Ukraine Tour Day 4 – Chortitza: Connections and Conversations

By Len Friesen, Tour Leader

We were in Chortitza today, the so-called Mother Settlement for Mennonites in southern Ukraine.  Of course we saw the big buildings that mark this area for Mennonites (and it helps that our guide Olga has such a strong gift for communicating their importance).  We then travelled to Nieder Chortitza where we met with the remarkable Boris Letkeman.  Could there be a more decent and compelling person on the planet?  His life story of exile and war and return to this part of the world truly stirs the heart.  It helped that several in our group hail from this village on the banks of the Dnieper River.

Brother and sister, Helen and John Thiessen have their photo taken at the Chortitza Oak Tree.

Meeting life long resident of Nieder Chortitza, Boris Letkeman at the Nieder Chortitza Cemetery. He is our guide in this village.

Brayden Sawatzky at the Nieder Chortitza Cemetery memorial.

We enjoyed a rich time of conversation with him, but there were other rich conversations with Olga as we sought to follow the birthplaces of parents and grandparents of those on our group.  That might not sound like much, but I expect you’d change your mind if you would see the deep satisfaction that comes to people in our group who manage to make such a connection.

Visiting the very first Mennonite Church in Chortitza on June 5th, now incorporated into a larger building as a seminar center.

What else?  We sang “Gott Ist Die Liebe” in the oldest Mennonite church building in the Russian lands (now a municipal office); we laughed a great deal; we wandered down village roads overgrown with lilac bushes and talked to locals who lived there; we laughed some more; we enjoyed “table talk” over meals that moved comfortably between deeply moving and light; and we repeatedly considered the important work that Harvey Dyck did in the past several decades to secure the public memory of Mennonites, those who once proudly called this corner of the world “home”.

Getting ice cream with Len Friesen translating on a warm day in Chortitza

In the evening a few of us went for a walk through the darkening streets of this once proud Stalinist city of Zaporozhye.  Tomorrow we return to Chortitza, at least for the morning.

It’s good to be here.  It’s good to be with this particular group.

  • 2 years ago, 5:18

    My cousin Sandi & I were on that “Tour” with Len Friesen, in the summer of 2019. Very, very informative, and interesting.
    We enjoyed the companionship and the commonality of our small group. All my Grandparents were from this area. Hoping to go back again, maybe with more cousins, 🙏next time! (Sandi has passed away, since our tour)

  • 12 months ago, 3:43

    Bonjour, I look for informations about Koslowky family from Chortitza. Serguei koslowky born in 1900 in Odessa arrived in corsica on the Riom boat after russian revolution in 1921 with wassily lugovy and Nicolas Eremine. He gave also a name Kovyerme ot kouyerme.
    Je recherche des archives sur la famille de Serguei Koslowky né en 1900 à Odessa. Ayant des connexions adn avec plusieurs descendants des principales familles de Chortitza (Wiebe, Scheffler, sawatzky, Lerch, Andres, Muller, Lutz , Petkau, Bergen, Pries, Harder), je pense que mon grand père est un Koslowsky de la colonie Chortitza . J’ espére retrouver sa famille et connaitre mon histoire.
    Si vous avez des informations, merci de me contacter,
    Je vous remercie par avance,

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