Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A hot summer in Ukraine

It seems that we can’t have a real summer unless we spend some part of it in Ukraine. Therefore on the 18th of July I flew out of Victoria, and after a stop in Toronto and several hours over the water I found myself navigating through the very new Vienna airport terminal - not that easy without my guide Linda. Eventually I landed up at the much-improved gate connecting me to the Dnepropetrovsk flight.

I was not particularly comforted by the fact that the weather had turned somewhat cooler, down four degrees to 32! It also appeared to be small comfort to the curled brown stalks of corn that look too skinny and dry, even to be good October scarecrows. The sunflower stalks can’t even prop up their lifeless heads. The land is well tanned but does have some spots of green. A local farmer said that this is the worst he has seen in 30 years. The rain that normally would give life to the crops falls abundantly - south in Odessa and east in Donetsk.

Fortunately sleep came quickly with cooler temperatures at night. My meetings in the following two days left me with an overriding impression – the dream for a more equitable and open society continues to move forward with more spurts than fits, and there is an emerging middle class.

On Saturday I met with two advocacy groups requesting funds for handicapped children and a group working with street kids in Zaporozhye. Olga Rubel, who directs our projects in Zaporozhye, also introduced me to a friend who has formed an SPCA like society in Zaporozhye. She just came back from attending a court case where they were prosecuting someone in an animal cruelty case. This is relatively new.
Of the four organizations I met with, only one - the street workers program, has anyone who receives pay. The others all work only with volunteers. The request from these groups were really minimal –

some curtains and funds to install the above pictured donated air-conditioner at a youth drop-in centre, money for a planned Christmas thank you banquet for volunteers working with handicapped children, and funds for some transportation costs for youth with physical disabilities. The only really significant request is to have a qualified therapist who works with children in Canada to come to Ukraine for two weeks, to meet with parents and volunteers to demonstrate the latest in techniques and ideas. These groups want to partner with us and other charitable organizations for a better Ukraine. Coming out of the 2008 financial crisis has been flowers of volunteers who give much hope to this parched country.

In spite of the limited finances I see signs of an emerging middle class. New apartment buildings reflect originality and character, unlike the many broken concrete buildings holding up drying  
underwear and t-shirts from balcony rails. And new children’s playgrounds with slides, swings, merry go rounds and other emergency room appetizers.
And to top off my first few days, I attended a wonderful, albeit very long, sweat- and tear-filled farewell service for pastor couple, Jakob and Natasha Thiessen, who served in the Kutusovka church for nine years. The five-hour service with a luncheon intermission included sermons, skits, testimonials, tributes, poems, songs and several closing prayers. The Thiessens were feted and praised, much to their discomfort. We heard stories of Natasha being the first person you saw after coming out of major cancer surgery, of Jakob coming over in the winter in prop up a snow laden roof, and of messages of encouragement and hope. Someone said, “you have changed our community.” Not a bad tribute to a couple who turned down an offer to take a church in St Petersburg, instead coming to a small village to give nine years of their lives.

Ben Stobbe


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