Saturday, September 22 ,2018
Today was our “Zaporozhe and Khortitsa day”, which gave us the opportunity to visit the earliest of the Mennonite colonies in Ukraine. It is now set within a city (Zaporozhe itself) that was a Stalinist showpiece, and winner of both the New York and Paris World Fairs in the 1930s for innovative urban design.
In some ways this was a day to see things that weren’t there, at least not any longer.
Thus we saw the monument to Lenin by the great dam on the Dnieper, only Lenin has been taken down. We then saw the famous old oak tree around which Cossacks and then Mennonites gathered for protection and shelter, only it largely died away over the years. And we saw village after village where there was hardly a trace of Mennonite dwellings.
So, then, with so much missing did we see anything at all?
There are so many ways to answer that question. We did see homes here and there in almost every village, built by early Mennonite settlers. We saw a host of Mennonite-built schools, hospitals, and churches, even if the Mennonites themselves have largely vanished from the scene. Even a dying oak tree brought delight to Garen, who at last was gazing upon a symbol of Mennonite settlement here that he had long dreamed of seeing. And we heard again from those in our tour who suddenly found themselves “home” as we entered a village tied to their past, and one of the highlights for all of us is when they shared those memories and associations.
Perhaps as poignant a time as any happened as we entered Schoeneberg, and David from our group read from a memoir that captured his own mother’s experience. Of a life lived in poverty in the most modest of homes in the Stalinist 1930s, and of the subsequent imprisonment and execution of her husband, and the struggle to survive after that. It was a sobering reflection. It was less a reflection on defeat as it was on resilience in the face of great tragedy.
Someone (Pat) told me today that she had feared that this would be a “sad” trip, but that she had found so much of it to be unexpectedly joyful. There is such honest sharing here, and one hears great bouts of laughter at our meals.
Taken as a whole we’ve kept quite the pace these past three days. Now it’s time for Sunday, a day of rest, and a taking stock before we set our sights on Odessa.