Before the fighting escalated in Ukraine this year, Nadiya O.* and her husband lived near the city of Uman, Ukraine. Together, they grew a vegetable garden and kept bees, selling their honey to make some extra cash. But shortly after the conflict worsened, her husband died from a heart attack.
Then Russian military bombing destroyed their home, burning most of the beehives they had tended together to ash. The ones that remain still stand, empty and quiet. An unexploded rocket lies buried in what used to be their garden, among the rosebushes. In Ukrainian, the name Nadiya means "hope," but her situation left little to be hopeful for.
But a measure of hope found its way to Nadiya O. when a container full of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) canned meat, comforters and other relief items were distributed through MCC partner Uman Help Centre.
The container that arrived in Uman was one of five shipped to Ukraine by MCC, each loaded with essential relief items, including relief kits, hygiene kits, infant care kits, comforters and canned meat. Shipping routes into Ukraine have been majorly disrupted by the conflict. Before fighting escalated, MCC relief supplies could be sent by container ship to the Port of Odesa in southern Ukraine directly, but these containers had to make a much longer journey overland.
Using contents from the five containers, MCC partners in Uman, Kharkiv, Nikopol and a few other places distributed emergency supplies to more than 16,000 people.
Nadiya T.*, program coordinator for MCC in Ukraine, says that a lot of attention is paid to who receives the supplies to make sure they reach the people most in need. “The recipients of material resources are the most vulnerable groups, the people who are in the most critical need. People whose homes were destroyed. People who lost their jobs, the elderly people with small pension benefits and people living with disabilities.”
Donating material resources isn’t the only way MCC donors are responding to the needs in Ukraine. Donations to MCC’s Ukraine response totalled US$9.7 million at the end of July. These generous gifts have provided survival essentials, fuel, comforters, child protection and counselling support to more than 22,000 people. Thousands more received food and emergency kits from the supply shipments.
But Nadiya T. says there’s something more intangible that the support has provided—the same measure of hope that Nadiya O. felt.
“Ukraine is facing a humanitarian catastrophe,” says Nadiya T. “So many people in Ukraine are still suffering, and they feel helpless in the face of circumstances they cannot control. The fighting has been going on for months, people get tired and discouraged. Ukrainians need to know that they’re not alone in this, and that they’re supported, that there are people around the world who are not indifferent to the suffering. Please keep praying for us. And please keep supporting Ukrainians in the ways you can. Every prayer and every bit of assistance is very meaningful and much appreciated.”
* The villages and last names of the people quoted are not provided for security reasons.
To hear more from Nadiya T. about the experiences of displaced people in Ukraine, listen to her episode of MCC’s Relief, Development and Podcast at mcccanada.ca/relief-development-podcast.
Huh! The Mennonite historical narrative feeds back on itself like an ouroboros, an eternal cycle of destruction and rebirth. A few short centuries ago, Catherine the Great sent the powerful forces of her Russian armies to clear the steppes of Ukraine, and invited many Germanic settlers (Mennonites in 1789) to repopulate the region. Cossacks/Ukrainians, Tatar, and Nogai were killed and displaced. The land was "suddenly" free and God's will indicated that the Mennonites should negotiate "privilegium" with the Tsarist leaders. Thus began a long and lucrative period of empire for Mennonites on "stolen," conquered land, and a working relationship with Tsarist regimes.
History repeats itself, and Russia is once again striving to conquer and reclaim Ukraine. Same tactics, overwhelming force against an inferior opponent. This time it seems, God is on the side of the Ukrainians as Mennonites and Mennonite Central Committee are not only cheering from the sidelines for Ukrainian forces, but are actively helping Ukrainians, trying to prevent a "humanitarian catastrophe."
It was a humanitarian catastrophe in 1789 as well, but in that case, Mennonites were less concerned about that aspect of peoples' suffering and dying, and more concerned about their own needs of land and freedom of religion. Seems religion becomes malleable as our consciences dictate, situational ethics perhaps. Makes one wonder if the Canadian Mennonite historical narrative of populating the Canadian prairies post 1874 was also a "humanitarian catastrophe" for First Nations peoples? Seems that the "land and freedom of religion" thing triumphs over any conceivable humanitarian catastrophe which might ensue, and over any notions of justice espoused by Yahweh.
Peter, you're certainly right that there are a lot of historical entanglements to the history of Mennonites in this region, and I can't speak to most of that, but I can speak to MCC's response. MCC has stated very clearly from the beginning of Russia's invasion of Ukraine that it seeks a non-violent end to the conflict and peace and freedom for both sides. The reason MCC is bringing relief to Ukraine is because that's where MCC already has partners and ministries functioning. MCC does not have programs or partners in Russia, so it is not equipped to respond there. But rest assured the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is real and one MCC is absolutely working to mitigate it. There is also a humanitarian crisis in Russia that MCC has no ability to respond to.
And in response to your last paragraph, I would invite you to reach out to your provincial MCC office to learn about the work that MCC's Indigenous Neighbours programs are doing toward reconciling the very events you're referring to. Settlers' arrival to this land was absolutely a humanitarian crisis and unfortunately, little or nothing was done to help those who were suffering then. But MCC has stated clearly in word and deed that it is committed to seeing reconciliation between Indigenous and settler peoples in our country and is working to that end.
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