Mar. 7, 2022

A deep feeling of kinship with Ukraine and it's suffering

I have never considered myself to be Ukrainian by heritage even though my grandfather was born in that country in 1873. So were generations of my other ancestors.

It’s a long story about Mennonites and their survival over the centuries, beginning in the Dutch Empire, followed by Prussia (now Poland) and Russia in the region that is now Ukraine. Over the centuries it has always been religious persecution, beginning in the Dutch Empire where the Catholic leadership beheaded non-believers or burned them at the stake, entire families, men, women and children. 

Though they had been Dutch, their Lowland dialect evolved over the years and various home countries to a Dutch-Germanic language known as Low German, or Plautdietsch.

It was a warm welcome that attracted them to Prussia, but over a century the religious leadership changed and it was back to living in fear of life.

In the 1700s, Catherine The Great of Russia had just captured Crimea from the Moslem Turks and sought people to settle the land in great numbers. Catherine was of German birth and very welcoming of the new settlers and their background. The Crimea area was perfect for the Mennonites who were known to work the land.

That was the pattern over centuries, Mennonites settled and were given assurances of faith, language and education, but that always changed. That’s what happened in Russia and the first influx of Russian Mennonites (from Ukraine) emigrated to Canada in 1874 – 1,000 of them to Manitoba and about 200 to Nebraska and Kansas. Many others settled in Canada later.

Southern Manitoba has a significant Ukrainian population and the two groups have always gotten along, almost-familial. To this day, a lot of the traditional foods of Ukrainians and Mennonites are very similar.

With that historic link, it’s easy to understand the Canadian Mennonites’ deep dedication to the present-day Ukraine and what the people of that country are suffering through. At this time it’s easy to feel a kinship, to feel that to some extent, I am Ukrainian, and proud of it.

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