Thursday, 29 September 2016


Mary and I arrived in Ukraine on Thursday September 22.  It is just under one year since we left and it quickly became apparent to us, that we felt like we had never left the place. Twenty-four hours after we left Winnipeg, we were settled in our apartment in Molochansk.  After a meal of borscht, provided by Ira, our cook at the Mennonite Centre, we settled in for a night’s sleep.  Our room was warm and we opened the window so that we could drift off to sleep with the usual sounds and smells of Molochansk wafting over us.  The usual night sounds in Molochansk are dogs barking in the evening, trains passing through the town, and roosters crowing in the morning.  The usual night smells in our apartment are the faint odour from the septic tank outside our apartment building reminding us that Molochansk does not have a sewer system.

This is the fifth time that Mary and I have served as volunteer North American Directors at the Mennonite Centre.  We know that this trip will be very different from all our previous trips to Ukraine.  It will be dominated by one event.   On October 12, 2016, we will be co-hosting an event with the Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, at the Mennonite Centre.  All Mennonite organizations working in Ukraine have been invited to attend.  The Ambassador wishes to use this opportunity to thank all these organizations for their contribution to Ukraine.  As well as the Ambassador, we will also have two dignitaries from Ottawa in attendance.  These are Senator Peter Harder and Senator Don Plett.  We are very pleased that they have shown a personal interest in coming to the event.  To ensure that the event will have a good Mennonite flavour, the Men’s Faith and Life Choir will be coming from Manitoba to perform at our ceremonies. They will also sing at a party that evening to which the whole town of Molochansk has being invited.  This party will mark the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the Mennonite Centre.  We are very honoured to be able to participate in this event.  Planning and arranging all the details is keeping us very busy.  Mary and I can admit to feeling a bit of pressure to make sure everything goes well.

We attended the Molochansk Mennonite Church last Sunday.  Sitting through a one hour sermon while still feeling the effects of jet lag, can be a bit painful.  The church offering was at the end.  As I placed my contribution in the offering plate, I noticed a number of people looking at me and smiling.  I was reminded that I have the unfortunate gift of getting into trouble with off-handed comments no matter where I am in the world.  The background to this is that during the week I was shopping and the clerk refused to let me pay with one of the bills I handed him.  It was clear from his gestures that he could not accept that bill.  Later I showed the bill to Oksana our manager when there were a few other people around.  They all recognized the bill as being too old and knew it was no longer accepted as legal tender.  Obviously someone had passed this on to me and as a foreigner I did not know that I should refuse to accept it.  It was a 50 greevna bill worth about $2.50 Canadian.  I was advised that my only option was to take it to a bank and see if they would exchange it for a newer bill.  I responded by telling them that I really had another option - I could generously place that bill in the church offering the next Sunday.  That is why they all turned to me on Sunday and smiled when the collection plate reached my place.  Fortunately they saw me make my contribution with legal tender.  I did go to the bank this week and the old rejected note was replaced.

Even the note looks rejected

Every house in Molochansk has a driveway – even if the house owner does not have a car.  Every driveway is covered with an arbour holding up well trained grape vines.  At this time of the year, the grape vines are weighted down with beautiful clusters of grapes.  The grapes come in a variety of colours – red, dark blue, and green.  Most interestingly for us, they come in a variety of flavours that we have not experienced before.  The local people have been very generous in supplying us with grapes from their garden.  We enjoy eating them even though they all have seeds and require a bit more work than the seedless varieties available to us in Canada.

The biggest change for us since a year ago is that the road to Tokmak, our nearest city, has actually been paved.  There was a stretch of about 4 or 5 kilometers that can best be described as being one long pot-hole.  I used to think of it as doing the Tokmak dance with approaching cars weaving and bouncing around one another and using the whole width of the road with no regard for actually staying on the proper side.  A half hour drive can now be done in 10 minutes.  In a discussion with the Mayor of Molochansk this week I thanked him for whatever he had done to give everyone a better road.  He acknowledged that the road to Tokmak was not really part of his jurisdiction but told us that all the trucks carrying the asphalt to pave the road were driving through Molochansk and causing road problems for him.  He worked out a deal with the contractor that every truck carrying the asphalt through Molochansk would leave 5 shovels full of asphalt to fix his own roads.  Governments in this area were once concerned with spreading the wealth. Now with very little wealth left to spread, our pragmatic mayor is more focused on spreading the asphalt.  That is progress for Ukraine.

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