescue thousands left behind.

Speaking through an interpreter, Siminov gave his reason why Saturday.

“When the war started, the hardest decision was how to protect my family and how to protect other families,” Siminov said. “After prayer, the decision was made to focus on families that we need to evacuate - families first of all. Those people staying in Ukraine will not die because life is a most valuable thing. Second, that people would get to know about God.”

Siminov’s wife has a cousin, and the cousin’s family was shot dead in Ukraine during the first day of the war.

Siminov said his work is not done.

“All my thoughts and heart are in Ukraine. I’m constantly in contact with my team, and, of course, it would be nice to come back to Ukraine. Fear not, for God is with us,” Siminov said.

“I’m going to ask him for a ticket to the same plane he goes back on,” Sartain said.

But Siminov, an ethnic Russian, may have difficulty getting back into Ukraine.

“My passport is not that of Ukraine. It’s a Russian passport,” he said.

At some point, the two plan to meet again.

“I hope to one day come to Texas and give a big hug to the coach,” Siminov said

We’re told that Alex’s son, who was in Ukraine, has escaped to Austria.

Siminov and his family are in Virginia now, and he said he hopes to bring his family soon to East Texas to visit Sartain.

Remarkably, the translator heard in the interview, ‘Oksana Mudrinok’, was in Kyiv, Ukraine, at the time we were doing this interview and agreed to help with translation.

A former East Teas football coach's friend, a Ukrainian minister, is going back into the...
A former East Teas football coach's friend, a Ukrainian minister, is going back into the war-torn country to rescue people. (Source: KLTV Staff)(KLTV Staff)

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