Category Archives: Ukraine

A Station of Tears

When I visited the Russlander exhibit at the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum recently I saw this photo of Mennonites leaving Ukraine for Canada from the Lichtenau Train Station. It reminded me of the visit we made to that train station on our trip to Ukraine.

Both tragic and hopeful journeys began at the Lichtenau train station in the former Molotschna Mennonite colony.

My husband stands beside the tracks at the Lichtenau Train Station in Ukraine where his parents and grandparents began their long immigration journey to Canada

On our trip to Ukraine, we asked our guide, Victor Penner, to take us to the Lichtenau train station. It was from this station both my husband Dave’s mother Anne Enns and his father Cornelius Driedger set off for Canada with their families.
The Molotschna Mennonite Atlas says the original Lichtenau train station was blown up in September of 1943 by retreating German troops but it has been rebuilt. The first station house erected in 1912 was one of the eight stations on the very profitable Tomak Railway Line built by a group of Mennonite investors who wanted a way to get their agricultural and industrial products to market.

My husband’s grandparents and his father just before leaving  Ukraine

On June 23, 1924, one of the first groups of Mennonite emigrants leaving from Lichtenau, included my three-year-old father-in-law Cornie, his parents Abraham and Margaretha Driedger, his maternal grandmother Agatha Friesen and his little sister Agatha. They crowded into one of the 45 boxcars waiting for Mennonite emigrants at the Lichtenau station. 

My husband’s mother’s family just before leaving from Lichtenau. His mother Anne is the little girl on her mother’s lap.

It would be two more years before my mother-in-law Anne, her parents Gertrude and Heinrich Enns, her sister and brothers would also leave from the Lichtenau station for the long trip to Canada.

My husband stands on the railway tracks at the Lichtenau Train Station in Ukraine where his grandparents began their long journey to Canada

Victor, our guide, pointed out the direction the trains with Dave’s family aboard would have traveled and my husband walked out onto the tracks to stand for just an imaginary minute ‘in his grandparents’ shoes’ as they would have faced the new direction their lives were taking.
There are two granite benches on the side of the station facing the tracks. Paul Epp of Toronto designed these functional works of art. His family also left for Canada from the Lichtenau Station. One bench recognizes the thousands of Mennonites who voluntarily departed from Lichtenau for a new life and freedom in North America between 1924 and 1929.

My husband and I sit on a bench outside the train station in Ukraine where our grandparents began their long journey to Canada

The other bench is in memory of the thousands of Mennonites who left from Lichtenau between 1931 and 1940 because they were being sent into exile in Siberia, an exile from which many never returned. 
Apparently, the Lichtenau railway stop was nicknamed The Station of Tears and I imagine it was. The travelers leaving from this station knew they would probably never return to this place and way of life and in many cases they were leaving freinds and relatives who they might never see again. 

A newsletter published by the Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta has a poem written by a teenage girl named Susan Penner whose family left from Lichtenau on July 13, 1924. Here are some lines from her poem…………

The train is ready to depart,
Folks are coming from near and far,
On foot in carriages or wagons
The air is dusty, the heavens gray
At the station at Lichtenau.

The wind whistles and sings and whines,
A mother cradles her weeping child,
A samovar is set up for tea,
At the station at Lichtenau

The iron horse whistles;
Composure threatens our control,
We groan and sob, press loving hands,
One more glance towards our homes,
From the station in Lichtenau.
The bell rings out the first call,
The steps are lifted, the door
Is sealed, secured and barred.
The bell rings out a final time
With a jerk, the train leaves – as people sing
“Go Thou Ahead, Oh Jesus Mine!”
Those left behind now wave goodbye
But cannot see through tear-filled eyes,
And deserted soon lies Lichtenau

Other posts about the Russlander Exhibit at the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum……..

A Visit from Makhno

Ticket to the Future

Famine

 

3 Comments

Filed under History, Ukraine

Earrings and Tombstones

anchor earringsI bought these anchor earrings as a souvenir during our trip to Ukraine in 2011. I noticed many of the Mennonite tombstones in Ukraine had engravings of anchors. daniel peters tombstoneThis is the tombstone of my great, great grandfather Daniel Peters which I found in the village of Nikolaipol in Ukraine. It was hard to read some of the lettering on the stone but the anchor symbol on the top was clearly visible. me with great grandfather's tombstoneEverytime I wear my anchor earrings I am reminded of my family connections to the Ukraine and our memorable visit there.

Other posts…….

The Station of Tears

The Disappeared

Remembering Yalta

Leave a comment

Filed under Family, Ukraine

Detachment

I just finished Maurice Mierau’s  book Detachment. He writes about the experience of adopting two sons from Ukraine.  The boys went through some pretty traumatic life events before the adoption.Interwoven with the description of these events, is the story of Maurice’s father who decades prior, also lived through traumatic times in Ukraine before immigrating to Canada.  It is interesting to see the two stories juxtapositioned and to learn how Maurice comes to terms with both.  The title of the book stems from the fact that Maurice felt a kind of ‘detachment’ in his relationship with his own Dad, and doesn’t want to have that same kind of detached relationship with the boys he has adopted, or his older son from a previous marriage. 

Detachment-cover-June11

I wondered how knowing he was going to write a book about the adoption influenced the way Maurice felt and acted. He made notes about everything. Did keeping those notes interfere in any way with him participating in the adoption process and family life? Was he always thinking about what was going on in terms of what he would write about it?  Sometimes when I know I am going to be writing about an experience I make different choices about what to see and do and sometimes I’m so busy making notes and taking pictures it detracts from the experience.  I wonder if that happened to Maurice.  On the other hand sometimes taking notes and reflecting on an experience makes it more meaningful and memorable so that might have happened to Maurice too.

Detachment will be of particular interest to people whose families have immigrated from Ukraine like mine, and couples who have been through the foreign adoption process. The book will also make you think about how your parenting behavior was influenced by the parenting you received.  

Other posts……..

Red Stone

The Disappeared

Refugees

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Ukraine

Another Chortitza Oak

At the Chortiza Oak in 2011
When Dave and I were in Ukraine we had our photo taken in front of the Chortitza Oak. It is a dead tree propped up by pulleys and ropes. The Ukrainians keep it standing because of its importance in a key event in Cossack history.

The tree also has significance to Mennonites who used to live in Ukraine because it was located in the heart of the Chortitza area where there was a large settlement of Mennonites.chortitza oak leamington mennonite homeOver the years Mennonite visitors to Ukraine have brought back acorns from the Chortitza oak and planted them here in Canada. The one in this photo is at the Leamington Mennonite Home where my father-in-law lives. chortitza oak cottam ontario

My brother-in-law John  has one planted in his backyard in memory of his parents who were both born in Ukraine.winkler chortitza oakOn a recent visit to Winkler, Manitoba I photographed this young oak which is also a descendant of the original Chortitza Oak.plaque Chortitza Oak WinklerA plaque explains it’s significance to the  Winkler community. 

Other posts……

A Spreading Oak

The Oak Park Connection

Seven Oaks Museum

Leave a comment

Filed under Nature, Ukraine

A Call for Help in Ukraine Made Personal

There was a plea in our church bulletin on Sunday morning to send donations to Mennonite Central Committee to help people in Ukraine. Winter is upon them and many families who have been displaced by the fighting in Ukraine do not have enough to eat, adequate clothing or a warm place to stay. The Mennonite Centre  in Ukraine is providing coal, running water and paying the electricity bill for refugees sheltered in old abandoned buildings.  It reminded me of how my husband’s grandparents took shelter in an abandoned school during the conflict in Ukraine in the 1920s. 

Reading about the need for humanitarian aid in Ukraine brought back memories of an elderly woman  we visited there. dave elderly woman ukraine We met her in Schönfeld. Our guide Victor Penner brought us to the village because it was home to both my husband Dave’s Friesen and Driedger great grandparents and Schönfeld was where Dave’s Oma and Opa Driedger were born, grew up, and lived during the first years of their marriage. schoenfeld ukraineThe woman makes her home in what is left of the old Mennonite high school in Schönfeld. high school in schoenfeldDave’s great-uncle Diedrich Unrau was a teacher there. This photograph shows what the school looked like in 1910 when it had 70 students and three teachers- a physics lab and four classrooms. The house we visited was the portion of the school that served as the main entry. woman in ukraineOur hostess used her two walking sticks to show us where an artillery shell hit the house during World War II. It only knocked the clock off the wall in the livingroom and did no damage to the well- built former Mennonite school.woman in ukraineThe woman we met in Schönfeld,was feisty and lively but our guide Victor told us something of the harsh reality of her daily life. She has two daughters. They live and work in the city of Zaporozhye and rarely come and visit.  The woman has a small garden where she tries to grow enough to eat in summer.well in ukraineShe gets water from this well.  Her rural community like many others in Ukraine does not have a regular police force so crime is a problem. There are few medical services in the community, electricity is available erratically, and the roads are in need of repair.  The woman has no vehicle to get to shops. She heats her home with coal and wood. 

lady in schoenfeld ukraineVictor says he worries about her and always thinks she won’t survive the winter, but each spring when he brings new Mennonite visitors from North America to visit, she is still there. Victor always gives her some money before he leaves.

On Sunday when I read about the need for aid and assistance in Ukraine I was reminded of the woman we met in Schönfeld,and wondered if she is still alive and how she is faring this winter. I feel a little better knowing the donation we made this week to relief work in Ukraine, will help people like her, whose already difficult life is being made even more harsh by military activity in Ukraine.

Other posts about Ukraine…….

Feeling Sad About Odessa

Remembering Yalta

Remembering Independence Square

Leave a comment

Filed under Ukraine

School For the Deaf- My Father-in-Law’s Birthplace

school for the deaf tiege ukraineMy husband Dave stands on the porch of his father’s birthplace in Tiege Ukraine. cultural centre tiegeThe sign by the front door tells us the building was a cultural centre for the people of Tiege, but when Dave’s grandparents lived there at the time of his father’s birth, it was an abandoned School for the Deaf and Dumb which had been operated by the Mennonites. 

Oma and Opa Driedger

Oma and Opa Driedger

Dave’s Oma and Opa had been living on a farm in Schoenfeld but were forced to abandon it in 1920 because of the danger from roving bands of criminal outlaws led by a man named Nestor Makhno. Opa had already escaped the bandits’ bullets twice and so when a farmer in Tiege offered Opa a job he and Oma decided to move there.   Along with a number of other families they lived in the Mennonite School for the Deaf and Dumb. With its kitchen and dormitories it was a suitable place for homeless Mennonites to find shelter. 

The Driedger family twenty years after immigration. My father-in-law in the centre and his sister Agatha to his left were both born in Ukraine

The Driedger family twenty years after immigration. My father-in-law in the centre and his sister Agatha to his left were both born in Ukraine

It was while his parents were living at the School for the Deaf that Dave’s Dad was born. Sadly it is also where Oma and Opa’s first little daughter Kaethe died of pneumonia.

school for the deaf and dumb mennonites tiege ukraineOma told a story about something that happened at this school when they were living there. Dave’s Dad Cornelius was a very small baby and there was a real danger that he would die after he was born. Oma had just lost her little sixteen month old daughter the month before and she couldn’t bear the thought of losing another child. She took her baby outside of the school and broken-hearted stood on the grounds crying out to God to save her child, promising that if God did, she would dedicate her son to God and the work of the church. Perhaps having his mother tell him this story influenced Dave’s Dad in his decision to become a pastor.

The Mennonite community had a well-developed infrastructure in Ukraine to care for vulnerable people in their colonies. There were orphanages, institutions for the mentally and physically handicapped, elderly homes and hospitals. The Russian Revolution forced the closure of most of these facilities because the ruble was devalued by the new Soviet government. The money that had been deposited in the bank to maintain Mennonite institutions like the School for the Deaf and Dumb became worthless.

The school was actually called the Marein Taubstummenschule. It was named after the Tsar of Russia’s mother Maria, a former Danish princess. “Taub”- means deaf in German “Stummen” means dumb and ‘Schule’ is school.

In an article in the Mennonite Historian published in September of 1982, a Jacob Driedger writes an article about visiting the village of Tiege in 1917. He says,
“There was a stately two-storey building, a school for the deaf and dumb. It was a large complex with a number of auxiliary buildings. The students here not only learned to talk but were also taught a trade. The school drew its students from a wide range of communities. ”
school for the deaf tiege ukraineIn an article in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia I found this entry ……
Marientaubstummenschule (Mary School for the Deaf), at Tiege, Molotschna, South Russia, was organized in 1881 and named after Czarina Maria on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the reign of Alexander II, who granted the patent for the school on 21 December 1881. The school did not actually get started until 1885, and did not have its own building until 1890, having been conducted in a house in Blumenort owned by Gerhard Klassen, a great friend and supporter of the school. A Protestant Armenian, A. G. Ambartsumov, trained in Switzerland, was largely responsible for the idea of the school and was the first teacher 1885-1891. The school was established by the Halbstadt district civil government (later joined by the Gnadenfeld district), with the moral support of the churches, and the two representatives of the two districts on the board of directors (a total of nine directors) always had to include one elder or preacher. mariataubstummenschule tiege UkraineThe school in its full development had a nine-year course equal to the regular elementary school curriculum with five teachers and 40 pupils. It was supported by freewill offerings coming from all Mennonite groups in Russia, and had a small endowment fund.  The school was a great success. P. M. Friesen said of it, “This first charitable institution of the Mennonites of Russia is a precious jewel and deserves all love and zealous support.”

school for the deaf and dumb mennonites tiege ukraineIn a blog post Rudy Baerg who worked for a number of years at The Mennonite Centre in Ukraine says, “In its time the School for the Deaf and Dumb in Tiege was a state-of-the-art institution and had the reputation of being the best school for the deaf in all of Russia. Teachers were trained in places as far away as St. Petersburg and Frankfurt.”

school for the deaf and dumb tiege ukraineMuch of the evidence that Mennonites once made their home in Ukraine is disappearing. There are still some buildings left however, and we were fortunate that one of them happened to be Dad’s birthplace and we were able to visit it and see it for ourselves.

Other posts about Mennonites in Ukraine………

 A Spreading Oak

Station of Tears

The Disappeared

3 Comments

Filed under Family, History, Ukraine