Mar. 30, 2022

A front-row seat to the Russian war against Ukraine

The Mennonite Centre in Molochansk is right in the midst of the Ukrainian war zone, carrying on a mission in spite of bullets and bombs all around them. The Centre is in the heart of what was formerly the Mennonite area of Ukraine and has continued to serve the area’s needs for a century. 

The first Mennonites emigrated to Canada in 1874, to southern Manitoba. Census figures showed that 1,200 people left the area due to Russian oppression with 1,000 settling in Manitoba. My ancestors,  including my grandfather, were part of that great migration. Another migration followed in the 1920s.

I’ve had a front-row seat through the Centre’s daily updates from Ukraine on Facebook I have been following these reports as they come directly from the people caught in the midst of the turmoil. The reports list the Ukrainian names of the towns and villages along with the Mennonite-era names in brackets. 

Here’s and example of some of the daily reports.

“We get all kinds of messages and news from our network in Ukraine. One in particular comes from Shiroke (formerly Neuendorf Mennonite village). Refugees are arriving from the east and south in growing numbers. One in particular, from Mariupol says it all. We have watched our TV and computer screens and know that Mariupol has been decimated by Russian missiles destroying much of the city. The Shiroke Neuendorf community received 13 people from Mariupol.”

This is what one of the ladies (Ludmila) told:

“Today we arrived from Mariupol. I can not calmly talk, I will cry. Corpses in the city. The hospital is full of corpses. They constantly bomb. The stench is terrible. We had such a city! Modern, beautiful. Real European city! Nothing left. We lived in the basement for 20 days. Daughter - diabetes, almost died. There was no humanitarian aid. There is nothing to treat with in the hospital. There is no water, they took dirty water from the only well. We went to the hospital, they had stocks of fish, and either a nurse or one of the workers cooked soups every day. We ate. The Russians wanted us to go to Russia. We decided to break through on our own. We have dogs, we took them. A column of 1,000 people left. They bombed, there was no humanitarian corridor. Slept in cars. Got out of hell. Like a horror movie.”

The following is from the March 21 update.

“Donors continue to ask us whether we are able to get funding to where it’s needed. Oksana reports that wired funds are still safely arriving in Ukraine. You have been so generous that more funds are going out this week. We are targeting aid to Molochansk, the region south of Kharkiv, Uman, and the greater Zaporizhzhya region ... and of course getting people to L’viv in the west.

“We are seeing more refugees arriving in Molochansk and so the need for food, shelter, clothing, etc. is increasing. They are arriving from the south and also from the east. 

“You should know that the Russian military has blocked most of the roadways around the Molochansk region, so they are arriving at great risk to themselves. 

“Oksana (the centre’s manager) is overseeing the work needed to help these people. Our staff is amazing and working long hours. Everyone is safe there. Oksana reports that Molochansk has been left alone with the larger surrounding towns being the targets of Russian troops and missiles. 

“Our budget to help is rising as needed. Your generosity makes this possible. We have worked with (Orthodox Catholic) Father Peter’s food kitchen in Melitopol, and it continues to work at full capacity despite bombing destruction.

“Olga continues to be in constant communication with contacts in Shiroke (formerly Neuendorf), Uman, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhya and a few other rural towns. Our contacts are using our funding as quickly as it arrives. We have approved her spending budget for this week at 1,000,000 Greevna. ($50,000)

“Our drivers arrived safely in L’viv with their two vans full of refugees. They are sourcing supplies and will return to the Zaporizhzhya region with these. Everything changes by the hour/day, so we have learned “to go with the flow” as the expression goes.”

You can see all the reports from February 24 onward at