We have been struck this week by how interconnected we all are. I am not just referring to the Mennonite community but much more broadly.
On Sunday we left by train for Kyiv. Monday morning I was to give the opening address at a Christian education conference. The conference organizers were very aware of the tradition of religious leaders in this country not knowing their limits, with sermons often droning on for an hour or more. Everyone was given a very limited speaking time. I was given 8 minutes to make my case, including time for translation. I consider it a “Suderman” virtue to be concise and get to the point when speaking. I might not show the same virtue when writing a lengthy blog. I gave them a history of Mennonites and Mennonite education and the current role played by the Mennonite Centre in supporting education in Ukraine. I finished in 7 minutes.
Later on Monday, we had a 3:00 PM meeting with the Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk. He had come to the Mennonite Centre one year ago to participate in celebrating our 15th anniversary. I asked him for his favourite moment at our celebrations. The answer surprised me. I had expected him to say that the opportunity to address the people of Molochansk in our evening event was his favourite memory. Instead he said the performance by the men’s Faith and Life choir at Schoensee, the next day had turned into his most memorable experience. The choir had been invited there by Father Peter of the Greek Catholic church to sing in German “Grosser Gott Wir Loben Dich” (Holy God We Praise Thy Name). The Greek Catholic church building in Schoensee is a restored former Mennonite church. The Mennonite Centre, with generous donations from Mennonites connected historically to that village, had financially assisted in its restoration. At the event, the Ambassador talked to the current residents of Schoensee (now called Snegorovka) and got their story. They also were victims of Stalin’s wrath just like the Mennonites. The residents were all originally from western Ukraine and from the area occupied by the Soviet Union in 1939. After the war, Stalin had refused to return this territory back to Poland. He knew the residents did not like him and he wanted them away from the border and in a safe place where he could watch them. Stalin also wanted room to build a large military base on the western edge of the Soviet Union and had to clear close to 100 villages from the area. There was no better place to move these displaced villagers than the former Mennonite villages that were empty after the war. The surprising part was that the current residents of Schoensee all came from the ancestral village of Roman Waschuk, our Ambassador. Our 15th anniversary celebrations became a family reunion for him. It is not surprising that we were warmly received in the Ambassador’s office.
|Faith and Life Choir performing at Schoensee with local people in foreground|
On Tuesday morning at 6:50 AM, we boarded a fast train for L’viv in western Ukraine. We had a 4:00 PM appointment that day to visit the Home of Hope. This is a special place where girls leaving the state run orphanages can learn some life skills while they complete their education. In the government institutions the orphans are housed, fed and clothed, while attending their own segregated schools. They do not know how to function in society and generally are angry and lack the emotional skills needed to form stable relationships. At the Home of Hope they are taught to cook, budget, and buy their own food with funds provided by the state or the home, while completing an education that will enable them to become self-supporting. The Home of Hope is run by some loving Sisters under the auspices of the Greek Catholic Church. We were given a tour of the home by Sister Yeroneyma.
|Sister Yeroneyma with girls from Home of Hope|
Mary and I had heard about this place from a chance encounter in Winnipeg. We heard a young lady speak passionately at a fund raiser about the work of this charity. This young lady is Natalie Tataryn. She was adopted from Ukraine by a Winnipeg family as a baby. She knows that her life could have been much different if she had stayed in the orphanage system in Ukraine. She has a passion for helping orphans in L’viv. We have invited her to attend our upcoming fund raiser on November 18 and briefly share her story with the audience. You will enjoy meeting her.
We started off our conversation with Sister Yeroneyma by introducing ourselves and the work at the Mennonite Centre. It turned out that she knew Father Peter, the priest who started the congregation at Schoensee. They had worked together in Donetsk at one time. She also told us that one of the Sisters from her order was also stationed in Schoensee. It seemed that no matter where we went in Ukraine, the Mennonite trail would cross that of some other organization where we already knew the people.
The most exciting part of the visit for us was to hear Oksana, our manager at the Mennonite Centre, suggest that the Mennonite Centre give cooking classes to the orphans living at the orphanage in Molochansk. We know the children at that place as we have visited them many times. We have helped our local orphanage in many ways but this would be a unique way of helping individual children. As with any idea, there will be many bumps along the road in its implementation but I look forward to seeing where this idea might go.
Speaking of the orphanage in Molochansk, we visited there just before leaving for Kyiv. We came at their invitation to meet their floor hockey team. While our local orphanage has many of the problems of other similar institutions, it is the only orphanage with a good floor hockey team. Because of support from the Mennonite Centre they have been able to travel to tournaments and participate in many competitions. Their team has done well. There are four graduates of the Molochansk orphanage that play floor hockey in established teams in Zaporozhye, our nearest big city. They also have one graduate that plays volleyball professionally in Ukraine. These are all exceptional achievements for orphans and the staff wanted to thank the Mennonite Centre for making this possible.
|Girls Floor Hockey Team at our Local Orphanage|
I would like to continue my exploration of the book “A Mennonite Estate Family in Southern Ukraine” by Nicholas Fehderau. Early in the book he gives details of a trip from their home in Halbstadt (now called Molochansk) to their estate further south near the city of Melitopol. This covered a distance of about 50 miles and was completed in one day. The streets that he identifies and the landmarks he notes are all still visible today. We no longer take the same route when driving to Melitopol but the trail is still discernable.
Nicholas describes the two horses being hitched to the coach which was standing in their yard. Many items would be loaded on the coach and his mother was always the last one coming out of the house after giving the staff countless instructions. Nicholas would sit up front beside Pavel, their coachman. They turned right out of the yard and headed down their street to the main thoroughfare coming through Halbstadt. Here they made a left hand turn. In a few blocks they turned right and headed down the road that would take them through Alt-Halbstadt. They passed the Willms mill on their left and the Neufeld brewery on their right. He comments on the cobblestone streets in this section and how everybody drove beside the paved section because it was smoother. They were heading to the “high” bridge taking them over the Molotschna River. As they drove through this part Nicholas talked about the herdsman having collected the cows in the village and taken them out to pasture near the bridge.
|Fehderau House on right Looking Down the Street|
|Willms Flour Mill Today|
|Old Cobblestones visible Through Asphalt Pavement|
|High Bridge over Molotschna River with Herdsman|
The seven story Willms mill is still standing but the brewery is gone. The streets are generally paved with asphalt but this has disappeared in places and the old cobblestones still are visible. That road today is so rough, that we often drive beside the pavement just as they did in Nicholas times. A high bridge over the Molotschna River still exists in this location. It is a very old looking structure but it is hard to imagine that it is the same bridge from more than 100 years ago. On our exploratory drive, we approached the bridge just as a herdsman was chasing cattle into their pasture.
After crossing the river, their coach approached the village of Prischib. They had left the Mennonite community and were in a German colonist village settled by people of the Lutheran faith. Nicholas comments that Prischib did not look as pretty and as orderly as Halbstadt. Today the difference has been erased as both places look equally run down. They continued south through two more villages and then started the climb up the large escarpment that is very visible in the area. We continued following this trail in our car and found a paved road leading straight up the escarpment as described by Nicholas. At the top we had a beautiful view of the Molotschna settlement. Nicholas and his sister always had to climb this section on foot as the load on the horses had to be reduced. Mary and I enjoyed the view from the top before returning to our residence in Halbstadt.
|Road up the Escarpment with Halbstadt visible in upper left|
Mary and I have only one week to go before we leave for home. The time has gone by quickly and we look forward to finalizing everything here and seeing our friends and families back in Winnipeg.
If you wish to know more about the work of the Mennonite Centre, you can check out our web site at: http://www.mennonitecentre.ca/ or follow our daily activities on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Mennonite-Centre-Ukraine-735361069838076/