Tuesday, June 14, 2016

EMPOWERING FOR THE FUTURE

Two years have passed since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.   The United Nations Human Rights Commission says, "the conflict in eastern Ukraine remains volatile and continues to have a serious impact on human rights. The conflict is far from over and should not fall off the radar screen of the international community."  Even today there are reports of casualties.  We've been asked how this affects those living here, about 200 km. west of the conflict zone.  All people want here is to live in peace.  Many don't listen to the news any longer.

In the villages life goes on as usual.  So far weather has been wonderful for gardens, it seems you can watch growth progressing from day to day.  Early fruits have been abundant.  If people have a few chickens and geese they appear to manage.

People are however expressing fears as to what the winter might bring.  Gas, water and electricity prices are expected to rise significantly. The average pensioner's monthly salary is 1300  UAH - approximately $60-65 CND.

There are two schools in our town, the Russian School and the Ukrainian School. Yesterday morning we were invited to the Russian School to meet children participating in a summer language camp conducted in English.  The principal, Marina Romanova, is a friend of ours. The children ranged from 7 to 10 years.  We told them a few stories of early Canadian history and geography and then taught them two round songs related to our stories. They all participated in singing and it was a whole lot of fun.  This took place in a language lab that the Mennonite Centre funded for the school this year.  Each desk has controls and students listen on headphones as they learn.  Pupils study in Russian, also learn Ukrainian, English and German.

Rita with her daughter and grandson, her house in the back-
ground, a windmill and the Mennonite Centre in Molochansk
In the afternoon we set out across country on a pleasurable adventure.  Adventure, because driving the roads through former Mennonite villages is always an adventure due to the road conditions.  Pleasurable, because we were on a mission to deliver a photograph of a painting to the daughter of Rita Pankratz.  In 2011 Rita was one of the last remaining Mennonite women living in south eastern Ukraine. We visited her in October of that year; took the photograph of Rita sitting in this picture. She told us how she and her two small children had been banished to Siberia - "it was so far north there was always snow there." For 10 long years she felled trees, until one day she heard that her husband was still alive and she was finally able to return home. We joined in as she sang "Ich warte auf den Heiland bis Er kommt" (I'm waiting for the Lord until He comes).  She was 93 years old and a month later passed into her heavenly home.
Thanks to artist Ray Dirks we had permission to make a photographic copy of his composite painting.  The original is one of 26 large paintings comprising "Along the Road to Freedom," an exhibition honouring "Mennonite Women of Courage and Faith." We presented this to Rita's daughter who was moved to tears of gratitude.  She lives in the family home with her two children in the former Mennonite village of Alexanderkrone.  Both children are studying on Mennonite Centre scholarships.

Last week we hosted 22 MEDA representatives (Mennonite Economic Development Associates) at the Centre - delegates from Germany, Switzerland, France and Netherlands. Their objective is helping farmers unleash their potential to earn a livelihood and enrich their communities.  They are specifically involved in a Horticultural Business Development Project in several regions of southern Ukraine,  helping to develop domestic
and export markets. Ira, our cook at the Centre, outdid herself again preparing a delicious meal.  The main course was a pork cutlet smothered in all things delicious.  In addition borscht was served as an appetizer and blinchiki, for dessert.  (cottage cheese rolled in pancakes and simmered in a honey/butter sauce - utterly yummy!)

A few more days to go and a few more things to do.  It is hard to believe that our time in Ukraine is soon drawing to a close.

For more information on the work of the Mennonite Centre, please go to 
http://www.mennonitecentre.ca/  Also check out Mennonite Centre Ukraine Facebook page

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