Thursday, September 19, 2019

Blog #5 Meeting Ordinary Ukrainians on Their Own Turf



WEEK 5 IN UKRAINE, 2019

This was a mixed week made up of visiting projects, making new friends, and attending meetings.   We were joined by friends Bernard and Eleanor Harder who came out to explore family roots in the Chortitza area of Zaporizhzhia. On Sunday we went out to the Mennonite Church Harvest Day celebration.  In a generally agrarian country that has had its shares of famines, (some of which were deliberate,) locals take thanksgiving seriously. It is not a national holiday but a time that people set aside to say thank you to God. The simplicity and sincerity of the service of celebration is what particularly struck us. In a gathering of about 50 people, there were at least 10 who came to the front to express thanks. There were ministers opening their well-worn Bibles, mothers who recited poems and told short stories, and young people who had recently come out of orphanages who led in singing. During the nearly two hours, others had to walk up and exit to visit the well-worn outhouse, the only washroom on the premises.  To top off the event we all went to an adjoining room where there was enough food to fill us all up for the rest of the day.  This was good old-fashioned fresh produce and baking; you consumed the calories for the day at the dinner table and then burned them off working the garden. Here the joy of food stems from hard times. It is appreciated for more than taste and presentation; it is remembering.



Early in the week we were trying to confirm the actual house of Bernard’s parents. We were told of a 93 year old man who had been living in this village for a long time.  Victor Penner, a respected Mennonite historian from Zaporizhzhia, was our guide and interpreter. Soon we were joined by a young man who quickly took us to the home of the old man. He walked out of the house with his daughter and it wasn’t long before they started telling stories. This 93 year old still drives the car even though he has never had a driver’s license. The police let him drive in the village. Together with his daughter they maintain a one acre vegetable garden. He left Odessa as a 23 year old and was advised to look for a Mennonite village where at that time, one could claim a well-kept empty house, the yard complete with fruit trees and gardens. The former residents had either been exiled to the Far East or they had fled to the west 5 years earlier. He said he found this beautiful place still looking well kept. At that time he vowed that he would always keep the place in good shape because this is how it was given to him. Here he raised a family and now for the first time he met the son of the Mennonite parents who had lived across the street before the war. And for the last 70 years the house, which has been added on to, remains well maintained in a yard full of trees, flowers, ducks, chickens and a massive garden. As Victor Penner said “He represents the best of our Ukrainian culture.” We felt honoured to be standing with him.




Later in the week we met with Denis, the Director of the Shirokye Amalgamated Community Council. This amalgamated community is made up of 20 villages, many of them former Mennonite villages.  In the short time period of a couple of years, he has accomplished an amazing feat in keeping local tax money in the community. This council has been rated #1 in all of Ukraine for its progressive improvements. Many of these villages are close to the city of Zaporizhzhia and in the past they have seen many people from these villages move to the city. Denis seeks to reverse the depopulation of the villages. He is continually encouraging the development of varying enterprises in these villages and better transportation corridors to the city. They have already had a number of people move back to some of these villages. Based on what we have seen, these quiet locations with clean air, big gardens and quiet streets are more desirable and ideal for many folks, whether elderly or young couples raising their families.

For your interest, here is a picture of one of the oldest former Mennonite houses; a log house possibly going back to the 1830s.  It is in the village of Schoenhorst.  


If you wish to know more about the work of the Mennonite Centre, you can check out our web site at: http://www.mennonitecentre.ca/ or follow our daily activities on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Mennonite-Centre-Ukraine-735361069838076/





1 Comments:

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