Imagine the proud owner of a Mercedes in Ukraine. They sit behind their tinted windows knowing that they are in a quality car. People may suspect the means by which these owners acquired such an expensive car but they will acknowledge the quality. Imagine the humble owner of a Zaporojez – a Soviet era car that has a top highway speed of 70 km per hour. The owner sits in plain view with their untinted windows and all passing motorists think, “Twenty minutes of shame and you’re at the office”. It’s not surprising that these cars are becoming harder to find in Ukraine and the one I did find obviously had not been driven for a while.
Every time we see something, we tend to make some association with it. I heard of a school teacher who had difficulty choosing names for her own children when they were born. All her children ended up with names of her former students that she liked. She did not want her own children to remind her of problem students. We would like the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine to have a positive image - to be seen as a refuge where people can find assistance in lowering the stress in their life. For example, we are one of the few places in town that actually owns a lawn mower and keeps the grass cut. Consequently, you will often find seniors sitting outside on our benches just having a chat with their friends and enjoying the environment. Last Christmas, the Mennonite Centre was decorated with lights for the first time. It was the only local place with these decorations and everybody in town came past at night to admire the place. The Mennonite Centre is viewed very favourably in Molochansk.
Last Saturday morning I got a surprising call from Dema Bratchenko, our manager. I was informed that I was being picked up by the chief psychiatrist of the local psychiatric hospital and would be taken to the men’s ward. I had five minutes to get ready. I packed my camera and note book. The purpose of the visit was to let me see the renovations they were doing to the building. The staff were all in on their day off and were painting the rooms and hallways. The funding for this had come from voluntary donations by the staff. Government funding in Ukraine covers only salaries and utilities. Most of the patients had been abandoned by their families and there was no way of collecting funds from their families. The building was constructed in 1955 as a jail. In 1965 it was converted into a hospital. These were the first renovations done at this hospital in over 40 years. And yes, the hospital was also requesting some funding from us to replace the uneven outside walkway where the patients spent most of their time. One of the staff had tripped on the uneven surface and broken their leg. It was agreed to submit a proposal to the board requesting funding for this project.
The Mennonite Centre is undergoing some renovations. The heating system with the old radiators and clogged pipes was no longer working efficiently. The radiators have been removed and new pipes and radiators are being installed. The principal of the local school, Marina Romanova, found out about these renovations and requested the use of our old radiators for their school. Marina is the local chair of the Mennonite Centre (we need this to have a legitimate local standing) in Ukraine and a great supporter. It was an easy decision to give her the old radiators, which they will clean and install in their school.
It is a pleasure to walk to work each morning. We pass all the beautiful fruit trees along the way. For us prairie folk to see apricot, cherries and plums all growing in boulevard trees is unusual. The Mennonite Centre even has a mulberry tree growing on its property. This is quite appropriate as I believe Mennonites introduced the mulberries to this area 200 years ago when they started the silkworm industry. I would love to taste an actual mulberry but they will not be ripe before we leave.
Yesterday Dema and I drove to Melitopol to pick up a wheelchair for an elderly lady who recently had a stroke. She needs this on a temporary basis while she applies for a government issued wheel chair. The trip gave us a chance to check out the famous Melitopol cherries. There were vendors everywhere. We bought 4 kg of cherries for $7.50. They are smaller than the B.C. cherries we are used to in Winnipeg but sweet and flavourful.
Out time in Ukraine is rapidly coming to a close. We have just over a week to go. We are trying hard to stay organized so we can complete everything on our “to do” list.
For more information on the work of the Mennonite Centre, please go to http://www.mennonitecentre.ca/