Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A short drive into the countryside in spring reminds us that Ukraine is blessed with a quarter of this earth's topsoil. It is not surprising that it was known as a rich and coveted "breadbasket" of Europe.

With relics of the former collective farms scattered throughout the countryside, some farmers still struggle with old machinery on small plots of land.

However, evidence of larger operations is also present.

Still, in most towns and villages, a cow, a few goats, chickens and geese in the yards and on the streets along with neatly planted vegetable gardens are reminders that these remain important ways to bolster meager incomes in an inflationary economy.

Blossoming fruit trees and spring flowers are reminders of beauty and potential abundance.

Monday, April 14, 2008

In Udarnik (Neukirch), the school director, his assistant, and the history teacher have developed a memorial for victims in seven neighboring villages, as well as a small museum in the school. The director has purchased the former Mennonite Church in an attempt to preserve the historical building and wishes to renovate it.

The Director and several coaches at the Molochansk Sports School, located in the former Halbstadt Credit Union, offer training in gymnastics and various team sports.

The medical clinic in Kirovo (Juschanlee) on the former Johann Cornies estate. Until six years ago the second floor served as a hospital wing. The director wishes to renovate and re-open the hospital facility. The building was built by Heinrich Reimer in 1879.

Banquet for directors of projects supported by Mennonite Centre.

Directors of the Melitopel Museum with the publication of artworks by Molochansk painter, A. Kolesnik. An original painting was presented to the Mennonite Centre in gratitude for their assistance in the publication.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

March, 2008

Our second sojourn back to Ukraine felt much more like a homecoming than did our first arrival two years ago. Not only were we returning to the land our parents and grandparents had called home for many years, we were now welcomed back by friendly staff at the Mennonite Centre, church people at the Kutuzovka Mennonite Church and local recipients of aid from the Centre. Driving home from the airport, many places now looked familiar: the Zaporozhia hydroelectric dam, the approach to Molochansk, and of course, the Mennonite Centre. Thankfully, lacking this time was the wet snow that greeted us two years ago; unfortunately, this also revealed a winter’s accumulation of litter and garbage along the highways and streets. We recall with eager anticipation the spring clean-up combined with the bright tulips and flowering trees in preparation for the big Easter celebrations at the end of April.

A closer look at the work of the Mennonite Centre revealed several new initiatives. Many overhead yellow pipes signal the presence of natural gas in Molochansk. For those residents, including the Centre and its three apartments, who have been able to afford the installation costs, this has contributed to their comfort and convenience. We trust that Ukraine’s dependence on Russia for this fuel will not cause future undue price hikes.

Following up on a new venture by the Centre, we were privileged to meet the farmer, Ury, proudly displaying the baler and the sprayer he recently purchased with assistance from FOMCU. Seeding had just been completed the day before and now he was eagerly anticipating using the sprayer for his own farm as well as for custom work for his neighbors. From our discussions during the tasty meal prepared and served by his wife, we began to understand better why agriculture, once the backbone of the Ukrainian economy, has not yet been able to resume that role. Farmland that was distributed from the large collective farms now is owned in small parcels and is not legally sold. Farm loans are limited and interest rates are high. Grain storage in the large government run elevators is taxed heavily. Despite this, with a bit of assistance from FOMCU, Ury feels some optimism. With Ukraine having up to 25% of the world’s topsoil within its borders (according to some reports), we may do well to increase our energy in helping to develop this sector.

Another positive initiative was our privilege to host a banquet at the Centre for seventeen directors of projects that FOMCU has been involved with. These represented health care projects, educational institutions, cultural initiatives and the more recent agricultural support. Also in attendance were the mayor and administrator of Molochansk and the mayor of Svetlodolinsk (Lichtenau). Jakob Thiessen, the pastor of the Kutuzovka Mennonite Church, as well as several other directors, were unable to attend. Although all of these initiatives are located within a short driving distance from Molochansk, some of these directors did not know each other. It was good to see them begin to interact with each other. Following the meal and a brief introduction of ourselves, we invited comments from them. While it was obvious that each of the sectors represented continue to face serious challenges, it also became evident that they began to recognize strengths and resources in each other. For instance, we discovered later that following the banquet, Mayor Peotr of Svetlodolinsk had already invited the Director of the Tokmak Music School to bring a children’s choir to Svetlodolinsk for their May 9 celebration of the end of WWII. Also, Dr. Troyan continues to dream of establishing a respite centre in a vacant building adjacent to the Vladovka Hospital similar to the one FOMCU is supporting in the Molochansk Hospital. He believes this could serve as an example for the rest of his region. At the moment such capital projects are beyond the means of the Mennonite Centre and are not included in the Ukrainian health care system.

Another encouraging sign is the growing interest that local communities and educational institutions are taking in recovering the history of their villages. This was particularly evident to us in Udarnik (formerly Neukirch) as the school director together with the history teacher proudly displayed the memorial they had spearheaded on the school grounds. While the Mennonites may not be part of their own cultural and religious heritage, these people are recognizing the significant roles Mennonites have played in the history of their communities. School director Nikolai, has on his own, purchased the former Mennonite Church building across from the school because of its historical value and potential as a community centre in the future. When I indicated that my parents had lived in the neighboring village of Grushevka (Lichtfelde and Alexanderkrone) the link between the historical Mennonite influence and the current Mennonite involvement through FOMCU was strengthened.

The needs in rural Ukraine continue to be evident and abundant. However, it is encouraging to see that the leaders in the communities are also beginning to recognize the strengths and resources around them and in their own histories, not only relying on outside assistance, as Ben and Linda already indicated in the previous newsletter. Fostering such cooperation will multiply the benefits of our monetary assistance. To borrow a term often used in international development, we are truly involved in ‘capacity building’.
Dave & Hildie Regehr March 31, 2008