Monday, 31 October 2016


This has been a varied week at the Mennonite Centre and I would like to touch on a number of situations that we encountered.  It is also a wrap up for our trip as we leave for home this coming Friday.

Last Tuesday we were invited to the home of Anatoli and Raisa for afternoon tea.  They are an elderly couple that have warmly welcomed all North American directors to Molochansk.   Anatoli and Raisa are an interesting anomaly.  They know all the programs we have at the Mennonite Centre (free doctors’ visits, eye glasses, seniors’ lunches and individual assistance) but have never come over to use any of them.  When we pass their house on the way to the Mennonite Centre, Anatoli would often present Mary with flowers from his garden and then kiss her hand.  He is a charmer and knows it.

Mary and Anatoli back in Spring of 2014

Anatoli was born in Molochansk in December 1927.  My mother was still living there when he was born and I feel like we are almost related.  I love asking him questions about history.  He is very hard of hearing and one is never sure what question he is answering.  The good part is that every time I ask the same question, he goes off on a different tangent and so I can glean some new information.  I know that his grandfather was a coachman for a wealthy Mennonite family (Franz and Schroeder) in Halbstadt before the revolution.  Anatoli is very proud of this fact.  He was too young to be involved in active combat during the war but remembers the terrible destruction experienced by Halbstadt in 1943 as the German army was being pushed west.  He also remembers the famine that swept the area in 1947 as a result of the disruption caused by the war.  As a young teenager he remembers running through the tunnel connecting the Mennonite Credit Union to the Boys’ School (Central Schule).  He described the tunnel as being 4-5 feet wide with brick walls and an arched brick ceiling.

Alvin, Anatoli, Raisa, and Mary

We had been invited for tea, but Raisa had made a batch of cottage cheese varenecki.  She insisted that we eat all of them before we were allowed to leave.  They were delicious.

Oksana and Mary with Dish of Varenecki

This week we also visited the home of Victor Goncharov in Tokak.  He came to us several weeks ago because he needed assistance paying for hip surgery.  When I first saw him, I judged him to be several years older than I imagine I look.  In fact he is 10 years younger.  Life has been hard.  He used to have his own taxi service but can no longer work because of the pain in his hip.  The doctors have told him that the locally made artificial hips will not fit him and he needs an expensive American made hip.  The total cost of the hip and the surgery is $5000 Cdn ($4000 US). Victor has had a life-long passion for raising fancy pigeons.  At one time he could have sold some of the pigeons and raised the money, but the market in Ukraine has collapsed and he does not have the connections or ability to sell into foreign markets.  His last question for me was, “Is there hope of getting some help from the Mennonite Centre?”  We cannot provide all of the help for his surgery, but if you wish to assist Victor, please go to: and make a donation.

Victor at the Mennonite Centre

Victor's Prized Pigeons

Victor and his Trophies for Pigeons

We have all heard the expression, when in Rome do as the Romans do.  Last Sunday Mary and I decided to apply this locally and said, “When in Ukraine let’s go worship in a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church”.  We did not warn them we were coming and hoped that we would not make some inappropriate mistake that would disrupt their worship service.  We had met their priest, Father Taras, at our event at the Mennonite Centre on October 12.  He had previously given us a tour of their new church the congregation had built in Tokmak and where the Mennonite Centre had provided some assistance in paying for the doors.  Father Taras was delighted to see us and gave a public welcome to the people in the congregation from Canada.  It is interesting to judge a worship service when you cannot understand a single word being said.  There are many ways of judging a service.  One way is to judge it by looking at how engaged the worshippers are in the actual service.  I thought they were all engaged.  There was not a single person looking down at the cell phone to check on messages.  We see this frequently in the local Mennonite church where young people spend a lot of time on their phones as the minister goes on with his hour long sermon. 

Father Taras in Front of Door for Confessional

The service in the Greek Orthodox Church lasted for 90 minutes.  We had to stand most of the time.  This is definitely not something that we are used to.  At the end we were presented with the gift of a small doll made by local children.  These are traditionally presented to soldiers being called up to serve or for visiting dignitaries.  We were given a very warm invitation to come back again.

Special Gift

The Mennonite Centre provides free lunches to the seniors in our town 3 times a week.  This meal is prepared by our staff under the directions of Ira, our cook.  We don’t usually have a program or speaker for the group, so last Friday we were surprised to hear Ira reading something to the assembled seniors.  Oksana, our manager, explained to us that Ira sometimes does this to mark someone’s birthday or some other special event.  She was reading a poem to the assembled.  After she finished reading, she looked at one lady and asked her to prepare a poem to be read at the next gathering.  This lady was surprised by the request and asked why she had to do this.  Ira told her that it would be a good lesson as she could then experience the frustration of reading to the assembled while someone in the group was talking and not paying attention.  Thus endeth another blunt lesson in Ukraine.

Ira and Staff Preparing Seniors Lunch

Mary Serving Seniors Lunch

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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