Saturday, August 24, 2019

From Bones to Stones


We arrived in Dnepro on a warm Monday afternoon.  We were told clearly while landing that no picture taking is allowed anywhere at the Dnepro airport.  That was our first reminder that Ukraine is still at war.  The next reminder was the sight of young armed soldiers walking the length of the Dnepro dam as we drove into Zaporizhzhya.   When we arrived at the office in Molochansk we were met by a very good Ukrainian friend who is involved in collecting comfort goods for soldiers at the front.  They currently need a washing machine for one of their tent sites. She will submit a request. The previous day she had attended a funeral service for a young man who was killed at the front.

Even though the stalemated front is not that far away from us geographically it is still easy to forget  that the country is at war. However, reminders of Ukraine's difficult past abound.  This week we drove to a demolition site and came upon a scene that filled us with a sense of being in a surreal dream.

In late July of this year, workers were cleaning up a site where an old Soviet era building once stood.  They were starting to dig up the foundation when they started to realize that the foundation was made up of gravestones.  They contacted the local museum authorities who quickly identified the stones as Mennonite gravestones.  Boris Letkeman, the Director of the Mennonite Family Centre in Zaporizhzhya and well connected to local government authorities, passed the news of the discovery on to people in Canada.  The Director of Chortitza National Park, Maxim Ostanpenko, strongly feels that these gravestones need to be protected and preserved.  They had been moved from a nearby cemetery, probably in the 1930's.  The Friends of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine have provided limited funds to assist in the recovery of these gravestones.

Lil and I visited the site within hours of arriving in Ukraine. While there were no workers currently at the site, we wandered about looking at this pile of broken stones. We realize that these stones with German inscriptions, once buried by the Soviets and now in the process of being resurrected, give messages of hope and conviction for generations to come.  These mothers, fathers and children will not remain silent. A new generation of Ukrainians will not hide their past; with people like Maxim and others, the stories will be told.

Every year we provide financial aid to about 35 students who are, or will be going to university or trade schools. These are students who have financial needs and come from difficult home situations. This week we had a visit from Father Peter, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest who was asking us to consider students from their church community. We will review the students' circumstances and their goals, and consider them with the other applicants.


In one sense it seems like it has been a quiet but yet a full week. In the new Ukraine, children stop us on the street to practice their English. Locals come together to form a park cleanup society, and homeowners brighten the streets by lining the roadsides with planted flowers.

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: