Saturday, October 18, 2008






Last week we wrote about Linda’s instructive time in the Ukrainian health care system. The care and service she received was very good. Two days after visiting the doctor she was in the air, flying to Vienna. She did not feel congested and had no trouble on her subsequent trip to Victoria. And while Ben is suffering from PLS (Post Linda Separation) he accepts that nothing outside of two weeks of medically induced coma will help. While he says he doesn’t suffer from boredom or malnutrition in the apartment he is getting out of Molochansk, joining Dema and his father in spending the weekend outside of Kiev. He is going to help our Ukrainian Director clean up and renovate a small house he inherited, located in a tiny village outside of the city. Dema says he will get to know the “rhythm of life,” Ukrainian style. Ben wonders if it is a nice way of saying “roughing it,” Ukrainian style.

This year we have done a great deal more traveling in Ukraine. Our primary trip was to join the Mennonite Heritage Cruise, sailing from Odessa to Sevastopol and then visiting former Mennonite Villages in the “Krim” (Crimea). Walter and Marina Unger graciously invited us aboard, and we even had the opportunity to sail up the Dnieper to Zaparozhye. It was a wonderful time to further develop our understanding of Mennonite history in this area.

And speaking of history… this week Ben had the opportunity to take a German Aussiedler to Udarnik (Neukirch) to visit the village where her great grandmother was born. Even though she grew up in Kazakhstan in a church-attending Mennonite home, her knowledge of the Mennonite story in southern Russia was virtually zilch! She always thought that the word Mennonite only referred to people of a certain language group - Low German. Now, in coming to Ukraine to lead a series of seminars for women in the Kutuzovka Church, she did a little research and soon found out that her family came from this area. She wanted to know more and so Ben drove her to Udarnik to see the place of her forefathers. At the school the Ukrainian history teacher told her the story of her people. Even a student joined in and talked of the Juschanlee River. She visited the museum and the monument and was astounded to realize that she was learning her own history from Ukrainians. Then Ben took her to visit Margarita Pankratz in Alexanderkrone. From Margarita she learned of the church life, the hospital, and life of a little girl in a Mennonite village.

As they drove back to Molochansk, the car was warmed by the low, fall sun. The spring-coloured green fields of winter wheat made a wonderful stage for the display of red bushes and yellow trees. Occasionally they would see a large, rust coloured combine grinding through sunflower fields, chased by blue Soviet-era trucks waiting to load up. Ben’s friend was quiet, needing to reflect on what was and what is. She never imagined that it was Ukrainians who could put together the pieces of her past.

Ukrainians, whose “rhythm of life” at times seems a downward crescendo of war, starvation and deportation, still have time to help us find who we once were.

Ben and Linda

We hope you will consider the “Friends of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine” in your Christmas giving. Although there is a growing middle class in Ukraine, the gap between them and the poor seems to be growing too. Your gifts, small or large, are appreciated and put to careful use. They are tax receiptable in Canada and the United States. Direct them to:
Paul Siemens, Treasurer,
5 Monarchwood Crescent,
Toronto, Ontario M3A 1H3.

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