Sunday, September 08, 2019

Intertwining Cultures


WEEK THREE IN UKRAINE, 2019

We spent most of last week in the city of Zaporizhzhya.  This city is well known for its big industrial plants and its rich Cossack history.  Mennonites first came to this area in the late 1700's, settling in the Chortitza area where they had been directed to go. This included Chortitza Island which had formerly been the home of Cossacks. Chortitza Island is now the home of a living museum of Cossack culture.  Imagine our surprise when touring the museum we spotted a beautiful old chest that appeared to be almost identical to a chest we have at the Mennonite Centre, a chest which we received only recently.  A Ukrainian family living in a former Mennonite house had this chest in their attic and gave it to us.  A Ukrainian guide at the Cossack Museum told us that some old artifacts from other cultures may well be in the Cossack Museum.  Actually, we rather appreciate the fact that different cultures have shared treasures. 






On this island there is a former Mennonite cemetery which is now being used as a Ukrainian cemetery.  Perhaps it can be said that in death, and also in life, the two cultures can mix.




But in the current Ukrainian life, not all of its aspects remain steeped in past ways and traditions. The First Bell ceremonies acknowledge new grade 1 students and the opening of the new school year.  We attended First Bell this week at a 450-student school in the city.  It was an event filled with countless roses, very fashionably-dressed children, proud parents and grandparents, and most amazingly, there were none of the traditional long drawn-out speeches! It was difficult to find parking, kids were everywhere, and there was overflowing and endless energy and enthusiasm. We met with parents of children with autism who have been integrated into this school.  They thanked us sincerely for providing materials for the two new classrooms.




The next day we went to visit the burn unit at a local hospital. We have supplied some specialized bandages and gauze to this unit.  We cannot recall any new hospitals that were built in the Zaporizhzhya Oblast (province) since independence.  They have relied on hospitals built by the Soviets and Mennonites.  It is a daunting task to adapt new and advanced technology to these heavily bricked, concrete-burdened hospitals.  But that is not the biggest of their problems.  When there are new doctors receiving salaries only slightly more than the cleaners, older doctors who pine for the past, and less-than-adequate funds allotted for patients' meals, one would hardly know where to start in the task of "fixing" these situations.  Hospital reform will be expensive no matter which way it is looked at.  We are attempting to help in small ways that make a big difference, and also to assist people in getting necessary medications. 

Towards the end of the week we took a generally good, less-traveled road to the village of Maryevka, a village of about 1600 people.  We have an interest in this village because we have been supporting a family where the father has been bed-ridden for a number of years and the mother who has spent a good part of the fall and winter days taking the wheelbarrow out looking for and gathering firewood to heat their very modest house.  Last January we started supplying firewood to this family during the coldest months.  This year we will likely try to do the same.  The mother is a well-read individual who knows a lot about Canada, including Quebec’s unique history within our country. 

We also had the opportunity to reconnect with Anatoliy Tiessen. The story of Anatoliy and his father Vasily, is remarkable.  One night in 1931, the KGB came to the home of 5-year-old Vasily Tiessen. They took away Vasily's parents, their destination most likely Siberia.  Eventually Vasily and his two sisters were placed in different orphanages; Vasily in one and Frieda and Leanna in another.  At age 16 Vasily was taken by the Germans to Germany to work in a factory.  At 21 he returned to his village, married, and had a son Anatoliy.  In 1957 when Anatoliy was 7, his father was picked up and interrogated by the KGB.  It appears that he somehow slipped through the cracks when he returned to his own village.  The normal procedure would have been that he would have been shipped off to the east because he worked for the Germans.  However, influential people in the community rallied behind Vasily and convinced the authorities to let him stay in the village.  Anatoliy knew he was different than other Ukrainians but he never knew his father was Mennonite.  His father never talked about what happened while he was interrogated in 1957.  Vasily died in 2002 leaving a lot of unknowns from his past that his son Anatoliy will never have the answers to.  But yet, he still offers a quick smile that is reflective of his positive outlook.



The road to the future still has lots of potholes.




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/




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