Monday, 16 May 2011


Our time has come to leave Molochansk.  We could not have imagined how difficult this was going to be.  We are looking forward to seeing our families in Canada but feel guilty for leaving our friends in Ukraine.  This final blog is a random compilation of incidents, events and thoughts that occurred during our time at the Mennonite Centre.
My mother told me many things about the Molotschna area.  I am surprised at some of the things she never mentioned.
·         There are poisonous snakes in the area.  I did not see any but was warned about going through deep grass as that is where they like to hide.
·         The summer is unbearably hot.  The daytime temperature is often at 40 degrees Celsius.  People feel they cannot survive without air-conditioning.
·         There is a beautiful view from my mother’s village (Lichtenau) across the Molotschna River to the hills beyond.  It is especially green right now and beautiful.

Burial Mound

·         The land along the Molotschna River contains many burial mounds.  These are from the Scythians, an Iranian nomadic group that was here even before the Mennonites.  The mounds are at least 2000 years old.
One of the high points of the trip was attending the Orthodox Easter service at mid-night with Art and Marlyce Friesen.  We could do this in Winnipeg, but would never have contemplated this so close to home.
During our trip to Kiev, I made a special test of my decoy wallet.  I carried it in my most conspicuous bulging pocket and took a trip on the subway.  I have to admit, that I was a bit disappointed that no one tried to steal it. 

Picnic on the beach in Berdyansk

Made a trip to Berdyansk on our last Saturday.  This is a vacation resort on the coast.  It is a place I heard my parents reference as a vacation destination for rich Mennonite families 100 years ago.  We had to pretend to be rich Mennonites for one day and yes I (Alvin) have gone swimming in the Sea of Azov.  The water was cold.
Almost got stopped by police armed with a machine gun on our last Sunday in Molochansk.  Turns out they were just waving us through but I did not want to have any misunderstandings when they were so heavily armed, so I slowed down and looked back at them until they actually smiled at me and waved me on.  It is reassuring to get a smile from a policeman carrying a machine gun.


We have tasted many delicious foods in Ukraine.  Salo is not one of them.  It is salted pork fat.  I have tasted it but know it will never rank as one of my favourites.
I am amazed at how “Russian” my upbringing was when it came to food.  My mother’s borscht was straight from here.  If someone had asked me for the German word for meatballs, I would have said kutletten.  That is actually a Russian word.  They are even made in the same shape and size that my mother made.  When my mother made apricot jam, I always had to crack open the pits and take out the kernel which my mother blanched and added to the jam.  That is how they make apricot jam in the “Molotschna”.   Of course cabbage rolls with meat, varenyky with cottage cheese or cherries, and paska all come from here.  Makes me wonder if there are any unique Mennonite foods.
On a trip home from Zaporozhe, we were warned by flashing lights on approaching cars of a police radar check ahead.  After passing the police, the flashing lights continued and we were in for a series of police checks.  In fact, there were five traps in a row, each separated only by a few kilometers.  Drivers in Ukraine can on occasion be quite rude and drive as if they owned the road.  When police are present, all drivers have a common enemy (the police) and go out of their way to help each other.  Drivers were even signalling each other with fingers as to how many more police checks there were ahead.
Spent Friday morning in Melitopol at a talent contest.  The rock band that practices at the Mennonite Centre was one of the contestants.  There were a variety of performers from soloists (most of whom got buzzed off the stage) to dance groups and instrumentalists.   One “mature” sized lady brought the house down with a spoof on the actions of the young female dancers/singers.    Our group performed well and got a good response from the audience.  They did not win.
Many things in Ukraine are judged on a basis of fairness.  For example, the prices in stores should be fair, regardless of the cost to produce.  I have my own complaints about fairness.  On two separate occasions, Mary received a bouquet of tulips and a kiss on her hand from men she had just met while we were out for a walk.  All I got was a kiss on the cheek from a veteran who had not shaved that closely.  Life is not fair.
Mary and I went to the Molochansk town centre on the evening of the victory celebrations to watch the fireworks display.  We were quickly recognized by some young people because of our participation in the program that morning.  They surrounded us and tried to strike up a conversation in English.  One young teenage girl was searching for the correct words and said, “You are such beautiful people”.  That alone made the trip to Molochansk worthwhile for us.
We do have some unfinished personal business in Molochansk.  I would like to make a trip to Melitopol from Molochansk by train.  It would take me along the route that my mother travelled when she left in 1928.  Mary and I would also like to arrange for a ride in the side-car of a motorcycle.  We have seen a few around and it would be a great experience.  Yes we want to return.  The experience has been life changing.
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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