Wednesday, 27 April 2011


Every country is good at celebrating something.  Ukraine is good at celebrating Easter.  We decided to participate in their Easter celebration to the fullest and enjoyed every minute.


I grew up eating paska because that is just what my mother made at Easter.  I knew it had a Ukrainian origin but never understood the proper ritual and practices surrounding it.  Every store and street vendor was selling paska in Molochansk on the Saturday before Easter.  If we bought one, we would get a wag of the finger from the vendor admonishing us about something or other.  We started asking questions.

The Orthodox Church encourages its members to observe the rules of the Lenten fast.  That is, they are supposed to abstain from meat or animal products during the six weeks preceding Easter.  Easter morning is a joyous occasion when they celebrate the risen Lord by breaking the fast and eating the prohibited foods.  The Saturday before Easter is a busy day when people bake and decorate the paska and colour the eggs. Paska contains a lot of eggs and milk and even the traditional icing for the paska contains egg white.

Easter Eggs

We celebrated Easter with Art and Marlyce Friesen from the Friends of the Mennonite Centre Board in Canada.  Saturday evening at mid-night we were at the Orthodox Church in Molochansk.  It wasn’t really a dark and stormy night, but it was so dark it felt that way.  Marlyce had a small flashlight we used to navigate our way from the car, over the ditch, through the gate and up the steps of the church.  Once inside, there was light and we could observe the service.  People were arriving in a steady stream.  The women were all carrying baskets covered with a specially decorated towel.  The baskets contained their decorated eggs and paska.  These were brought to the church to be blessed and were placed on a special table.  Mary and Marlyce looked like “mumtches” with their required head coverings.  There are no seats in an Orthodox Church and we stood there listening to the chanting and the harmonic singing of the choir in the background.  My sense was that the people around us were worshipping in ways I do not understand.  The service goes till sun rise.  We left at to get some sleep before our regular church service at at the Kutuzovka Mennonite Church.  The finger wagging we had from the vendors was telling us not to eat the paska before it had been blessed.

“Christ is risen”, was the happy greeting from everyone Sunday morning.  It is amazing how quickly you can learn to understand that expression in Russian.  This continued to be the greeting for several days.  At the senior’s lunch on Tuesday at the Mennonite Centre, one elderly gentleman came up to me, shook my hand, and said in Russian, “Christ is risen”.  I understood him without an interpreter and was happy to give the official response in English and say “Christ is risen indeed”.  We both felt good about the verbal exchange as well as the knowledge that we were both celebrating the risen Christ.  I suspect that the gentleman may have seen me at the Orthodox service and came over to connect.

Vincent Klassen Family

Another week and another embassy visit.  Vincent Klassen and his family stopped in for a brief tour.  Vincent works for the Canadian embassy in Berlin and decided to come to Ukraine to explore his roots.  His real interest was in the Chortiza area but the Canadian Ambassador in Kiev, a friend of his, insisted that he had to visit the Mennonite Centre in Molochansk as well.  It is good to have friends in high places.

Friday produced a visit of a different sort.  Two burly policemen stopped by for a visit.  They did not smile but asked who we were and somewhat surprisingly asked how they could help us.  Mary told me that the police looked uncomfortable when I started taking notes – as I have been doing for all meetings.  One of them kept looking around the room as if he was checking for cameras.  We were very uncomfortable.   Felt like we had a visit from two goons trying to practice their public relations skills.

Saturday was another one those days I will never forget.  We went to a local orphanage to hear a program put on by the young people from the Kutuzovka church.  There are over 500,000 children in orphanages in Ukraine.  These could be children whose parents have died or they were abandoned.  At the age of 18, they are required to leave the place and fend for themselves.  They have no life skills and no connections outside the orphanage.  It is estimated that approximately 10% of them commit suicide in the first year.  The others frequently lead a life of crime or prostitution. 

Orphan with Pet Bug

With that information as background, it is easy to understand the reaction of children at the orphanage to a car load of foreigners arriving at their place.  We were soon surrounded by clambering friendly faces – each trying to get as close to us as possible.  They would look right into our eyes with their big eyes and smile as if to say, “Please take me”.  No translations were required.  Many of them have fetal alcohol or developmental problems.  Others look like the kind you would just love to have as grand children.  You end up asking yourself, does anyone in the system care?  The Mennonite Centre has helped out the orphanage on a number of projects to improve their facilities.  A lot more needs to be done for the long term welfare of the children.


Sunday afternoon, the Kutuzovka Church had a picnic at the Mennonite Centre.  Dema Bratchenko, the centre manager was asked to cook a large pot of “plov” – a food originating in Uzbekistan.  It contains pork, rice, oil, and lots of garlic.  It took 3 hours to cook over an open fire.  We enjoyed the meal.

Have spent several days looking at local medical services with our guests, Art and Marlyce Friesen. They are both doctors in Canada.  We toured a number of hospitals and nursing stations in villages looking at how the Mennonite Centre could assist them.  There is a major challenge in trying to understand their system.  I have been assured that I will never understand it and that we need to help anyway.

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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