Saturday, 17 October 2015


Yes it has been the Canadian Thanksgiving week and not a turkey in site on any tables in Ukraine.  We did celebrate a national holiday on Wednesday of this week but have no idea what we were celebrating.  We are used to not understanding everything that happens around us.  It is all part of working in a foreign environment.

The week started off on a strange note.  We came back from a meeting just as people were starting to assemble for the senior’s lunch at the Mennonite Centre. We provide 3 such lunches per week, on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.  One couple immediately approached me and started talking in Russian.  When I indicated that I could not understand, they obliged me by speaking more slowly and loudly.  It still did not help.  I went inside to get Oksana, our manager, to be my interpreter.  They were not pleased to see her join the conversation.  It turned out they were trying to complain to me about one of her decisions.  They were requesting financial assistance in getting a second cataract surgery for the husband.  Our policy is to provide funding for only one surgery.  While we might make exceptions, it was felt with their 2 pensions that they could afford to pay for the operation themselves.  What intrigued me was their attitude - if you do not satisfy their request they will make a formal complaint to some official.  It turns out that I was the official.  This attitude is a carryover from Soviet times when complaints were constantly being made to local officials.   It was a way of life I would not like to encourage.  After making their formal protest to me and having their request denied, the couple went inside for a free lunch.  No complaints there - and also no thanks for any assistance received so far.

Later that day we drove to the former Mennonite village of Juschanlee.  It was the site of the estate owned by Johann Cornies – unofficially referred to as the Mennonite Czar.  He was a man of tremendous influence in the 19th century and was responsible for the orderliness in establishing Mennonite villages as well as for many of the progressive agricultural practices on Mennonite farms. We were not on a historical tour but rather were going to visit Oksana Donets.  We met her in April 2014 after her mother came to the Mennonite Centre with a request for financial assistance.  It was a touching story.  Oksana had her hip injured as a young teenager while participating in some martial arts.  The injury was initially misdiagnosed, resulting in long term problems.  The original injury was aggravated 10 years ago when she was in a car accident while pregnant.  The hip had continued to deteriorate and doctors finally were recommending that she get a replacement.  By the time we saw her, she could no longer walk and was lying trapped in her mother’s second floor walk-up apartment.  The artificial hip would come from Germany and it cost $8,000 plus the cost of the surgery.  The family had applied everywhere for assistance and had always been turned down.  We were their last hope.
Oksana Donets and Her Daughter in Better Times

Oksana 18 Months Ago

The amount requested was well above the usual the usual amount that we provide for individual surgeries but the board agreed to post an appeal on Facebook.  This brought in over $5000 and the board approved the request for us to purchase the artificial hip with the family paying the cost of the surgery.  Mary and I were the lucky people to go back to Juschanlee and tell her the good news.  Mother and daughter both started crying at the news.  The mother hung onto Mary so hard when we left that I was not sure if Mary would be allowed to leave.  My final words to Oksana were that next time I see you I want to see you walking.

On our return to Ukraine this October we were curious as to what had happened.  We had heard some hints of complications but wanted to get a complete understanding of the situation for ourselves.  We returned to Juschanlee this week and were warmly received by the mother at the door.  When I went into their living room, Oksana was standing and started walking toward me.  She was smiling – something that we did not see last time.  Their story was difficult to hear.  After the purchase of the hip, Oksana was admitted to a hospital in Zaporozhye to prepare her for the operation.  The doctors were puzzled by her total inability to walk and performed an MRI.  They found a large tumour on her spine.  This tumour turned out to be benign, but it was the reason she could not walk.  This tumour was removed and she has been recuperating ever since.  She actually had to learn to walk again with the help of physical rehabilitation.  She still needs the hip replaced and is almost at the stage where this could happen.
Oksana Happy to be Standing and Walking

Oksana has had 12 surgeries in her lifetime and expressed some reluctance at enduring yet one more.  The family also had to borrow $2500 for the surgery to remove the tumour and receive the rehabilitation.  They do not know how they will finance the cost of the surgery for the hip replacement.  It will be difficult for them to move forward.  I encouraged them to stay in touch with Oksana Bratchenko, our manager as they plan their next move.

Despite the difficult situation they are in, Oksana Donets and her mother are extremely thankful to the Mennonite Centre for the assistance we provided.  Without the purchase of the hip, they would not have started the procedure that discovered the tumour.  After a short discussion, they had a party for us with food and refreshments.  They decorated the food with napkins printed like American $100 bills.  They asked us about Canada and our family at home.  When Oksana Donets heard that we had a couple of unmarried sons, she smiled quite broadly and expressed an interest in getting to know our family much better.  Her mother gave us many jars of canned produce as well as a large frozen chicken.  They were trying to find ways of saying thank you.  We know that they are thankful.
Food for the Party

Oksana Donets and Oksana Bratchenko (our manager)

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  1. Oh how I enjoy reading about your adventures. Makes me laugh, makes me cry!

  2. Thank you for sharing, Alvin and Mary. The personal stories demonstrate the significance of the Mennonite Centre's ministry. -- Mary and Gerhard