Blog 2, February 2017
Melitopol is a cosmopolitan city located just 150 km. north of the Crimean border and about 60 km south of Molochansk. Its current population is about 140,000 representing close to 100 different nationalities and ethnic groups. In the last few years the city has absorbed some 7000 internally displaced persons, mainly from the war-torn Donbas region. And yet, in the last 200 years there have been few serious incidents of ethnic or racial tension.
On February 16 we spent a day meeting with several individuals. Mihail Britsin, pastor of the Church of Grace has had previous contacts with the Mennonite Centre, including the recent 15th anniversary celebrations in October. The congregation has been in existence for more than 100 years, even throughout the difficult Stalin era when it functioned underground. Today the church has 650 members and is active in collaborating with other church groups and social agencies in providing assistance for the refugees. He sees Canada and Canadians as being in a unique position to offer constructive assistance to Ukraine by modelling sound democratic principles and practices. The congregation would welcome more collaborative initiatives with Canadian churches and colleges in projects like teaching English or running summer camping programs.
Over lunch we met with Svetlana, a music instructor at the Melitopol Pedagogical University. She is currently working on a dissertation on the development of music, especially choral singing among the Mennonites in Russia (Ukraine) during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Perhaps someone could recommend some resources she could access in the Russian language, preferably on line.
Our day ended with a visit with Viktor, a retired German professor from the Melitopol Pedagogical University. We first met him eleven years ago on our first trip to Ukraine. Since then he has been eager to meet with us at the Mennonite Centre every time we come. This time, since we were already in Melitopol, he invited us to his tiny one-bedroom apartment, filled with overflowing bookshelves. Most books, of course, were in Russian and Ukrainian, but also some in German and English. Writings by authors like Charles Dickens, Jack London, and Shakespeare arepart of his library. He particularly enjoys looking for pithy sayings or proverbs from various genres of literature. Viktor is of Orthodox background and we have enjoyed discussions about various topics concerning religion and the centrality of the Christian faith. Being late in the afternoon already, he refused to let us leave before sharing a bowl of borscht with us at a nearby restaurant.
While much of our time in Ukraine is spent on the more practical aspects of various projects of the Mennonite Centre, days like this provide stimulating connections and interactions on a different level.