Sunday, September 30, 2018

Winging It

What makes our work here a whole lot easier is that our two Directors, Oksana Bratchenko and Olga Rubel are both fluent in English and are willing translators. If left on our own we would be like passengers without a pilot, going down quickly. Or so we thought.

Well, this last week they were both gone for the week, as well as Ira our chief cook, who has a rudimentary knowledge of English.  She was on holidays, and Maria the School Principal who speaks German fluently was also gone for the week.

And so we entered the Mennonite Centre on Monday morning and promptly used up our entire Russian vocabulary by the 5th step inside the door. But then we soon found that our staff, while hesitant to speak English, understood more than we expected. We  retreated into our office and decided to learn Russian the easiest way possible.  In 3 easy clicks we were into our Google Translate app. Google Translate is a lifesaver.  In a short while we were having morning coffee break with staff, speaking into the microphone and having the words come out in Russian.  For the most part everything seemed to make reasonable sense.  Then our first test came when a lady came into the office to inquire about the status of her son's student aid application.  We quickly got the spelling of his name using Google Translate on a document she had, and then Ben went to his computer and found his name in the student aid file.  We were then able to tell this mom the amount that he was receiving.  She was astounded and delighted, and so were we.
The next day one of our former student aid  recipients came in to give us a gift in appreciation for the support she had received as she pursued and obtained a law degree.  Her English is very good and so we could hold a conversation with her and she could translate for staff, and everything went well.

Since we arrived here in Molochansk, there have been 3 occasions where we have been shopping on our own and people have offered to help relay our wishes or questions to the shop owners.  One of these helpers was a 13 year old girl who astounded her mother when she told us "I can help you" when we were trying to find glue at the store.  She immediately pointed to some glue which was near the counter, and we made our purchase.  Afterwards we had an encouraging chat with her.  I don't think that either her mother, or the clerk, had ever heard her speak English with foreigners.  She was very composed and her mother looked very proud.  The other 2 occasions involved young women who had been involved in international trips and had well-perfected their English abroad.

On Friday, we had the usual seniors' lunch at the Mennonite Centre.  Because this was the last Friday of the month they honoured the seniors who had birthdays in September.  Honouring includes giving gifts like chocolate bars, and reading poems.  Then the seniors started to sing various songs.  It seemed to be a very joyful group; about 60 altogether.  I asked our staff member how many of the seniors were over 80.  In fact there were at least a half dozen including two that were into their 90's.  The lady in the photo below and her husband fled Donetsk during the war with the separatists and ended up in Molochansk.

We have always enjoyed a good working relationship with other Mennonite organizations here in Ukraine.  This week we met with Pastor Alexsiy (who is overseeing the seniors home in Kutusovka), staff of the Mennonite Family Centre in Zaporozhye, and board members from the Mennonite Benevolent Society from Winnipeg (who have for many years supported the Mennonite Family Centre in Zaporozhye).  It was good to get together and compare notes and discuss future challenges.  Here we are having lunch at the Mennonite Centre.
So we didn't crash with our language difficulties this week but we did bring smiles and some good laughter with Ukrainians with our efforts.  Don't worry, Olga and Oksana, you are still very much needed!

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:

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Request, say thank you, then celebrate. Week one in Ukraine, 2018

After landing on the hot tarmac in Dnepro and having to take the transport bus for about 50 metres to the Arrivals section, we had our first hint of a good start here in Ukraine.  In his haste to get going, Ben got into the wrong passport lineup.  Of course, he chose the line for Ukraine citizens only.  A smile, an apology, and a sharp stamp on the passport confirmed we were accepted into the country.

At first we thought we might be in the wrong country.  The newly paved road done by a Turkish contract company felt as though we were on the autobahn.  We had barely arrived in Zaporozhye and we stopped to deal with our first request.  Pamela, a deeply committed parish nurse originally from Pennsylvania, met with us to talk about a community parish nursing concept.  She has been doing this work in Kiev for 17 years.

By our second day, we had already met two people who came to say thank you for our aid.  In one case we contributed funds for a hip surgery, and the other we helped someone to get their cataract surgery.  You don't need to understand Ukrainian to know and see they are grateful.

On our third day, we went to the Molochansk hospital (known by our grandparents as the Muntau hospital) to check out some requests.  The Molochansk hospital is really only a day facility with people coming in for diagnostic work and some physical therapy.  On the second floor there are 24 resident seniors.  The challenge here is that we have a medical care facility and a seniors home in the same building.  And like all well-meaning government bureaucracies, they don't necessarily work well together.  Right now the common kitchen is the issue.  A recent inspection report stated that the kitchen is not up to standard and needs to be upgraded.  They are to replace the floor, install an additional sink, and get better food prep areas.  The pictures below show the food prep area that needs replacement and the worn and uneven tile floor.  We have reminded both departments that they need to agree on a common proposal.

On Friday, we attended the Molochansk Liberation Day.  It used to be that Liberation Day was a very solemn day featuring marching soldiers, long speeches, and bored children.  Now it has turned to a much more celebratory event that, while it acknowledges the contribution of the veterans who defeated the Fascists (only a few of these veterans were present), it also celebrates the new Ukraine, as well as the veterans coming out of the current war between the separatists and Russia.  But Ukraine is not mired in the past.  It is also celebrating the contributions of so many who are part of developing a new future.  For example, over 20 women from villages throughout the Zaporozhye oblast who are advocates for changes in their own communities, met at the Mennonite Centre to be informed about the story of Mennonite history in Ukraine and to hear about the work of the Mennonite Centre.  Some of these women are already very involved in local government.  We had coffee and some sweets with the group at the Mayor's office.

The celebrations continued that evening.  On the plaza in front of the former Centralschule, the community of Molochansk held a grand street party with rides and slides for the kids, including a dreadfully derelict-looking attempt at a replica of the Pirates of the Caribbean ship, put on wheels; the tires of which looked like they could deflate at any given moment.  The only water this "boat" ever met was the water in the potholes.  There was singing and dancing, the singing done by people of all ages, and the dancing left mostly to the younger children.  The music was well amplified by the equipment purchased previously by the Mennonite Centre.  The kids really loved their activities, and the youth let out screams while trying out the apparatus similar to a flying trapeze while parents smiled at the kids' enjoyment.  It was so good to see that Molochansk still has many small children and young families.  Ben estimates there to have been around 2000 in attendance.  We left there feeling very optimistic.
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: