Saturday, June 10, 2017

Myths from Ukraine

Like any other country, Ukraine has stories about its past or present that never seem to go away. The following is a Mennonite version of "Myth Busters".

Young people who are very good in the trades or in university invariably leave Ukraine for countries in the west. When we review the list of our graduating students to whom we gave financial assistance, we find that journalists, medical doctors, nurses, and teachers have chosen to remain in Ukraine. In fact one of our new doctors who is a recent graduate from our financial aid program, is coming to provide relief help at the Mennonite Centre clinic.

Ukraine isn't serious about cleaning up the environment. Ukraine has been forced to find ways of decreasing its dependence on expensive Russian gas, and its reliance on coal for the production of electricity. Just north of Tokmak, the city has a very large field of solar panels and the mayor informed us that they are going into a major recycling program. In addition, the current 65 windmills near the Sea of Asov will soon be expanded to 150.

Ukrainians don't volunteer for community service as much as other countries. This is definitely not true. Teachers spend a lot of their summer helping to paint, plaster, and get their schools ready for the fall.
In Molochansk, a local businessman organizes Saturday clean-up days where people collect garbage throughout the town. Both Tokmak and Molochansk are a lot cleaner than they used to be. Here are two pictures to show how clean the Willms estate now is.

We recently had a man who received medications after hip surgery volunteer to take people to the sea for summer holidays. During the recent conflicts in the south eastern area, many people collected food, medicines, and clothing for the soldiers. Many people volunteer to help their infirm neighbors with home care, gardening, and shopping. In fact this is a country where everyone knows their neighbors and looks out for them. They practice neighborhood watch.

Some Ukrainians believe that the roads are not really that bad. We believe that this not true; the many car tire repairs, and Lil's back, can vouch for that. Recently we took a trip to Orekhov, a village that in the 1870's had very few but very influential Mennonites.  This year they are celebrating the tenure of the first village mayor, a Mr. Johann H. Janzen, who was mayor there for 25 years. At one point the road was so bad that people had made a parallel road with their vehicles on the grass for well over a kilometer. Now you had a so-called four-lane highway. The new section was dusty but smooth. It was a new form of a passing lane.
The myth that there is nothing modern about the current methods of agriculture. That may have been the case shortly after independence, but from the vantage point of the Colonista Hills on the west side of the Molotchna River, the fields look spectacular with canola, winter wheat, sunflowers, and barley. In 2016, Ukraine had very productive crops, and so far this year looks the same. The Melitopol cherry harvest has been abundant, and our fridge here gives evidence of the good fruit and the generous nature of the people. John Deere dealerships appear in many towns.
Fruit trees in Melitopol
Ukraine lost its tourist potential after it lost Crimea. While the loss of Crimea is significant, towns along the Sea of Asov are doing a booming business in building seaside resorts. New motels, parks, playground areas for children and restaurants, are springing up to accommodate those who can't get into Crimea for their summer holidays. The water is already warm enough to swim in, the beaches are gentle, and the sand is clean. For a family of four, you could have a good dinner without drinks for around $15 Canadian.

The more we get to know this wonderful country and its people, the more we question our preconceived notions.

On Tuesday, June 13, we will be off to Vienna and finally into BC. Then day will become night, night will become day, and the meaningful time spent here will be well worth the adjustment.

To contribute to the work of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine, you can make your donation to “Friends of the Mennonite Centre”.  All cheques should be mailed to George Dyck, Treasurer, 3675 North Service Road, Beamsville, ON, L0R 1B1.
If you wish to donate online, go to the website, key in “Mennonite Centre Ukraine”, and click on the Search button.  Then click on “V” for “View”, and “P” for “Profile”.  Then “Donate now”.
Please browse our new website at

We thank you,

Ben and Lil Stobbe

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Dyakuyu, Spasiba Bol'shoy, saying Thank You

Ukrainians who receive funds from us always say "Spasiba bol'shoye", or "Dyakuyu" in Ukrainian. It means "Thanks", or "Big thanks".  This week we seemed to receive a lot of thank yous.

One of our tasks as Canadian directors is to follow up on projects. We meet with the recipients of your donations, wanting to know and see how the money was spent. This week we went east, close to the conflict zone, and northwest to the village of Nicolaipol.  We also met people in Zaporozhye. The trip to the east took us to two small towns where we met with the pastor of a church that is very engaged in social projects in their community.  The church is providing clean filtered water from their well to small villages near the conflict zone. They are also involved in a halfway house for released offenders and we helped them purchase another house for people suffering from addictions. The pastor was very happy to show us all the projects that we helped them start.
Unfortunately at this time, Ben was in the midst of getting a cold, and the pastor treated him to a genuine Ukrainian sauna with the "full-meal deal", including healthy swats with greens from the garden that had been soaked in hot water.  He still got the cold despite full immersions in a very cold pool.

But what did help was going to the neighboring town where we have supported an energetic young woman who has successfully started a bakery.  Her warm, engaging smile matched the wonderful aroma of freshly baked breads and goodies.  In getting the bakery started we provided a stove, refrigerator, and building renovations.  The bakery is committed to providing a certain amount of free goods to the poor, particularly seniors, in their community. These are villages that are close to the conflict area where they have done a remarkable job of trying to keep a sense of normalcy.

Most people in this territory work in the coal mines. The four-hour trip to this area (three hours on the road with one hour in the holes), revealed vast tracts of lush green fields, giving these residents an anticipation of very good crops.

On our way back to Zaporozhye, we stopped and visited an IDP family from Crimea who, with support from a generous donor, were able to purchase a property and start a bee-keeping operation.  They are also growing roses for commercial use. Nikolai's gentle bees are pollinating the flowering acacia trees and making honey. The roses are happy that the well produces sufficient water for the business. This is another couple that gladly says "Spasiba Bol'shoye".

We also went northwest of Zaporozhye to visit the former Mennonite village of Nicolaipol.  Usually one can expect school principals to be a rather scarred and sober lot, but in saying thank you for a wall cabinet in a classroom, Nadejda gave us an exuberant thank you.
The board just approved providing some funds to help repair the ceilings in two classroom in Nadejda's school.  One wonders how she will demonstrate her thanks when that project is finished.

Right beside the school is the former Mennonite church in Nicolaipol, which is now a school gym. This church has now had its own conversion. Slam-dunk doesn't mean baptism, a foul shot does not refer to improper behavior, and a 3-pointer does not refer to the Trinity.
The windows are thanks to the Ministry of Education and the local government.  Your donations provided protective netting for these windows.

Another genuine "Spasiba Bol'shoy" came from Yuriy and his wife Natasha, a couple who have made a dramatic change from a life of addictions and despair.  They now are leading the cause of helping the homeless in Zaporozhye. Natasha is taking a course in bookkeeping for their organization called "Love Without Boundaries".  She desperately needed a computer and printer. We met with them to tell them the board had approved their requests.  Upon hearing the good news, Yuriy broke into a huge smile, then a tear or two were visible.  Then he got up from his chair and thanked us profusely. We are sure the people in the Intourist lobby seldom see such a sincere demonstration of thanks.
Olga, with Natasha and Yuriy
As a Canadian director working in Ukraine and a board member of FOMCU, I want to say "Spasiba Bol'shoye" to you, our donors.

To contribute to the work of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine, you can make your donation to “Friends of the Mennonite Centre”.  All cheques should be mailed to George Dyck, Treasurer, 3675 North Service Road, Beamsville, ON, L0R 1B1.
If you wish to donate online, go to the website, key in “Mennonite Centre Ukraine”, and click on the Search button.  Then click on “V” for “View”, and “P” for “Profile”.  Then “Donate now”.
Please browse our new website at

We thank you,

Ben and Lil Stobbe