Ivan Gumenyak

I was born March 21, 1929, in the region of Ivano-Frankivsk in the village of Stary Lysets. When I was 9-10 years old, my father dedicated his life to God. He taught me a lot and encouraged me to share my knowledge with others. Despite the fact that he was disabled, he zealously told people about God. But the local priest did not like that and he called the Gestapo. Dad was beaten so very badly that his whole body was blue. All this persecution was because we did not have any icons in our homes. Our neighbors loved and respected us and, with the best of intentions, advised us to change our views, saying that those people wanted to hang us. We did not want them to have any problems so we did not visit their houses as they could be punished for being our friends.

When I was 17, I decided to be baptized in water. It was 1946. In the neighboring village was a suitable river. There were more than ten of us wishing to be baptized that day, mostly young people. Before symbolizing our dedication to God, we were given a solemn biblical talk.

I began to preach. I remember once I had a publication “Who Will Own the World” and I was reading it to some people in one man’s yard. There was a crowd of about 50 people. And at the end of the magazine was a thought that religion would be responsible for the fact that people do not know God. At that moment I was expecting that these people will try to beat me, but the crowd divided: some people were complaining against the priest, some were defending him. The landlord stood up for me and said that he saw when Witnesses, despite the threat of death, remained loyal to their beliefs. This happened in the Slyvki village of Ivano-Frankivsk region.

I worked in logging, there were no appropriate tools, we sawed trees with hand saws. It was difficult, but I was glad that at that time I had the opportunity to talk about my faith with people who walked down from the mountain to the village of Pereginsk.

Our house in the village was built of wooden logs. And I hid Bible literature in the logs. We split a log, took the wood out from inside, then connected it to hide the split. Inside, we had hidden the literature. There were searches, but no one could even think that there might be literature in those walls. This method was also useful later.

On the night of April 8, 1951, at 3 o’clock in the morning, we heard knocking on the door and a voice demanding that we open it. My father although disabled after the stroke got up. He limps over to the door and opens it. Immediately, 6 armed soldiers with a large shepherd dog stormed our house. I was 22 at that time.

Then, at their request, we gave them our documents and sat down together at the table near the kerosene lamp. The chief of NKVD gives us a notebook with the words “sign that you renounce your faith.” My father and I said in response: “how can we renounce God if he gives us a harvest, if he gives us everything necessary for life? How can we renounce him?” Then this officer angrily shouted “Search!”

During that search, they found a book “Religion Collects a Whirlwind” under my pillow, the content of which surprised the NKVD.

They asked me:

 – Whose book is that?

– Mine

– Who gave it to you?

– When I worked in the mountains, an old man in the bazaar gave it to me.

So, they took it but left the Bible because it wasn’t interesting for them. When we were packing food into bags, we also put magazines in the bags.

The precinct officer helped us to butcher a chicken so that we could take it with us on a long journey. We could also take wheat and beans.

So, having gathered everything they could, I, a 22-year-old boy, and my parents were put in a truck.

Paranya Volosyanko later sat next to me. We loved to sing, so without hesitation, in the middle of the night, we started singing Kingdom songs! We gave a kind of night concert. Neighbors around were crying because we were being taken to Siberia.

We were brought to the railway station in Ivano-Frankivsk, Stanislav. There were 50 people and 2 stoves in the railway car into which we were put, so it was quite warm.

On the railway car, I was chosen to be in charge of food delivery. At the stations, I went outside and was escorted to a soldier who distributed food to each car of the train. We were given soup and I brought it back to the car. I had a chance to be outside 2 times a day and I was very happy that I could breathe some fresh air.

Although it was a freight car and this trip took 3 weeks, we all huddled together and helped each other. This atmosphere was very encouraging, and we did not lose heart: we were singing Bible songs and proudly hung a sign “Jehovah’s Witnesses” on the car. Such a cheerful spirit helped us to forget where we were being taken. Every night before going to bed, the older brothers gave Bible speeches. It was clear that Jehovah was leading his people.

We were brought to the Chuna station. From there, Chuna to the settlement of Vesely, Irkutsk region, we twice crossed the river in a sleigh on ice that had already started to melt. The ice was cracking and dispersing, there were already melted ice-holes. The widest crossing was 400 meters. They settled us in a barracks built for prisoners, where for 22 families we had 2 kitchens. Conditions were terrible, everything was teeming with cockroaches and fleas.

A few days later, a police officer came to us and tried to force me to sign a receipt for “forever eviction”. I answered him: “Only the Kingdom of God will be forever!” In a fit of anger, he pounded the table and gave me a fine of 2 months’ pay. It left me with no money to even buy bread.

Because my father was disabled, I was not in the camp. In the settlement I worked in forestry. I already had a lot of experience in this because in Ukraine, in Gorgany, I also felled the trees in the forest with a hand saw. Now, in Siberia, I cut 25-30 cubic meters a day with a German chainsaw.

When I caught a bad cold in the woods, I changed my job to building stoves. This made it possible to preach the Kingdom of God. Once I was preaching to a cashier and he reported me to my boss. Then the boss called me in for questioning and said:

– What do you do, Gumenyak?

– What do I do? I build stoves.

– Are you trying to convert people?

– Is it possible to convert you?

Our conversation ended at this moment. My boss didn’t hand me over. If he did, I would have had 25 years in prison.

The first year we had almost no spiritual literature. We had one copy for the whole congregation. Then we began to make copies of it on a typewriter and rotatory press. To do this, my friend and I made a secret bunker deep in the woods, far from the settlement, where I published literature that explained the Bible but that was banned by the Soviet authorities.

Our bunker looked like this: in the middle of the forest a pit was dug in the ground, in which everything was conveniently arranged. The pit was covered with boards and sawdust. Instead of a ventilation shaft, we completely cleaned out the inside of an old, dusty birch tree trunk. This ensured a constant circulation of fresh air underground. The entrance to the bunker was about 40 by 50 cm. To mask it, we made a box, planted periwinkle and spruce in it, and closed the entrance to the bunker with that box.

We printed at night and went to work in the morning. Such activity could cost me an imprisonment for up to 25 years. Therefore, understanding all the dangers, I always did it carefully. First, we typed on a typewriter and then printed on the rotatory press. In the nights of the warm season, we printed 1000 pages on the rotatory press and during the day went to saw wood in the forest.

There were three of us and we printed in turn, about 2-3 nights a week. We only used our bunker until there was snow. Nobody ever found us. Although it was risky, I took up the cause, and enjoyed helping my brothers.

While in Siberia, I was delivering spiritual literature to Odessa under the pretext of a vacation. I was given a suitcase; I didn’t even know what was in it. I knew only one thing: if asked whose literature it was, to say “I do not know who put it there”.

We lived in barracks for a very long time, but later we managed to build our own hut. Our brothers and sisters gathered for the housewarming. But because of the persecution, it was like this: as soon as the KGB members came into the yard, we immediately started to sing. In such way we met about once a month. Unhappy events, such as funerals, were also an opportunity to get together. We had biblical talks, often telling what the Bible teaches about the condition of the dead and the resurrection. We were fined for that.

I loved telling people about God. I remember that to get to the village, we had to walk 25-26 km one way. We were to be careful not to go to the house of the police officer or the house of the teacher so that they would not complain about us and put an end to our preaching work.

One day we went into a yard, and there were 5-6 people sitting and they asked us: “What will you tell us?” At that time, because of the persecution, it was not usual to talk about the Bible from the very beginning, but at first, we usually were asking if the owners were selling livestock. But this time I told them: “We have very good news; we are preaching about the Kingdom of God”. They patted me on the shoulder and said: “Well done, at least one man was found to tell the truth.” So, we talked with them for 3 hours.

At the age of 24-25, I married a fellow believer from my home village, who had also been deported. Then she died. When my wife died, I focused on giving as much energy and time as possible to telling people about God. After a while I married again