Tuesday, 13 May 2014


As I start writing this blog, we are in a hotel in Kyiv (Kiev for those of you that are Russian speaking) and are listening to BBC world news.  A referendum is being held in eastern Ukraine to determine its ongoing relationship to Ukraine.  We do not know the results yet and do not know what impact that will have on events in Ukraine.  We recognize that there is some danger in being in this part of the world.  My mother (bless her soul) always warned me about coming here.  Obviously I did not listen to my mother.
My mother’s fears were based on her own experiences in Ukraine during the troubled times of the Civil War following World War I.  She had heard of an MCC worker who came to their area in 1920 and who disappeared. It was presumed that he was killed by the Communists.  I came across some information on that incident this week.  

During the unsettled times in Russia during the Civil War, the Mennonites in North American became aware of the suffering of their co-religionists and wanted to help.  Organizing this help was a problem as there was no Mennonite institution that could act on behalf of all the diverse Mennonite groups.  The driving force for this initiative came from the “Swiss” Mennonites of Pennsylvania.  It resulted in the creation of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC as it is known today) and its objective was to mobilize the assistance of all Mennonites in North America and provide humanitarian aid to the areas where the Mennonites were living in Ukraine.  This was a very difficult task as times were unsettled.  Three MCC workers were dispatched to reach the Mennonites of southern Ukraine.  They came via Constantinople (Istanbul) where they landed on September 27, 1920.  One of them by the name of Clayton Kratz from Pennsylvania reached Molochansk (formerly called Halbstadt) and was based there.  This is where the present day Mennonite Centre is located.  Clayton arrived at a time when the White Army under General Wrangel was in control of the area.  His immediate assignment was to establish the headquarters to enable MCC to provide food relief in the area.  As the Red army (communists) gained strength and started advancing, Clayton Kratz was warned that he should evacuate to the south with the retreating White Army.  He chose not to do this.  He felt that as a neutral American relief worker that he would be safe.  He was wrong.  He was last seen in the Mennonite village of Fuerstenwerder (now called Balkavoya) where he was arrested by the Red Army.  After that he simply vanished.
Clayton Kratz (1896-1920)

Despite the setback of losing one of their workers, MCC was successful in setting up a number of soup kitchens which fed the surrounding population, regardless of religious affiliation.  My mother has frequently acknowledged that her family would have starved without that assistance.  I recall my mother telling me of the attempt by herself ,as a 10 year old, to approach the MCC workers in her area and request an undergarment for her mother.  It was her mother’s birthday and she wanted to give her something.  When I inquired if she was successful, I still recall the resigned shrug of her shoulder as she said, “Well I guess they just could not help everyone”.

The Mennonite Centre today also cannot help everyone.  We also have to establish priorities and use discernment in providing assistance.  A request that I referenced in an earlier blog is that of Oksana Donets.  She is the 35 year old mother of a lovely 8 year old girl.  Oksana fractured her hip at the age of 12 in what appears to have been a karate match.  This was initially misdiagnosed in the Tokmak hospital.  She has since undergone 6 surgeries to correct the problem.  The situation was aggravated 8 years ago in a car accident where Oksana broke her leg and had her daughter delivered by emergency C-section.  Recently there has been a considerable deterioration in the hip.  Oksana is in constant pain and cannot walk.  She is a virtual prisoner in her mother’s second floor walk-up apartment.  We visited her there and took some pictures.
Oksana Donets with her daughter Valerie in Better Times
Oksana and her daughter Valerie now

Oksana lives in a village (Juschanlee) which used to be the site of an estate owned by Johann Cornies (for those who do not recognize the name, he is the closest the Mennonites in Russia ever came to having their own czar). The cost of the artificial hip is $7100.  This is well beyond the usual level of assistance that we provide to individuals. The board of the Mennonite Centre has authorized that we do a special fund-raising for Oksana.  If you wish to help, you can go to: http://www.mennonitecentre.ca/Fundraising.html for specific instructions.

For more information on the work of the Mennonite Centre, please go to:  http://www.mennonitecentre.ca/

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