Tuesday, October 23, 2012


In the final days leading up to Oct. 28 parliamentary elections, politics is not far from people’s minds and conversations.  Huge billboards dot the landscape, mostly advertising candidates for the ruling Party of Regions. This morning the Communist Party candidate addressed a crowd in front of the Palace of Culture (Zentralschule).  We are told that the Communist Party is working hand in glove with the Party of Regions.
We are trying to get a small grasp on the politics of this country by listening, reading and asking questions. It is said that there is growing disillusionment, even among some of the strongest supporters of President Yanukovitch. 
Notice the fresh coat of paint on the Palace of Culture and the plaza pavers are now compete - all an election ploy we're  told.
Lack of promised reforms has resulted in a dismal business climate.  Infrastructure continues to crumble.  Corruption is rife. There are those however, who are striving to ensure that these elections meet international standards hoping to forge closer ties with the West.

Steps have been taken to monitor the voting system.  Apparently one billion dollars has been spent on video surveillance cameras for all polling stations.  5000 election observers have been registered – 500 from Canada.  What cannot be monitored however, is the bribery taking place.  Reports say that bribery has become the most popular form of electoral manipulation, often in the form of cash, varying from 50 UAH to 500 UAH, depending on the area.  It is very easy to buy votes. Examples include gifts of food packages, wine and vodka, ice cream, bicycles, tickets to night clubs or the circus, or visits to the doctor or hair stylist.   Even though this practice is illegal, politicians admit they don’t see this as much of a problem. A warning to a candidate can be issued only after a court decision, so this rarely happens.  According to the Kiev Post, "people have become indifferent to voting, but have a keen interest in supporting their families." To them every kopek helps.      

We sense feelings of fearfulness and a loss of hope - fear that Ukraine is no longer moving forward, fear that after the election the hryvnia will devalue further.  So far the government has artificially kept the price of bread stable. To the relief of many it is still possible to buy a good loaf for under 50 cents, a staple in the Ukraine diet.

In contrast, hope is very much alive at the Centre.  People keep coming with various needs and requests.  It is always heartwarming when they return with expressions of gratitude. This week we had two such visits.  A daughter came in all smiles telling us that her mother could see again.  We had recently funded half the cost of cataract surgery.
Checking out site for tree
In March we provided funds for a heart valve replacement surgery.      Several days ago Nikolai came back to express appreciation for his new lease on life and then offered to plant a tree in our yard as a symbol of thankfulness.

Tim & Gretchen
 It was a joy hosting a young couple from Scotland this week.  Gretchen's grandmother was born in Halbstadt, so she had a great interest in everything she saw and anything that we could tell her about our town. In all likelihood her grandmother would have attended the school which is now the Mennonite Centre.   

The week culminated with a picnic for staff and families on Saturday.  The day dawned bright and beautiful.  We drove out to an idyllic spot along the Molotschna River, a fire was started and shashlik skewered. 

Dema & Ira vying for the hula hoop championship
We all enjoyed the feasting and the frivolity - a tribute of thanks to people who are so vital to our work at the Mennonite Centre.
Children joining in the fun

Monday, October 15, 2012


Much of our work is prompted by and interpreted through our faith and historical background.  A few days ago the German class from the Russian school came to the Centre for a Mennonite history lesson.  Dema had prepared a powerpoint presentation going back to Menno Simons.  There was great interest and many questions. Furthermore, because these children are studying German, communication was possible for us.
Marina Romanova, director of the Russian school, teaches this elective course and has invited us to visit the class. When students come to the Centre there is always an expectation that they will have tea with us. These students were hardly out the door when a small bus turned into the driveway and a group of people from the Melitopol History Club of the Pedagogical University stepped out.  This visit came entirely unannounced.

Dema immediately invited them in and repeated his half hour presentation.  The upshot of this occasion has turned out to be far-reaching.  Dema has been invited to be a presenter at an international conference in Kiev at the end of November. This event is sponsored by the Ministry of Culture and will be focusing on minorities of Ukraine.

The last days of summer – days are warm again but temperatures have dropped to minus five at night.  Yesterday we were invited to partake in another Thanksgiving service.  It required an excursion through the countryside to Bolkovoya, a village located close to the centre of what was once the Molotschna colony, not far from the first-ever MB church building.

We were welcomed by a small, but vibrant, Mennonite congregation.  This is an annual exchange and they hosted us royally. We sat through five sermons; four speakers were appointed on the spot when they arrived at church, Dema being one of these. Those who are energized by surprises do very well here.  In many ways we also find it best to be prepared for the unexpected and to be very flexible.

Thinking back to the week that was – what has brought us joy and inspired gratitude?
  • Opening the tap and seeing water coming out!!  Not to be taken for granted. Last week there was one day only without this problem.
  • Unexpectedly finding a twist-tie (treasured item in our kitchen).  Of course clothes pins make an acceptable substitute.
  • The last rose of summer blooming at the Centre.

  • Walnuts. As we’ve walked the streets of Molochansk during the past few weeks we have gleaned a large quantity of walnuts that would otherwise have become road-kill.  A great addition to our daily bowl of oatmeal.  Sadly this pleasure has come to an end.

Walking to the Centre - walnut trees on distant right
  • Italian parsley and dill.  Huge bunches found at the market for only 30 cents.
  • Most importantly, expressions of relief on faces of those we are able to help, particularly those facing serious health issues. So heartwarming when people come back relaying their gratitude because their lives have been changed for the better - enabled by your support, your gifts and your prayers.  Thank you!   

Photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


We have been reminded again and again how creativity engages the senses and how people’s spirits can be lifted through celebration.  A week ago Sunday was a case in point.  It was national Senior’s Day.  The Thanksgiving tree was transformed and redecorated to reflect the theme and all were invited for tea after the service.  Celebrations continued into the week.
Monday we were invited to the Russian School for a concert dedicated specifically to Seniors.  Children sang, recited, danced and played instruments.  Later students presented flowers to all the elderly, ourselves included.  

Baba Zenaida
On Tuesday children from the neighbouring kindergarten came to the Centre and entertained the Seniors that come twice weekly for lunch. Our cooks prepared a delicious full course meal and those who had birthdays in September were honoured.

Dema & Oksana's daughter Anya on right - in Ukrainian national costume

The children, dressed in costumes, performed without inhibitions and delighted us all.

The day continued with visits to two nursing homes – one attached to the church and the other occupying the second floor of the former Molochansk hospital.  In both cases we see the elderly well cared for.  Several women living in the Kutuzovka home say that they are already living in paradise.

As the week progressed we connected with two enterprising farmers – one in the early stages of strawberry and garlic production and the other farmer, a former head of a collective.  Both talked about the challenges of small-scale farming.    For example, operating a small tractor now requires a license for the tractor as well as the driver.  And there are inspections to deal with and the possibilities of fines.  To escape harassment some farmers are choosing to run their tractors at night.  Marketing is also a problem because of government controls which keep changing.
Uri & Elena on alligator bench - eyes made out of pingpong balls
Farmer Uri and his wife Elena invited us for lunch.  As a token of thanks for the assistance we’ve provided through the years they had prepared an exotic outdoor feast – roasted pigeons from their rooftopwhich were stuffed with apricots, salo and other delicacies. 
Home-made salo
We have helped him with loans to purchase equipment and fertilizer, which he has repaid promptly at harvest time.  In lieu of interest we have asked him to help his neighbours.  Elena charmed us by 
singing Ukrainian folksongs, accompanying herself on a button accordion called a bayan.  This couple lives simply.   They have an outdoor shower using collected rainwater.  They raise most of their own food.

We thank our donors for the opportunity to assist the above-mentioned individuals and institutions and it is rewarding to hear their gratitude and to see them flourish and move ahead.

We hosted two sets of guests last week.  It was a pleasure to introduce them to some of our projects.  One of the more tender moments came while visiting a local orphanage with Ernie and Helen Rose Pauls. 
A 93 year old relative had knit a bag full of toques.  The orphanage director brought groups of children into the room one group at a time and each child left wearing a toque. – the expression on their faces brought moments of joy for us all.

If you wish to contribute to the work of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine make your Canadian cheques to "Friends of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine" or "FOMCU." Cheques from American donors should be made out to "MFC-FOMCU". All cheques should be mailed to George Dyck, Treasurer, 3675 North Service Rd, Beamsville, Ontario, Canada - L0R 1B1. Check our website at http://www.mennonitecentre.ca/ for information on credit card donations.