on site five days after the war

Already as a child, Sebastian read about the two world wars, and also picked up stories from his father's grandfather, a Norwegian war veteran. 

- Now there was a pandemic, inflation, divisions. I felt it was wartime, so I gathered some Christian leaders to pray to God at the end of 2021. 

- "I was sitting at home watching the invasion on February 24, 2022, and my heart was gripped and I felt that I should go there," says Sebastian.

The next moment, two plane tickets to Poland were booked and he traveled with his colleague Kenneth Lillqvist. A few years earlier, when Sebastian was on an evangelism course in Germany, he met a Polish man, Marcin Augustyniak. During a prayer time, Sebastian told his friend that he will be a key player and a unifying force in Poland in a place where many people are seeking. Marcin smiled and replied "brother, I live in England". But anyway, Marcin eventually moved to Lublin, very close to the Ukrainian border.

- So we called him when we were on our way and stayed there," says Sebastian.

At the same time, a Danish pastor, Erik Andersson, had the same feeling as Sebastian and he too came to Marcin Augustyniak, and they called together several church leaders from both sides of the border for a meeting. Now Magnus Landegren from KLM, Christian doctors and medics, had also contacted them and told them that they had a trailer full of medical equipment that they wanted to get into Ukraine.

- At the pastor's meeting I said that the car from KLM must enter the country. No one volunteered. But Andrej, who had worked in customs, said he could help," says Sebastian.

That said, they were soon on their way with the help of a driver.

- There were maybe two thousand cars crossing the border into Poland. Only we went the other way.

This was on 29 February, five days after the invasion, before established aid agencies had time to mobilize.

- We were met by the doctor Rudy Myhovych in a warehouse that was in complete chaos. I told him that he had to set up a new warehouse, hire staff with medical knowledge, get refrigerators and arrange for a truck to drive next to it. I gave him money to start and promised to cover the costs in the future," says Sebastian.

- I had no knowledge and didn't know how to do this, but I got what to say.

Over the years as a Christian, Sebastian has learned to trust that God is with him, so he dares to step in when he receives an inspiration that he believes comes from above.

- We went back to Poland, and then the next mission was to find a logistics center there. With the help of the mayor, this was arranged.

The logistics center became a hub for several other countries and has continued to serve as a pipeline for various relief efforts. On the Ukrainian side, Rudy Myhovych's organization grew rapidly.

- With help from various sources, it became very large, in one and a half years 1000 tons of medical equipment have gone in that way, says Sebastian gratefully.

Sebastian Stakset's identity as 'the gangster rapper who was saved' was unknown in Poland or Ukraine. He arrived there as an aid worker.

- All this was so unexpected, it was not something I was used to, I have no experience at all. But I had organizational skills, worked hard and made such good contacts. We were able to get what we needed as we went along.

- I'd had a pretty tough period there so it was good timing," says Sebastian.

Together with Toni Gadd and the Word of Life network in the country, five transit centers were also established inside Ukraine, where refugees could stay for short or long periods on their way west. With wonder and a touch of amazement, Sebastian notes that there have been many miracles along the way. For instance, when the bombs had knocked out the entire electricity supply. It was freezing cold, people were freezing. With stoves you could help them.

- We had a meeting and I said that we will distribute a thousand stoves. Some people thought it's too much, maybe we can do 200. But we found a factory there that could produce. 

The cost was $300, including firewood, so the effort would amount to $300,000. In different ways, the life-saving effort came to fruition.

- We traveled from Lviv to Kiev in total darkness. We came to a shattered village where the square was filled with old, tired, frozen people. In Izum we distributed stoves and wrote a list of those who did not receive them so they could get them next time. When spring came and everything was summed up, there were a thousand stoves," Sebastian says with joy.

Another example is the five bakeries in five different cities that were started on Sebastian's initiative, although at the time he had been asked not to start any more projects because of the costs involved. And then there are the medical bags for the frontline, a project that is currently underway. At a digital meeting with businessmen and doctors, among others, the need for medical bags to save the lives of soldiers on the frontline was raised. Then Sebastian heard himself say "Let's get 500 bags." They cost 1500 dollars each, so no one really wanted to get involved. The decision was to order 60 bags. But when Sebastian got home, he was in for a surprise.

- A man from Gothenburg called and asked me about the efforts in Ukraine. He said he wanted to help by going to the Post Office and depositing a million kronor. When he came back home, he felt so happy about it that he called again and said he would deposit another million," says Sebastian, laughing warmly. 

- So we ordered 60 more bags.

After this, the company Apotea decided to join the effort by paying for another 130 bags.

- Now we have to believe that we will reach 500," says Sebastian.

Month after month , the war has continued. So has Sebastian and his team. There have been many trips and they stay for one or two weeks each time. The next trip is planned for December, and the question is what the electricity supply will be like this winter. Each trip involves encounters with wounded, scared and desperate people. Given Sebastian's background in crime and addiction, you might think he would be hardened. But this is not the case.

- The worst thing has been to see all the death and destruction, how the civilians have been slaughtered. To come to a city that is completely destroyed and stinks of corpses. Seeing bloody children's clothes...you're not prepared for that. I've never been to war before.

But he doesn't get scared until he gets home and his mind catches up.

- We've been in many dangerous situations, but with the life I've lived, I'm used to adrenaline rushes, so I'm quite calm and don't lose my cool despite rocket fire," he says quietly.

Sebastian is keen to point out that this is not a one-man show but a team effort with many people involved. However, it is Sebastian who has received a medal for medical services from the Ukrainian army and met the mayor of Kiev.

- He wanted to give an official thank you, and it is always nice to be appreciated. But there are many others who also deserve a medal," he says.

- This has brought so much joy, opportunities to help people and get things that are needed. 

Through it all, he feels that God is involved.

- When we have been in the dark and difficult situations, we have still felt the light, felt his presence. He has led us in incredible ways, which cannot be explained in any other way than that it is God. That's what makes it possible to still feel love, instead of hate and darkness, says Sebastian thoughtfully.

The organization founded in 2018 on Sebastian Stakset's initiative is called Heart of Evangelism and has several branches of activity. Through the commitment to Ukraine, another one, Heart Mission, has emerged.

- Everything is about helping people who are suffering and in need, that's the way it should be," says Sebastian Stakset firmly.

Text: Kerstin Schönström Photo: Rickard L Erksson


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