It’s not that we are unfamiliar with snow and cold temperatures, living in southern Manitoba, after all. However, this is the first time that we have been in Ukraine in mid-winter. Last night’s overnight low was -17 C, but with bright sunshine during the day. The forecasts are calling for warmer temperatures by next weekend.
We landed in Dnepropetrovsk as usual, but then stepped off the plane onto an ice-covered tarmac. A few days earlier the road to Zaporizhzhia and Molochansk had been closed due to snow. Thankfully this day it was open, allowing Olga Rubel, our Zaporizhzhia project manager, and Pavel (a driver) to meet us at the airport. By suppertime we were settling into our apartment in Molochansk where a pot of borscht prepared by Ira, the Mennonite Centre’s cook, was waiting for us.
Winter is a challenge here. Natural gas prices are high, given meager salaries and pensions. We visited one senior who had just purchased firewood to heat her home. The cost was nearly half of her monthly pension. When used sparingly, it may heat her home and provide cooking fuel for less than a month. Coal supplies are unavailable this winter due to the destruction of mines in the eastern provinces. She was grateful for the package of food supplies we brought her from the Centre.
Not surprisingly, we sense a mixture of emotional responses regarding their current conditions. There is gratitude that the war has diminished but apprehension at the on-going hostilities; gratitude for stability in government alongside frustration with the slow pace of economic changes; gratitude for any assistance they receive but fear should pensions or their health fail. Responding to military conscription or choosing alternative service is a topic that we already heard about in the Molochansk Mennonite Church service on Sunday. Unemployment is a perpetual concern.
We also witness caring and compassionate relationships. Katya is 14 years old, a victim of cerebral palsy, cared for by her parents in their home. Local teachers have regularly come to her home to provide instruction, with the aid of computer programs, including German language. She was delighted to be able to communicate with us in German.