Day 8 Ukraine Tour: Reflections from Mennoville

Memories of Menno-ville, September 23, 2018

Here are some reflections from travellers on the Ukraine tour:

I wanted to thank a woman for opening a church building for us, stumbling into Spanish, French, German before I remembered the words in Ukrainian. The woman simply reached out and hugged me. And at Lichtenau after we say So nimm denn meine hande, two Ukrainian women came to talk with us. We didn’t find a common language except for the language of love. They were so kind and compassionate. I was looking for the landscape and buildings of my ancestors, which I found, but I found something greater — how loving and grace-filled Ukrainians are.

Getting to our father’s birthplace, Andreburg, in the Molotschna colony was very special for his four kids.  Also getting to Halbstadt, a place our father had lived.  I had always tried to imagine what the Mennonite villages would be like.  It is so amazing to still find houses built in 1895 in existence and being used.  We enjoy seeing the chickens, pigs, cows and goats wandering around the villages, and the big gardens.  It’s easy to imagine that this is how life has been in the villages for hundreds of years, and how it was in my father’s and grandparents’ time.  It is a very moving experience being here.

I broke down in tears today after reading the introduction and first chapter of Leonard Friesen’s new book. For me, it captured and released the emotion felt in visiting both the communities our ancestors lived in, and especially that of our mother and father. The humanity shown by neighbours to each other in the tumult of the times is what drove me to tears. Mennonites helping their Ukrainian neighbours and vice versa to survive as best they could. Gott ist die Liebe.

As I looked out the window of our hotel in Zaporizhia tonight, across the bordering park and onto the nearly empty street, I felt such sadness. I have hoped and dreamed for so many years to be able to travel to the home of my ancestors and now this period of the trip is coming to a close.  But what a wonderful experience it has been to visit the Molotschna and Chortitza villages, birthplaces of seven of my eight great grandparents.  What a privilege.  I am so grateful that Tourmagination makes trips such as this available.  Heartfelt thanks.     

My goal of this trip was to stand on the streets of my forefathers and to look around at the lay of the land. Olga and Len provided that opportunity plus they offered a fulfilling description and history of what we were seeing. I was excited to visit twelve of my family villages and to imagine the lives of those who lived there in the past. The courage and faith of those men and women have provided my family the magnificent opportunities that we enjoy today. This has absolutely been the trip of a lifetime. 

Garen and Eva Martens







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