Thursday, 21 April 2011

WEEK 6 - BUREAUCRACY

I have worked for 38 years for the Manitoba Government and thought I understood something about bureaucracy.  It has been taken to a whole new level in Ukraine and I still have a lot to learn.  There is a real scarcity of government resources in Ukraine when it comes to doing something positive for its citizens such as repairing a poor road. However there is no shortage of those same resources when it comes to controlling its citizens.  Some examples may be of interest.

The Mennonite Centre has provided a school bus for Svyetlodolinskoye, one of the former Mennonite villages in the Molotschna area.  The bus was due for its technical inspection.  As the bus is still legally owned by the centre, we were involved in the process.  On Saturday morning, the assembled crew was on hand to see if this could be accomplished.  The essential crew consisted of the mayor of Svyetlodolinskoye, the bus driver, another essential person from the village as well as Dema Bratchenko and myself.  I will acknowledge that I was not really essential but rather curious about the process.  All possible documents were assembled and we were off to the appropriate police department in Tokmak with the bus and the Mennonite Centre’s car.  Dema figured we had a less than 10% chance of completing our mission without coming back to find some other required document and that it would be faster to do this in a car. The police department was quiet – the door was locked and there were a few clients waiting.  After an hour’s wait, we were told that no one from the police would show up that day.  The previous day had been National Road Police Day and the police were still “recovering” from their celebrations.  The entire crew will have to be assembled for another attempt.  The second attempt still has only a 10% chance of being successful.

Another frustrating bureaucratic experience of the last week was dealing with the changing ownership of the Mennonite Centre’s car.  There has been a lengthy dispute regarding a fee that should be paid when the centre had to change the registered ownership from one individual to another.  (Why the centre has to register its car in an individual’s name is another bureaucratic story.)  After numerous phone calls and several trips to Tokmak, we felt the dispute was settled when we paid the requested fee of $2.50.  It may not be settled and may even require a trip on our part to Zaporozhe to get more documents.  Always more documents.

The frustrating part of these experiences is the terrible drive to Tokmak over a road that has more pot holes than actual pavement.  The cars weave and bounce and frequently hit bottom as they navigate this treacherous road.  One day we had 2 flat tires on that stretch of road as a result of bending the rims in a sharp pot hole.  Just using the salaries of a few useless bureaucrats would have been enough to finance the reconstruction of the road. That is not the way a former civil servant should be speaking but ….

There were also many positive moments in the week.  The Kutuzovka Mennonite church is starting the construction of a new building in Molochansk. Most of their attendees live in Molochansk and have to be transported by bus to Kutuzovka.  The church had purchased a lot and we were present as a group of volunteers gathered, had a prayer of blessing on their construction project, and started the cleaning operation to prepare the site.  A lot of old concrete was being smashed and no one had any safety protection for their eyes.  The part of our job description that says, “Show up and see what needs to be done” came into play.  Went to the local hardware store and inquired as to the price of safety goggles.  They were under $1.00 a pair.  We bought the six pairs that they had in stock and distributed them at the construction site.  They were well used and no eyes were injured.

Had a short visit from two Canadian families exploring their Mennonite roots in the area. Both families were from the Church of God in Christ Mennonite (Holdeman) congregation.  The women were more conservatively dressed and the men both had beards, as is the custom in that church.  One of the families is working in the Ukraine city of Kharkov as missionaries and the other family was visiting from Canada.  It was amazing that they knew which villages their ancestors had lived in as they are descended from Mennonites who immigrated to Canada in the 1870’s.  Their story has obviously been passed on for many generations.  We had a very pleasant visit with them and Dema stated that he is considering converting to their faith as it will save him the effort of shaving every day.

On Sunday afternoon Mary and I went for a pleasant drive in the countryside.  Spring is here and the grass has turned green.  We were looking for storks and found a large nest.  As we approached the nest, the storks became concerned and flew away.  We got some great pictures and then left the area to minimize the disruption of their lives.

Tuesday morning we were back in Tokmak for a meeting of the Advisory Council on Community and Social Services; on which the Mennonite Centre has a seat.  It was a major meeting involving the regional councilors (deputies they call them) voting on several important issues.  For Dema, the high light was seeing a motion pass that would create a 30 bed seniors care home in the Molochansk hospital.  The space is sitting unused at present.  He has been fighting for this for awhile. 

The meeting was memorable for Mary and I also for a very different reason. One of the councilors got up to read a motion and as she went past the head table, she casually borrowed the eye glasses that the chairperson was wearing.  He relinquished them without any fuss.  No one thought anything of it.  In Canada, it would be the equivalent of the Governor General having difficulty reading the Speech from the Throne and walking over to the Prime Minister to borrow his glasses.  It would make the national news.  I am glad I wasn’t asked for my glasses as I know I would have hesitated and caused an embarrassment.  I am still learning.

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:



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