Stories of Convicts

Yaroslav Mysiak

God tests every believer in their faith. It is difficult to live a faithful life, to go through trials without losing faith, to stay strong in difficulties without breaking down, and if you’ve fallen to rise and continue to serve the Lord.


Yaroslav Mysyak was born into a Christian family. From an early age he was fond of drawing, sports played in a Christian musical group, and succeeded in everything he undertook. In 1991 he entered the Kyiv Bible College of St. James. The clergyman had rapid career growth, and all seemed well. Yaroslav was elected assistant bishop to work with the youth of the evangelical churches in the Transcarpathian region. This position had the opportunity for spiritual growth, developing and advancing the ranks and other opportunities such as missionary work around the world which also opened up the possibility of traveling abroad. During the collapse of the Soviet Union, traveling seemed an unprecedented success. But it was God’s plan for Yaroslav to go through trials which without faith in Jesus Christ, were impossible to overcome without breaking.


One evening, Yaroslav was preparing for the service that was the next day. He wanted every worship service to be unusual, colorful, interesting and informative. So the pastor sat until late evening developing a script for the biblical events in Sodom and Gomorrah (reminder: the Lord destroyed these cities because the sin and vices in them exceeded all possible limits; the example of Sodom and Gomorrah is often used as a warning to refrain from sin). Yaroslav distributed the roles between the participants, checked the scripts and rewrote them by hand. Because of this he went to bed well after midnight in a state of pleasant tiredness, anticipating the success of production on the stage of the church. At night he had a strange dream: his parents died. He woke up alarmed and he told his wife Snezhana about the dream. And as if a continuation of the dream, a police squad arrived. As it turned out, Yaroslav’s relatives were murdered that night: his grandfather, grandmother, and his uncle. They lived in a separate house. Quite recently Yaroslav also lived in this house at the request of his grandfather. The problem was his uncle, who led a strange way of life: he owed large sums of money to some people from Yugoslavia. Suspicious people were constantly looking for him, Yaroslav’s uncle hid in the attic while his grandfather covered for him. Yaroslav’s grandfather asked him to stay with them for some period of time until his grandfather sold the house and paid off his son’s debts. Yaros lav’s grandfather asked him to make sure they wouldn’t get swindled while selling the house. They found a buyer for the house and received a deposit, which was transferred to the account of people Yaroslav’s uncle owed. It was also necessary to get the second part of the payment to fully pay off the debt. And then this terrible event occured. They killed everyone who was in the house: grandfather, grandmother and uncle. Killed with a knife about forty centimeters long. An examination established that all the strikes were done professionally. Every blow is dealt to a vital organ. A person who does not have special knowledge and technique could not have inflicted blows of this nature.


Yaroslav was brought to the regional police department as a witness for questioning. The investigation received a lot of attention since it happened just before the elections and the local leadership was under pressure from Kyiv itself. The investigation was conducted jointly by the Security Service of Ukraine (Ukrainian version of the FBI) and the police. Yaroslav, brought to the regional department as a witness, became the only suspect, and then the accused. Two searches of his residence did not yield anything: no evidence, no blood, no instrument of crime was found. At the same time, they “worked” intensively with Yaroslav in order to obtain a “sincere” confession. Yaroslav held steady until the investigator said that the next suspects to receive a biased interrogation would be his wife and one and a half year old daughter. Yaroslav agreed to any conditions to keep his family safe. He signed a confession that alleged that he killed his family, but he hoped that due to the evidence, or lack thereof, the truth would triumph in court. The motive for the murder was not established at all. The phrase “because of hostile relations” only appeared in the decision of the Supreme Court. Reproduction of the events at the crime scene was carried out. At the direction of the investigator, Yaroslav testified “how he killed” the individuals. A third search of his residence was carried out, and they suddenly found a package, in an obvious spot in the boiler room, with pants that had two drops of blood on them. The DNA was not analyzed and the blood type coincided with the blood type of Yaroslav, and in fact it matches the blood type of thousands of people. Then a knife was found in a sewer pipe, allegedly placed there by Yaroslav, but he never walked the road where it was found. A witness who lived across the street from house in which the murder was committed, testified that a certain citizen, drunk and with company, was going for money to Yaros lav’s grandfather’s house with a knife about forty centimeters in length. Unfortunately, this version of the murder, and any other, was not considered.


The appeal trial also sentenced Yaroslav to death by firing squad, as did the original trial. The Supreme Court approved this decision without delay and sent Yaroslav to death row. Even in nightmares, Yaroslav could not imagine that he could go from a young successful and promising pastor to a death row inmate whose life was seemingly not worth a penny. Death row inmates were a category of convicts who were generally not considered to be people and were treated as such. They had no human rights. In the morning and in the evening they were beat, in the afternoon they are herded through the corridor while soldiers from all sides beat them with  mallets and rubber truncheons and they let out the dogs on them. Showers were cold water from a fire hose at random times. They killed those that complained about illegal sentences. And the words “European Court of Human Rights”, up until 2001, was perceived by the administration as a red rag to a bull.

Yaroslav passed all these tests and praised the Lord. The pastor was convinced that God sent the trials to temper his faith. He prayed incessantly and cried out to the Lord. Only once Yaroslav could not stand it and thought that God had left him. This was when there was only a week left to extend the moratorium on the use of the death penalty. Satan tried to sow doubt in the pastor’s soul regarding God. It was then Yaroslav told his wife to move on because he might not be alive soon.


But the prayer of his wife Snezhana’s did a miracle in the soul of Yaroslav. She breathed life into the disappointed pastor’s soul, and with it came a prayer of repentance. Yaroslav believed that God has His plan for him. Twenty-two years now Yaroslav is serving a life sentence for other people’s crimes. Moreover, he is free from sin, has peace, righteousness, and joy in his soul, and is filled with the Holy Spirit. Many people, while free are imprisoned by their sins. They have wealth, family, children, unlimited possibilities, but they are in the prison of sin and lust. In twenty-two years of captivity, Pastor Yaroslav revived prison services, he breathed hope, freedom from sin and thirst for life into many with the name of Jesus Christ. The local church of Vinnytsia decided to appoint Yaroslav responsible for the services that take place in the Vinnytsia penitentiary institution (No. 1). Thanks to his ministries and his attitude towards other convicts, many of them turned to faith in God. In the Vinnytsia institution, which until recently Yaroslav was in, there is a prison church, numbering more than fifty prisoners sentenced to life in prison.


Our country has no procedure for reviewing criminal sentences in the event of significant violations of substantive and procedural law. Moreover, Yaroslav was sentenced according to the norms of the Soviet punitive Code of Criminal Procedure which is no longer relevant. Until 2010, such sentences could be reviewed by the Supreme Court of Ukraine in special proceedings. To correct these legal inconsistencies, human rights defenders proposed a number of bills to parliament over the course of a decade, including draft law No. 2033a, which the people called the “bill of last resort”. It was voted in, in the first reading. In the current parliament, this bill has been registered under No. 0881, but for no reason it has been withdrawn from consideration as irrelevant. In other words, Yaroslav Mysyak now has practically no chances to review the verdict.

For the sixth year, lawyers have been trying to secure a review of the sentence in accordance with newly discovered circumstances. Lawyers conducted an independent examination, which completely breaks down the prosecution’s position. It turns out that with the knife that is being used as the murder weapon in the case, it is impossible to inflict blows of the nature that were inflicted on the victims. Do you think everyone was delighted that finally, after twenty two years, justice will prevail? Do you think the judges rushed to review the verdict, and the prosecutor’s office decided to rescind the sentence? Nothing of the kind, the system does not give up and fights to the end. People whose interests are to keep the sentence in force made a second expert conclusion, which is exactly the same as the previous twenty years ago. And now it can take years while the parties argue which conclusion is correct and which is not.


There are many such stories (about judicial arbitrariness and fabrication of case materials). In our country less than one percent of trials are acquitted, while in civilized countries in which the rule of law is more than a word, up to twenty to twenty five percent of trials end with acquittals. Catch the difference?! Or, maybe the investigative and judicial bodies work twenty to sixty times better in our country than in Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Canada or the United States?

The third chapter of the Book of the Prophet Daniel tells how King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden idol and issued a decree that applied to everyone without exception: as soon as everyone hears the sound of musical instruments, they were obliged to kneel and bow to the golden idol, and whoever disobeyed was to be thrown into a furnace heated by fire. Shadrach, Meshach , and Abednego refused to bow and worship the golden idol. And when the king called them to him, they answered:

“…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up”.

The king ordered to heat the furnace seven times more than usual, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the hot furnace. Moreover, the flames of the fire killed the people who threw them in but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego remained unharmed, their clothes were not damaged, they did not even smell like fire, because the Spirit of God was with them in the furnace.

Yaroslav Mysyak is not alone in his cell of life imprisonment, the Holy Spirit abides with him. And as the Lord brought Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the burning furnace unharmed, so he will bring Yaroslav alive and unharmed from life imprisonment. God alone knows how but Yaroslav is faithful to the only God, Jesus Christ and bel ieves in his liberation.