by Len Friesen, tour leader
Our Ukraine/Russia tour for 2017 is off to a flying start. We came to Zaporozhzhe by many paths, such that yesterday was our first real meeting time: but one and all should know that after two full days we’ve already had a rich set of experiences. Yesterday was Chortitza, today was our first of two days in Molotschna, but that doesn’t begin to capture the depth of experiences already. One and all should know that we are well, this group has gelled amazingly quickly (though perhaps all TourMagination tours are inclined that way, yes?) and even the weather has cooperated.
We spent Sunday the 7th in Chortitza, the oldest of Mennonite colonies in Ukraine, and one that has largely been swallowed up by Zaporozhzhe. Olga, the most experienced of guides, introduced us both to this sprawling city and the remnants that have been left of the Mennonite settlements. And there were moving moments for all of us again: crossing the narrow footbridge with Janet over the Nieder Chortitza stream as she relived a walk taken often by her grandparents; or watching as Lorna recounted her own connection to the moving memorial to victims of Makhno in Eichenfeld. Not that it’s all sober as we had lunch on Chortitza Island in an almost idyllic setting overlooking left bank Dnipro. All in all it was a terrific orientation to the region and the Mennonite story within it.
A few thoughts from tour participants on our first day in Molotschna:
Visiting Petershagen was a wonderful experience. My Mom’s family, the Enns’ lived here for a short time. Our Mother was baptized in this church. The original church has been restored in the hope it would be used by an emerging congregation. It is presently used to provide housing and care for up to 6 senior women. Our visit prompted us to spontaneously sing an old childhood favourite “Gott ist die Liebe”. This brought out mixed emotions. My uppermost feeling is that I am pleased that this church is being used to provide care for local Ukrainian people.
– Adelaide Fransen
At the Lichtenau train station we sat on a memorial bench created by Toronto designer Paul Epp, to commemorate the place that our parents and their parents the Koops (from Alexanderkrone) in 1924 and the Enns’ (from Ladekop) in 1925 left their “heimatland” in search of a new home in Canada. We remembered this place of tears and fears by singing the song so often sung by all of those leaving and those who stayed behind: “So nimm den meine Haende und fuehre mich….ich kann allein nicht gehen, nicht einen Schritt…”
– Ann Koop Hunsberger
What can be said about Alexanderkrone, the home of our father, Henry H. Koop until 1924? Time, revolution and war has taken its toll on its surroundings. Although nothing remains of the actual buildings, with the help of an old map we were able to determine where the Koop homestead was. Remarkably, with the aid of a computerized translation “app”, we were able to communicate with a neighbor who explained that the rubble we saw next door, was that of the recently dismantled “barn”. We were also able to see the remains of the “Central Schule” that our dad attended. Then we walked around the impressive, yet dilapidated landmark of Alexanderkrone: the only remaining windmill of the Molotschna Colony. Meaningful to us, the three daughters of H.H. Koop, was the place of the Koop family brick factory. Again, no buildings remain but we were able to walk through the field and retrieve tiny memory pieces of brick.
– Ann Koop Hunsberger