Saturday, 10 October 2015


Mary and I arrived in Ukraine on Thursday October 8, after the usual tiring crossing of the Atlantic.  The trip thankfully was uneventful and we were met by our staff members Olga Rubel and Oksana Bratchenko.  Oksana is our manager in Molochansk (Halbstadt) and she drives the van for the Mennonite Centre.  When we left 17 months ago she was just starting to learn to drive and I was curious about her confidence level in driving.  After watching her speed along the highway at 120 km per hour, I quietly acknowledged that she was a fast learner and I slept most of the way to Molochansk. 

It is almost a 3 hour drive from the airport to Molochansk, and yes we were tired.
One time when I did wake up in our drive, I noticed an elderly man far out in the field pushing his bicycle.  He had collected a large bundle of sunflower stalks from a field that had just been harvested and was using his bicycle to get this large bundle home.  He was literally “gathering winter’s fuel”.  It was a good introduction to the current “hot” topic in Ukraine – how are we going to heat our homes this winter?

As an outsider, one is never sure of all the facts surrounding an issue in Ukraine. My understanding of the crisis is as follows.  The Ukrainian economy has been in free fall since the war with Russia started over a year ago.  During the last year, the Ukrainian government was forced to get some emergency loans from western European countries.  There were some conditions attached to these loans that forced major cost reductions on the Ukrainian government.  The government had been subsidizing the cost of natural gas for homes while requiring business establishments to pay the full cost.  This subsidy is now gone and home owners have to pay the full cost of the gas.  This has caused a seven fold increase in the cost of this product for home owners starting this fall.  It is understandably a shock to society and manifests itself in many ways.

According to an elderly friend of ours in Molochansk, she will have to pay 40% of her monthly pension to heat her house in the winter.  The weather has turned quite cool in Molochansk already with morning temperatures around the freezing mark.  Our friend refuses to turn on her gas furnace just yet and apologized to us for all the clothes she was wearing while trying to stay warm.  She goes to bed with a hot water bottle and spends the first couple hours in bed just trying to warm it up.  She had spent the last few days, tying up small bundles of branches she collected.  She can burn these in her kitchen (a separate building) and get some heat to boil water.  She also did not can any fruits or vegetables this fall as this would have consumed too much gas.

The Mennonite Centre has had an increasing number of projects in the Zaporozhye area and Mary and I are planning on spending more time in that city to get a better understanding of these initiatives.  Our representative in Zaporozhye is Olga Rubel and she invited us to stay at her house when we are in that city but warned us that the house will be cold.  She and her husband have agreed not to turn on the furnace until the frost starts to bite.  We have stayed with her very comfortably in the past but shall have to decide how adventurous we wish to be this fall.

When we arrived at our apartment in Molochansk on Thursday, it was nice and warm.  The staff had turned on the furnace for us as a test to make sure it was working.  With the help of some melatonin, we had a good night’s sleep and awoke in the morning in our cozy apartment to what looked like a beautiful sunny day.  Shortly after 9:00 AM, we walked over to the Mennonite Centre to meet the staff.  That was when we realized that the air was quite crisp and cool.  The staff greeted us warmly and then Ira, our cook, pointed at Mary’s feet and started shivering on her behalf. The weather had looked so pleasant in the morning that Mary had decided to wear sandals with no socks.  If we had woken up shivering in a cold apartment, there is no doubt that Mary would have been wearing more “sensible” shoes, as my mother would have said.

The basic result of all these concerns is that people are scrounging for alternate fuels.  If they have the capability of heating their homes with wood or coal, then these are being collected.  Many trees are being cut down illegally.  The Mennonite Centre recently cleared an unsightly hedge row in the back.  One of our staff requested to take home all the branches worth burning.  These were collected in the yard and will be transported to our employee’s house.  The Mennonite Centre has traditionally had a program to help people buy coal for home heating.  I suspect we may be getting some requests to assist in home heating with gas.
Mary with Branches Collected for Winter Heating

We are aware that this is the Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada.  We will miss the traditional family gathering for the turkey dinner.  Today (Saturday) we dropped by the local Mennonite Church in Molochansk where we will be worshipping tomorrow.  The place was decorated as if they are celebrating Thanksgiving.  We know a special event is planned.  I got a picture of the group that will be singing tomorrow in church.  We are looking forward to the service.
Thanksgiving Service in Molochansk

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