Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Last fall the Mennonite Centre began a new project providing glasses for pensioners in the community. Earlier we had noticed that only one of the 70-80 seniors coming for tea every Tuesday and Friday was wearing glasses. We began to think of how diminished life would be with limited vision, and what a difference improved sight could make for our people. But where to begin? We tried to find an optometrist and eventually connected with Dr. Tatyana Kraskovska at the Tokmak hospital. She agreed to come to Molochansk weekly to provide eye tests, but first we had to find equipment. Through the resourcefulness of our manager Dema, we were able to procure a set of 232 testing lenses and eye charts. These had to be shipped from Kiev.

What a joy it was when our church back home agreed to fund the project. As of today we have provided just over 200 pairs of glasses. Designer frames they are not, however, the glasses are sturdy and servicable and cost less than $5/pair - price includes the eye examination. If people wish to have different frames they pay for these themselves. Currently waiting time for an examination is a month. The next step is visiting schools and providing glasses for students with poor vision whose parents cannot afford to pay.

Baba Anna, the woman whose stove was replaced, has also received glasses. She tells us from now on she will go nowhere without them. Recently, in Tokmak, she was accosted by an undesirable person. Had she been wearing her glasses, she said, she would've noticed this person coming and avoided the confrontation. Alexandra and Lydia were here for tea today and both expressed deep appreciation for their glasses. Alexandra tells how much she enjoys being able to read again and she can now write letters to her sister. Lydia just received her glasses today and is looking forward to what lies ahead for her. Not everyone is a candidate for improved vision. This little lady told us that her eyes tear constantly and her vision is blurred - glasses can't help her.

People keep coming to the Centre daily with various needs and requests. They are always greeted by a friendly receptionist. Meet Leanna Zayats. She started working part-time four years ago, helping in the kitchen, cleaning and reception as needed. In addition she hops on her bicycle and runs errands for us. When we agree to help people with prescriptions, Leanna goes to the pharmacy to purchase the medication. We've learned that it is much better not to hand out cash. Leanna is a single mom, raising two teen-age daughters, living on less than $100 a month. Her girls are good students. The younger daughter is working hard, hoping to qualify for a Centre scholarship so she can go on to university. Like the rest of our staff, Leanna has a large kitchen garden raising vegetables to sustain herself and family through the year. She is very grateful for her job and we value her contribution.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


What a difference a week makes. Looking through our kitchen window, facing east, we see hints of green appearing on the ground. In our yard at the Centre little yellow flowers are poking their heads through the soil. They actually pop up overnight. And the bees have already found them! Ukraine, literally, has the best honey. We always buy ours from a lady living next door to a heap of overgrown rubble hiding remains of Rudy's dad's school in the former Mennonite village of Fischau, now Rybalovka. Somehow, doing this, connects us more strongly to the land. The past few mornings we've heard the soft cooing of mourningdoves. Spring is around the corner.

Continuing our peek behind the scenes at the Mennonite Centre we see our houskeeper, Tanya Mickailovskaya, hard at work. Each day before we arrive at 9 she has already washed the floors as well as the outdoor entryway. She keeps the Centre as well as the flower beds meticulously tidy, going about her work in a quiet manner, never needing direction, always sees in advance things needing attention. When required she also serves as receptionist and coooking asssistant. Next week she will be whitewashing the tree trunks in the yard, in preparation for Easter. Tanya has been with us since 2005. She and her husband have 4 children and are also legal guardians to a niece. Tanya says she enjoys cleaning but what she likes best of all is the outdoor work. She likes relating to the people who come, and finds joy in knowing that she fulfils a needed roll at the Centre.

And people keep coming. On the days doctors hold clinics at the Centre the waiting area is full. People just used to show up, but now it's become necessary to book appointments. Several people have recently been to see us with dire medical needs, unable to afford prescribed treatments. Yesterday a teacher from the Ukrainian school came to request information about Mennonite history and architecture in our town. We were able to give her the translated chapter of Rudy Friesen's book which will be coming off the press soon. Her students are engaged in a research project and will be reporting back to us. At the end of January we were able to respond to a woman whose house had been invaded and her stove stolen. The thief, who has since been caught, though the stove had already been sold for metal, had damaged the door lock making it impossible to enter. Our mainten-ance man, was able to fix it. The woman in the meantime has been living with family. Baba Anna came back last week asking if we could help restore her stove, which also heats her house. She lives in extreme poverty, one side of her house entirely uninhabitable. We were able to procure the needed part and Baba Anna engaged her neighbor to do the repair work. We've been told that this man is an alcoholic - we'll try to monitor the situation.

We are continually amazed at the resilience of many people and what they do to survive. Some just barely survive. Next door to Baba Anna we see a man manually harrowing his field, two ropes slung over his shoulders. We've seen people cutting up pop bottles to use for fuel in their stoves and we shudder at the possible toxicity. There are those who poison their system with alcohol. And then there are those who for some reason or another are unable to survive. Early last week we were given a poster drawing attention to a missing person. Several days earlier a student at the Ukrainian school asked permission to leave the room. He never came back. Yesterday his body was found - he had hung himself. Resourcefulness mingles with tragedy. We live with this dichotomy and try to do what we can to help.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Nine months have gone by and we've returned once again to south- eastern Ukraine. It is still winter here, fresh snow on the ground, sunny and cold. We approach our place of work for the next three months and are welcomed affectionately. The Mennonite Centre continues to be a gathering place for many, a warm, welcoming place for those in need - offering aid and missions of mercy, a place anchored in Christian values and a place that holds dear and preserves elements of our Mennonite past. How good it is to see our staff again. They are the engine that makes this place hum. A few glimpses through the window:

Meet Dima Bratchenko, our Manager. He and his wife Oksana and their three children came to Molochansk in fall of 2008. Dima feels a strong calling to help people. He has found many opportunities to do this and views his job as a ministry. A few recent examples that have been rewarding. A mother and daughter came to the Centre in great need. We were able to provide a study scholarship to the daughter who had already shown initiative in studying at home. Another example involved a young mother who recently lost her husband. The Centre provided a food hamper and medications for the children.

Oksana took on the position of bookkeeper last November. She speaks English fluently, has good computer skills and loves math. A winning combination for the Centre.

Ira Kurukina has been head cook at the Centre for seven years. She is a true food artist. Everything she makes tastes wonderful and is always beautifully presented.
Her mission extends far beyong her kitchen. She knows all the seniors who regularly come to the Centre for tea. If she hasn't seen someone for awhile she makes it her duty to visit this person bearing a food hamper. Two days ago I accompanied her on such a mission. As we approached Baba Olya's little house it was obvious that she was living in abject poverty. She is 92 years old and hasn't been feeling well, spending her days in a bed of soiled rags, spoiled food on the floor. A neighbor had been coming daily to put coal into her little oven; the coal supply now almost gone. When Baba Olya saw Ira she hugged her and wept. Ira happened to know that the small nursing home connected to the Kutuzovka Church had a vacant bed. This place is partially supported by the Mennonite Centre. When we returned to the Centre Ira called Lilli, the missionary responsible for the nursing home, asking her to come and talk to Baba Olya about the possibility of placement. Baba Olya agreed to go and take a look. Today with many tears Baba Olya ,with Ira helping, packed up her few precious mementos among them WW2 medals. She had worked as a nurse on the battlefront. Now she is being lovingly cared for in a clean, warm environment. Ira, a trusted caregiver reaching out in mercy, was able to bring this about.

Baba Olya with Lilli

Glimpses through the window to be continued.