The wife of an American pastor said Russian forces kidnapped her husband by last week in Melitopol, a city of 150,000 in Ukraine's south.
Speaking by phone from Melitopol, Helen Bodyu said she and her family watched as her husband, Dmitry Bodyu, 50, was taken by about eight to 10 troops Saturday morning.
The Bodyu family has not heard from him since he was taken, Helen Bodyu and their daughter, Esther Bodyu-Ogawa, said, and word of his kidnapping took days to become public because the city was captured by Russia and the troops confiscated the family's cellphones and other devices.
"They just came in in the morning," Helen Bodyu said. "They took our phones, gadgets, computers, documents — and took him somewhere. I don’t know where."
The Russian troops were not aggressive, she said, and she could not hear what they were saying as she waited in the living room and they spoke to her husband in the kitchen.
She added that the Russian troops seemed to know he was a pastor and confiscated his U.S. passport.
Melitopol was captured when Russian forces made early gains in their invasion of Ukraine shortly after they advanced from bases in Russian-occupied Crimea.
Dmitry Bodyu was born in the Soviet Union and immigrated with his parents to the U.S. when he was 17, his wife said, and he moved back to Ukraine again later in life.
Speaking by phone, Bodyu-Ogawa said her father left Crimea after the Russian annexation in 2014 because of his U.S. citizenship
Her father resettled in Melitopol, Ukraine, just over the de facto border, after leaving Crimea, she said.
Bodyu is pastor of Word of Life Church in Melitopol, where he urged residents to seek shelter shortly after the Russian invasion.
Bodyu-Ogawa said her family told her that the troops vaulted a wall around their home before the entered.
“They walked in and they just started kind of questioning him right away, like, ‘Are you guys American citizens?’ — that’s kind of, like, one of the first questions they had,” she said.
The troops looked through Dmitry Bodyu’s social media postings before they took him, she said.
Bodyu-Ogawa, who is 30 and lives in Hawaii, said she is "shocked" that her father was targeted.
"All he's doing is just helping such a huge amount of people that were hiding in the church, which was, like, over 50 people," she said Thursday morning. "And he was feeding all of them, too, throughout this whole situation."
She and her family have theories about why their father was targeted for abduction. It could be because of their family business holdings in local restaurants, she said.
"It could be because we're American citizens. It could be because he's, you know, a big influencer. A lot of people follow him and really want to know what he's preaching about and what he's telling people, making sure he's not, like, talking about Russia and trying to tell people, 'Yes, this is a bad thing.'
"I know they were going through all of his preaching videos, because that's what they told my mom when they came back on Monday, to bring all their computers and phones back," she said.
The troops also came back to get a Bible and a sleeping bag, but otherwise the family has heard nothing from Dmitry Bodyu.
"We're just hoping for the best, and we're praying for him, and we're praying that he's strong," Bodyu-Ogawa said.
The State Department said it is aware of the reports but declined to comment for privacy reasons.
A spokesman for Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Irene Vereshchuk, said her office was not aware of the alleged abduction.
Vereshchuk said this week that Russian forces had kidnapped or abducted at least 14 local leaders since the invasion began.
Ukrainian authorities said this month that Melitopol’s mayor, Ivan Fedorov, was abducted and released. In an interview with Sky News, he said he had been exchanged for nine Russian soldiers.