The Rhapsody vocal ensemble over the years has performed a variety of music, from Mozart to Ukrainian folk tunes. However, what they seem to feel most comfortable with is the Orthodox liturgical music. Under the direction of Sergei Lokotkov, director of the Tokmak Music School, this small ensemble has performed in various locations in Ukraine as well as Europe. On Monday, Oct. 14, in honor of Mary, the mother of Jesus, this group of five singers led a small audience of some 80 congregants in worship with their music. The fine tuning, sensitive diminuendos and crescendos with their well-trained voices sent our spirits soaring to the music of composers such as Bortniansky and Tchesnokov. The Mennonite Centre has assisted the Tokmak and Molochansk Music schools with various projects.
On October 24 we visited the Udarnik School. Udarnik (Neukirch) is the neighboring village to Lichtfelde and Alexanderkrone (Gruschevka), the home villages of my parents. We were treated to a brief history lesson and video by several students about the origin and development of these villages as well as the tragedies experienced by the villagers during WW1, the revolution, the holodomor (famine) and WW2. With the assistance of an array of artifacts collected by the children in the school’s museum, the children did an excellent presentation. Time and again we are reminded of the hardships experienced by the Mennonite and Ukrainian villagers during many years of oppression. These stories become so much more real for us when standing on the streets that our parents once walked and from which they fled in the 1920’s.
Today, other forces are at play as village life once again is in decline due to the limited opportunities and the persistent tide of urbanization. This year the school has only 29 students and is slated to be closed, perhaps already this winter as soon as the weather turns colder. Heating a building like this is expensive. The children would then be bused 20 kilometers on deteriorating roads to the larger centre of Kirovo (Juschanlee), leaving staff retired, unemployed or facing relocation.
Nikolai, the school director, has secured full ownership of the neighboring former Mennonite Church building, preventing its demolition several years ago. However, it now remains vacant and he is not sure what to do with it. Without natural gas connections or a reliable water supply in the village and continually decreasing population, the prospects for buildings like these are bleak. The school was built in 1989 while the church was built in 1865.