Saturday, October 20, 2018

Contrasts of Sounds of War and Sounds of Music

Last Sunday, the 14th of October we decided to take a drive on the west side of the Molotchna river, an area dominated by a large hill that leads up onto a plateau.  This large hill stretches for miles in a rather unusually long hilly formation and is known as the Colonista Hills.  On this particularly beautiful fall day we drove through an area that was populated in the 1800's by German Lutherans and German Catholics. We marveled at the many colours, including vibrant shades of red, orange, gold, and yellow.  When we arrived at the top, we were greeted by the sight of lush verdant fields of green grasses, likely winter wheat crops.  Where there once was a large collective farm that now still has 3 or 4 large storage barns standing, there is currently a very large privately owned farm operation.  From our vantage point at the top of this hill we could see our town of Molochansk and other small villages in the distance.  Even with the slight haze that covered the landscape that day, it was a spectacular view. Taking in these grand vistas gave us a true feeling of serenity and peace.

Unfortunately this picture of tranquility was not always able to be enjoyed in times past.  In fact, this exact site and surrounding landscape together with its people in the villages below, experienced everything except tranquility.  Seventy five years ago in September 1943, Russian troops were advancing into the former Mennonite villages in the Molotchna area.  The Germans took the high ground up on the hill, and the bombarding began.  At the very time that Lil and I were there, it would have been 75 years ago the Germans and Russians were fighting a vicious war, fighting to maintain or gain possession over this hill for over a month.  Now there is a striking war memorial site near the top of  that hillside.  Through the crosses we could look down at Molochansk.  We tried to imagine the booming explosions, the screaming, the rumbling of the crawling tanks, and the occasional red-leafed tree that no doubt was not even noticeable, not to mention being able to be seen for its beauty during the warfare and turmoil surrounding it.

Today some of the the signs of battle remain.  In the picture below you can see rusted shells lying scattered in the grass.

The Germans were not the only ones at the top of the hill and moving westward.  Surviving Mennonite families and mothers and children climbed the hill to make their way westward with the retreating Germans. They started the long arduous walk, undoubtedly occasionally looking to their left to get the last views of their former villages.

The following Monday we found ourselves back in Tokmak, a city of close to 40,000 where we took in a wonderful concert by Rhapsody Singers.  The concert was held in a recently built, cozy Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.  The Friends of the Mennonite Centre provided some funds for building materials.  Now the church is too small and they are putting up another building for a Sunday School and other meeting areas.  Father Taras the priest proudly showed us the Mennonite bricks they are using.  Historically the Rhapsody Singers have served primarily in Orthodox churches and it is good to see them now offering their services in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church.

The highlight of the week came when the leader of the Rhapsody ensemble brought his young daughter to the Mennonite Centre to give us and the staff a short concert. This is a delightful little girl who loves to sing, and she plays her 6-string guitar beautifully.

Pictured below she and her father are playing a Ukrainian duet.  The highlight of the concert was when her parents both joined her in singing Leonard Cohen's, Hallelujah.

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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