Saturday, 24 October 2015


It is Saturday morning and I am working on my blog.  I started off by reading my diary for the last week and it noted that last Sunday morning the first thing I did was check my emails to see if my previous blog had “blown up” on me in any way.  All was quiet on the western front and I could go enjoy my breakfast.  Not too sure about the eastern front.  There are a surprising number of readers of the blog from Ukraine and Russia. 

Our week was spent in Zaporozhe with our representative Olga Rubel looking at current and future projects.  We were going to spend the week staying at the Intourist Hotel but Olga persuaded us to do the Mennonite thing and stay at her place.  She even turned on the heat for our benefit.  Last time we were in Zaporozhye, the big issue every day was whether I should drive or she would be the driver.  Her husband, who has never driven, always made the decision.  I ended up driving a lot.  This time, her husband was never consulted on the issue and Olga drove every day.  I can confirm that she is a good driver but she still can’t park.  There is never any danger of her rubbing the tires on the curb as we never got closer than 3 feet.  After parking, the question was, could cars going down the road still get passed us?  If yes, then we left the car and went about our business.  In Olga’s defense I can say that she got her driver’s license about the same time as she started collecting her pension.  Many of us would lack the confidence for such a challenge at that age.

Our first visit was with Dr. Uri Reshetilov.  He is an enthusiastic supporter of our move into tele-medicine and wanted to celebrate our visit with a beautiful spread of food.  I sat there eating caviar on bread with cream cheese, wondering how I was going to explain the challenges of our work to the people back home.  I felt better when I noted that he only gave us red caviar and none of the expensive black variety.
Spread of Fruit and Caviar
Dr. Reshetilov Presenting Us With Original Painting of Dam in Zaporozhye

The Mennonite Centre has been a strong promoter of tele-medicine as a way of improving health care in the former Mennonite villages.  Most villages have what we would call a nurse-practitioner (called feldshers in Ukraine).  This is the front line of medical care.  They have limited abilities to diagnose illness and could often benefit from consulting with a doctor.  This would involve lengthy and costly travel for the patients.  With tele-medicine, the feldsher could consult with a doctor in Molochansk while the patient is still in the office.  We actually sat through such a consultation in Zaporozhye with Dr.  Reshetilov.  He was examining a patient who was at that moment in a doctor’s office in Molochansk.   We followed up with a conference call to a number of doctors and feldshers.  You can see all the individuals in the following picture.  We are in the lower right of the screen.  My face is black as I am holding up my camera and taking a shot of the live screen.
Live Picture of Tele-Medicine in Action

There are a number of Mennonite organizations operating in Ukraine and especially in the Zaporozhe area.  One of these is the Mennonite Family Centre.  It operates a personal care home for seniors.  Their manager is a local person by the name of Borys Letkeman.  He is a descendant of Mennonites who were exiled to the east during Soviet times.  He has returned to live in the area where his Mennonite ancestors once lived. 
Borys Letkeman with Seniors

When we arrived in his office, he told us of a phone call he had received that morning.  It was from a Mennonite church pastor in the village Balkavoya (called Fuerstenwerder in Mennonite times).  The pastor had a young mother in his office and she was destitute.  Her husband had recently abandoned her with 3 young children and they had nothing.  Borys referred to her as being “free of all encumbrances”.  This is not an area where Borys has any direct responsibility, but from the tears in his eyes, I could tell that he had done something to provide assistance.  It is beautiful to see the cooperation that exists between the various Mennonite agencies.

The Mennonite Centre has been active with an organization called Promitei.  It deals with handicapped or disadvantaged children.  In particular, it has worked very closely with children suffering from autism.  This disorder is not well understood in Ukraine, even by pediatricians.  Consequently children are often misdiagnosed.  Promitei would like to get children diagnosed very early and work with them to ensure that they are properly “socialized” - to directly quote the interpreter.  This is not some old political indoctrination from communist times but rather it expresses a desire to ensure the children properly develop their social skills.
Children Interacting With Staff

Promitei has recently moved from small downtown apartments to a large house further out in the suburbs.  The space is given to them rent free by a sympathetic orthodox priest.  Both our organization and the Mennonite Family Centre provide crucial financial support to operate the place.
New Building for Promitei Centre

When we first arrived at Promitei, their director Anjelica, was not present.  She arrived soon after and offered profuse apologies.  Her mother, who until now had been the prime care giver for their ailing father, had herself suffered a stroke.  Anjelica was now desperately trying to organize some home care.  Olga suggested that we contact Borys Letkeman as his organization had a program to provide home care.  Our Mennonite Centre cannot do everything and it is good to call on other agencies for important help.
Promitei class with Angelica on the Right

Next week Thursday, the Promitei centre is holding a major conference on autism.  Many pediatricians have been invited and they are also bringing in some experts from Kyiv.  The Mennonite Centre is sponsoring this conference in the hope of improving the ability of doctors to properly diagnose this disorder.  As we are the sponsoring organization, I was informed that I am listed as one of the speakers.  Wonder what I will say to the pediatricians.

If you wish to know more about the work of the Mennonite Centre, you can check out our web site at: or follow our daily activities on Facebook at:

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