When we visited Ukraine three years ago we saw this sculpture in Zaporozhye in the heart of what used to be the Chortitza Mennonite settlement. The statue was designed by Paul Epp and built with donations from North American Mennonites who wanted a memorial to the former Mennonite presence in Ukraine. Victor Penner our guide called it The Disappeared and I thought that was appropriate since evidence of the once flourishing Mennonite settlements in Ukraine is rapidly disappearing. As you can see in the sculpture a woman, man and two children remain only in silhouette on this statue- their actual bodies have disappeared. The statue looks like a family picture on a mantel piece, and on the base the Scripture verse Blessed are they that mourn is inscribed in Russian, Ukrainian, German and English. I believe the intent of the statue was to recognize the nearly 30,000 Mennonites who died in the 1930s in Ukraine due to famine, war, execution, overwork in prison labor camps or being sent into exile in Siberia. But I think the piece represents all the Mennonites who lived in Ukraine at one time,( approximately 75,000 just before World War I) including my grandparents and my husband’s grandparents who immigrated to Canada in the 1920s. Although these Mennonites made many important contributions to the history of Ukraine through their agricultural and industrial enterprises and their service as forestery workers and medics during World War I, a record of their important role in written and recognized Ukraine history is hard to find.
One by one the buildings the Mennonites erected have been dismantled. Even most of their tombstones have been vandalized or broken up.
Dave and I were still able to see some signs of the former Mennonite presence in Ukraine, but I doubt our grandchildren will be able to, should they decide to make a similar pilgrimage 50 years from now.
When I read our ancestors’ accounts of the wealth and rich life the Mennonites enjoyed in Ukraine and I think about how all of that just disappeared in such a short period of time it makes me stop and think about which of the things we work so hard to accumulate in our lives have meaning or lasting value. What are the things that won’t disappear easily?
It took ten years to plan for the erection of this statue The Disappeared in the former Chortitza Mennonite colony. According to our guide Victor Penner the local government demanded that many requirements be met in order to allow the statue to be placed here. A park with walkways and park benches had to be built around it as well as a playground for children. It was dedicated just over a year before our visit, but when we were there the park grasses were growing over the carefully laid out pathways. The park was filthy – garbage overflowing all the waste cans and beer bottles, cigarette butts and pop cans littered everywhere. There were no children at the playground. So much time and money was spent on the statue and the park by North American Mennonites anxious to see their ancestors recognized in their birthplace, but now the maintenance of the site is already being neglected. Will this statue disappear as well in time?
Other posts about Ukraine……..