Every week has been filled with new experiences.This past week was no exception.We left last Wednesday evening for an overnight train ride into Kiev.There were a number of meetings and errands to attend to.We travelled with Dema, his wife Oksana and their 3 children.Our accommodation in Kiev was arranged in a traditional Mennonite fashion.We were going to stay with Oksana’s parents and her sister in their apartment for five nights. For a group of ten people, we got along very well.Oksana’s parents went out of their way to make us feel comfortable – even giving up their bedroom.
Friday was an important day.We had received a formal invitation to attend the opening of a Mennonite display in the GreatPatrioticWarMuseum (World War II for the rest of us).The irony alone made it worth the trip.The display was called “Passing on the Comfort”.It told the story of a Mennonite lady in Holland during and after World War II who used quilts made by Mennonite ladies in the United States and Canada to assist the many victims of that war.A few of the original quilts have survived and were the basis for the display.The lady was An Keunig-Tichelaar and is currently 89 years old and still living in Holland.It is worth reading the story at
The exhibition was officially opened by the US Ambassador as his embassy had provided the funding.There was also representation from the Dutch, German, and British embassies.It was a very formal occasion.Mary, Dema Bratchenko, and I were formally recognized in the crowd as representing the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine.We had our picture taken many times.We had a chance to meet the US Ambassador as well as the Dutch representative.We presented them with some gifts (books and music CD’s) that had been sponsored by the Mennonite Centre and invited them to visit us in Molochansk.Took advantage of the opportunity to tell the US Ambassador that we were going to Kansas in June to meet some of my American cousins. It turns out that he and his wife had roots in Kansas and wanted to know where my cousins lived.I have his permission to pass on greetings to my American Mennonite cousins.
On Sunday afternoon we were invited to the home of Robert Koop and Natalia Zavarzina.They both work in the Canadian Embassy.We had gotten to know them when they stopped in the Mennonite Centre on the previous week to explore their Mennonite roots.We determined that Robert and I both have a great-grandfather by the name of Johann Sudermann and that they lived diagonally across the street from each other in 1917 in the village of Alexanderthal in the Molotschna settlement.We cannot confirm that we are related.
The invitation from Robert and Natalia was for lunch, but they served us a full meal.We felt royally entertained.The conversation at some point turned to working in Molochansk and Robert expressed an interest.Dema jokingly told him there was an opening for a night watchman.Robert turned to Natalia and asked, “Would you move there with me”?Her answer was very touching when she said, “I would move anywhere with you”.Mary and I were both reminded of the verse, in the Book of Ruth, where Ruth tells her mother-in-law, “Where you go, there I will go….” It was beautiful to see such devotion, especially in a position such as Foreign Affairs where people are forced to move all over the world and couples frequently have to make a choice between being with their partner or looking after their career.Maybe the Canadian Government will open a Consulate in Molochansk someday.
My fame as a chef in Ukraine is spreading.On Sunday evening, Oksana’s family requested that I cook my famous stir fry that they had heard about at our banquet in Molochansk – this time with the chicken.We ate in shifts in their kitchen.What else could they say – they enjoyed the meal.
At on Monday we had a private meeting with the Canadian Ambassador.This had been arranged by Robert and Natalia.I was amazed how informed he was on Mennonite issues.He has been a guest at the Mennonite Centre and Dema had a good opportunity to explain the role we play in our area.He was also familiar with the Mennonite Economic Development Association (MEDA) and their work in the Melitopol area. He has even attended a MEDA conference in Calgary.It turned out that he had also worked at the Mexican Embassy at one point in his career and knew about the issues that Mennonites faced in that country.He was somewhat uncomfortable in trying to diplomatically describe the difference between his perception of Canadian Mennonites and Mexican Mennonites.Being a diplomat, he was successful in choosing his words carefully.
For our last dinner in Kiev, Mary and I decided to thank Oksana’s parents for their hospitality by taking everyone out for a night of fine dining that all ages would enjoy.We ordered two taxis for the 10 of us and were off to McDonald’s.If you think that there is a contradiction in this, then you do not understand something about Ukraine.McDonald’s is relatively expensive for the local population and to go there is a treat.It was a unique experience for themIt was also a unique experience for us as Mary and I have never before gone to McDonald’s in a taxi.
The trip home to Molochansk was relatively uneventful.We left Kiev at on Tuesday and were in Melitopol by .Our pre-arranged van was there to pick us up.We were stopped by the police as we entered Molochansk.A van full of Mennonites at in the morning does look suspicious.The police were unable to find a problem and had to let us go.
For more information on the work of the Mennonite Centre, please go to:
For information on the work of the Mennonite Economic Development Association (MEDA) in Ukraine, you can see an excellent Ukraine Youtube video produced last fall by a Winnipeg Mennonite film producer: