Sunday, May 23, 2010


After two weeks of rainy weather the landscape is lush and green, meadow grasses more than waist-high in places; acacia trees lining the streets, spreading their graceful branches laden with blossoms exuding intoxicating perfume; fruit trees bursting with ripe cherries and apricots swelling before our eyes. As we look out of our kitchen window we observe people foraging for mushrooms on the soccer field. All of this so different from last year when frosts destroyed blossoms and rains failed to come in time. If all goes well Ukraine should have an abundant harvest this year.

As we travel city and country roads we still see remnants of our Mennonite past, but sadly many buildings are crumbling. This week we had the opportunity of driving to Chortitza and I was able once again to see the girls' school my mother attended in the early 1920's. This magnificent building was erected in 1904 to provide high school education for girls. It is still a school today; it hurts to see the structure deteriorating. There is no money to provide the needed repairs. A few days ago we received a visit by the head doctor of our local hospital telling us that they are being forced to downsize, offering us the former Muntau Hospital, suggesting that we could use the space to operate a nursing home. It is too costly for them to heat and a lot of repair is needed. A century ago this hospital was led to prominence by Dr. Tavonious who loved the people and at the same time kept abreast of scientific medical advances.

Next door to our apartment we see the shell of the former Willms mansion which was built in 1908 and at that time referred to as a "palace". It's former grandeur is still evident. As recently as 15 years ago the building was used as a concert hall and a place to host special events. Destruction set in after Ukraine independence because there was no money or will to maintain it. Sadly it has become a hangout. Tourists from North America and Europe continue to arrive hoping to connect with their past and set foot on ancestral soil. This week we hosted two such groups. It takes a bit of courage and dexterity to enter the Willms mansion. Walking through the enormous salon at one end of the house there were differences of opinion as to what the recessed space in front of the stage was meant to be. Some suggested an orchestra pit, others a baptismal tank. So much for orientation and perception. It's a pleasure to host these groups, to show them through our museum and to relay information. Our cooks provide delectable meals on request.

Wednesday our Mom's group had a cooking class - using ingredients that are readily available in every household - bread and eggs. They decided that next month they would like to branch out from the known and try something a little more exotic. Many are single moms, some living with a parent, unemployed, depending on their kitchen gardens for their livelihood. For most, this two hour block in the week in an oasis, a time of listening and sharing, a time of creativity and fun, a time when they can forget their day-to-day cares and burdens. The group is lead by Oksana, who is also our able bookkeeper.

More than 300 young people attended another "Youth for Life" presentation on Thursday. It was held a the local Russian school. A further event is planned for the Tokmak city schools in September. So far over 20 schools have participated. Each school is choosing a student who exhibits a healthy life-style. An awards ceremony is in the offing later this week.

A visit to the local psychiatric hospital was an eye-opener in terms of facility and patient care. This large facility services the region and again there is little government money for upkeep and repair. The floors in the women's section were in dreadful condition and our organization agreed to put in tiles. Staff expressed deep appre-ciation when we went to see the finished task.

Ben Stobbe, our board chair from Victoria BC, is with us for two weeks. It has been very helpful in terms of review and setting goals for the organization. Our time is rapidly drawing to a close. Our eyes have been opened to a greater understanding of Mennonite history, faith and culture here in Ukraine and also the needs around us. We hope and pray that our perceptions will lead to helpful decision making and enablement.

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