Sunday, October 07, 2018

Strong Women who are Changing Ukraine

In the 3 years that Lil and I have been coming to Ukraine, we have been pleasantly surprised at the evidence of a number of positive changes that have taken place.  Since 2015 there have been significant changes in policing, education, medical services and infrastructure improvements, to name a few. We feel a sense of thanksgiving in knowing that "Friends of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine", (FOMCU) has played a role by assisting with financial aid, the implementation of some of these processes. But there is no question that Ukrainians themselves, in many cases women, have taken initiative and shown strong leadership. In this blog we want to introduce just three of these women.

Irina, Chief Doctor of the Shirokoye Territorial Region

Only a few months ago, doctors were given the freedom to develop their own family practice in a community.  Previously if a person wanted to see a doctor they would most often have to go to a hospital to see a doctor there.  Presently, doctors can accept patients and develop their own practices.  In the Shirokoye territorial region, a young energetic doctor went to the council and worked together with them to establish a clinic that would serve several surrounding communities.  She recruited other doctors including some very experienced doctors who left their hospital work to join her in the clinic.  Through her initiative, the territorial council was able to re-direct some funds from the hospital to village clinics.  We helped this clinic purchase inhalers, urine testing machines, and 2 blood testing machines.  So far 8,000 of 12,000 residents, or 2/3 of the territorial region, have signed up at clinics with various doctors.  A blood testing machine is seen in the following picture.

Doctor Irina could have practiced throughout Europe but she chose to stay and work in the former Mennonite villages of Chortitza, now known as the Shirokoye territory.  She worked together with the council and with other doctors to develop a community medical model where patients come first.  FOMCU Board member Dr. Art Friesen and his wife Dr. Marlyce Friesen were instrumental in helping them get their new clinic equipment.  Here Dr. Irina is pictured with Ira a council deputy, Olga Rubel our director in Zaporozhye, and Ben and Lil.

Angelika, Director of the Prometei Centre;
 Changing Attitudes and Approaches towards Children With Disabilities

Several years ago, Angelika wanted to develop and start a program that would help children with disabilities particularly autism, with the hope of enabling them to develop social skills well before attempting to go into the public school system.  She was convinced that the sooner she could get these children into a program, the better their chances of being able to adapt to public school.  This was at a time when schools were just beginning to think of possibly integrating children with disabilities into the regular school system.  Angelika rented two apartments and asked the Mennonite Centre to pay the rent costs for one of them, and the Mennonite Family Centre (a group connected to the Mennonite Benevolent Society in Winnipeg), to pay the rent for the other.  Parents had to pay to enroll their children, and staff wages were well below the minimum wage.  Six years later, Angelika has over 100 children in her program.  The Ministry of Education has allowed her the use of a large school that is now otherwise unoccupied on the westbank of the Dnieper River. Many of these children with autism who are now school age attend a regular public school in Zaporozhye.  Angelika has appeared before a parliamentary committee in Kiev, met with the President's wife, and various other government officials in effort to promote her program.  What she has accomplished is amazing and could well be a model for all of Ukraine.  She has received national recognition, and has connections throughout Europe.  Children do come first with Angelika!  FOMCU has been her largest financial supporter.  Here, Angelika is pictured with the long-standing public school principal, Nikolai, who is one of her strongest supporters.

Tamara, a tireless leader of several NGO's (Non-government organization)

In 1990, Tamara was elected deputy in the Zaporozhye state government.  She was very interested in developing NGOs in Ukraine and shortly after, traveled to the United States to meet some NGO groups.  Later, she also had the opportunity to come to Vancouver to see how organizations such as the Vancouver Foundation and the Rotarians, function and contribute to civil society. After she came back from these trips, she formed four organizations in Ukraine that provided much-needed services. The first NGO she started was a crisis centre for women in Zaporozhye.  Currently she is working to get a study done on why Ukrainian men have a much shorter life expectancy than women.  Just recently she applied for UN funding to  help women and families living in the war zone.  She is also working on a program to encourage and increase the number of women running for office in local and state governments. She has been a long-time friend of the Mennonite Centre.  Tamara gets most of her funding the hard way; by approaching and enlisting the support of business people, holding silent auctions, and meeting with members of government.  She always has an open door for us.

Dear readers, it is through your contributions that these and other women have turned their aspirations into wide-spreading benefits for many Ukrainians. Many thanks to you as donors, and to these visionary leaders.

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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