Friday, 3 November 2017


Our last week is rushing to its final conclusion.  We had deliberately left this week open as we knew external events would intervene in any of our plans.

Last Sunday we arrived by train in Zaporozhe from Kyiv.  The train trip was uneventful except for a strange time when the train just stood for a whole hour.  Later we found out that it was the weekend for Ukraine to switch back to standard time and an extra hour was introduced into the schedule.  To ensure the train stayed on time, it just stopped and waited till the extra hour had passed.  I could not get a satisfactory answer as to what the train did in spring when the schedule lost an hour.

Monday morning we were met with an avalanche of requests for assistance.  The one that sticks in my mind is that of an elderly husband looking for assistance for his wife.  She has had six surgeries on her spine, with a progressive story of horror attached to each surgery.  She was now in extreme pain and needed her spine fused.  They had borrowed money for each surgery but now were so deeply in debt they barely had food to eat.  The request was for $750.00.  We agreed to accept their request and submit it to the board for approval.  I often ask myself as to why I feel compassion for certain requests.  In this case I know why.  Here was this poorly dressed man, who one could see just loved his wife and would do anything for her, asking for help in a very dignified way.  It was very touching.  Even though he did not request it, we asked the staff to give him a food parcel as he left.  I regret not getting his picture.

Tuesday was seniors’ lunch day at the Mennonite Centre.  Many seniors come early just to sit in a place where there is some warmth and visit with their friends.  As with any program there always are issues to be resolved.  The occasional guest has had issues with poor personal hygiene.  The odour can overpower the dining room and all attendees are made uncomfortable.  We have started accommodating these guests outside.  I am always impressed with the loving way our staff treat these “special” individuals.

Tanya Serving a Special Guest

On our way home on Tuesday evening we met our favourite neighbours in Molochansk.  They are Anatoli and Raisa.  We refer to him as the turkey man, as he used to keep these birds in his yard.  He is hard of hearing and has poor eyesight but once he realized who we were, we had to come in for a visit.  His wife had just been released from hospital where she was for 3 months with kidney stones.  This couple has never come to the Mennonite Centre for any assistance but has received all Mennonites from Canada with open arms.  Anatoli is proud of the fact that his grandfather was a coachman for a business in Molochansk (Franz and Schroeder). He feels a definite kinship with all Mennonites.

Anatoli age 90

Anatoli is very enamoured with Mary and always remembers her name but butchers up mine quite badly.  He praised Mary to high heaven and chastised me for my poor Russian.  He told me that I had been here often enough that I should be quite fluent in it.  He gave me an “F” in Russian language speaking skills.  He compared me to Frank Dyck that had come from Canada and spoke Russian quite well.  While I have never met Frank Dyck I do know of him.  He had come to Ukraine with a different organization and had been instrumental in founding the current Molochansk Mennonite Church.  He also was born in Ukraine and had a distinct advantage in learning the Russian language as a youngster.

Wednesday morning we drove out to Melitopol to see Father Peter, our favourite Greek Catholic priest.  We first met him when he was renovating the former Mennonite Church at Schoensee to start his own congregation in that village.  That congregation is now established and Father Peter is focused on an outreach in the City of Melitopol.  Among his many programs in Melitopol, he operates a daily soup kitchen for the homeless.  In summer her feeds about 30 people a day with this growing to over 100 a day in winter.  The Mennonite Centre supports his work in Melitopol with a monthly contribution of $350.00.

Passing Food Through The Open Window

Father Peter was in a very relaxed, jovial mood and we talked about many things.  He gave us a delicious meal of a chicken that he claimed had still been running around that morning.  When we pointed out that the plate held 5 drum sticks, he claimed that it must have been a miracle with the chicken producing an endless supply of drumsticks. We reminisced about our event with the Ambassador last fall.  He told us that Schoensee was becoming a destination for pilgrimages in eastern Ukraine.  Last year about 100 people participated in a joint pilgrimage from Melitopol to Schoensee.  Father Peter sees this as a start.  A similar pilgrimage in western Ukraine attracted 85,000 people last year.  All the Mennonites walking the Camino in Spain may wish to consider another option.  A prayerful walk through our ancestral villages would be very meaningful.

Our Meal of Miraculous Chicken

Renovated Schoensee Church

We talked to Father Peter about our trip to the western part of Ukraine the previous week.  We thought we detected something different in the people.  Father Peter strongly agreed. The people in western Ukraine did not experience communism for as long as they did in the east.  The concept of family was not destroyed in the west as it was in our area.  The people in the east who survived the Holodomor of 1932-33, lived with a sickly fear.  For example, they were known to hoard food in case of another famine.  Father Peter felt that the Protestant churches were better at relating to people and this gave them an opening to getting established in eastern Ukraine.

Thursday morning I finally had a chance to meet my much anticipated “Tunnel Lady”.  She happens to be the local undertaker.  We enjoyed the irony of meeting right after Halloween in her place of business to talk about subterranean passages.  The concept of under-promising and over-delivering is not understood in Ukraine.  She had not walked the tunnel as promised.  It seems that every person in Molochansk has a second cousin once removed, who once had a friend, now deceased, who actually walked the tunnels all the way from the Willms mansion to the Willms flour mill.  The tunnel lady’s father had drawn a map of the tunnels but this map is now lost and her father has died.  She remembers that it definitely showed the tunnel from the Willms mansion coming passed the Mennonite Centre and on toward the former Mennonite Credit Union.  There apparently were tunnels in many parts of Molochansk and she may show up later today to give us a surface tour of where she remembers seeing tunnels.

Site of Latest Meeting on Tunnels

Thursday at 11:00 AM we had to be back in Melitopol for a “Prayer Breakfast” organized by the local clergy in honour of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  This anniversary is a much bigger deal in Europe than it is in Canada.  All Protestant churches as well as Father Peter of the Greek Catholic church were invited.  Even the mayor of Melitopol was in attendance.  I was given almost 24 hour notice that they were expecting me to make a presentation on the work of the Mennonite Centre.  When I got there I realized that I was the main speaker.  Glad I put on my tie.

Prayer Breakfast Meeting

In the book “A Mennonite Estate Family in Southern Ukraine”, Nicola Fehderau spent his last day in Halbstadt (now called Molochansk) walking around the town and commenting on many aspects.  I had hoped to do the same but life has intervened. I might cover that topic in future trips.  I thought I would show one final picture. 

Former Clay Pits in Molochansk

This is a picture of the old clay pit in Halbstadt.  Clay was extracted here during Mennonite times to make bricks and roof tiles.  It is also the location identified by Nicola Fehderau where Soviet authorities buried the bodies of the Mennonites they executed during the time of the Revolution. 

This is good-bye until the next time that Mary and I have the fortune to come to the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine.  Talk to you then.

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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