At first glance, the office appears unremarkable, but for the photograph of Vladimir Putin on a bookcase and the Russian flag on the desk. The woman in the picture looks awkward, her hands seem to rest uneasily, holding neither paper nor pen.
The photograph was shared on a chatroom called “Collaborators of Molochansk.”
The room in the photograph was once the office of Oksana Druchynina, who for many years served as the manager of the Mennonite Centre in the town of Molochansk, formerly Halbstadt. Now the room is occupied by a clerk for the Russians, a woman who, Druchynina says, accepted food hampers from the Mennonite Centre.
“That is my desk, my phone and even my plant,” Druchynina said. “I guess it’s good to know the building is still standing.”
Druchynina and her children left Ukraine at the beginning of the war and now live in Abbotsford. She continues to work remotely for the Mennonite Centre, which administers humanitarian aid in Ukraine.
She says she hears little from the people back in Molochansk as “most are being monitored by the authorities.” Photographs, such as the one of her former office, are shared by those who have left the town.
For two decades, the Centre provided food and medical aid, as well as programs for seniors and children, working out of the former girls’ school, built by Mennonites.
Even after Molochansk was occupied by the Russians at the beginning of the war, eight staff members at the Centre continued to work at what became the main supplier of food for the town.
“We were basically a large soup kitchen,” says Alvin Suderman, board chair of Friends of the Mennonite Centre (FOMCU), the Canada-based organization that funds Mennonite Centre projects in Ukraine.
But in September of 2022 , the building was seized by Russian authorities and the Centre reluctantly closed operations in Molochansk.
Suderman says they had little choice. “They insisted we set up a Russian bank account in Russian currency and register under the new Russian administration. They started flying the Russian flag.”
That’s when the decision was made to focus on partnerships with several church-based organizations throughout Ukraine, including in the Shiroke community (Neuendorf) and in the city of Zaporizhzhia.
“We are helping at a much higher rate than we were in previous years,” says Mr. Suderman. “We are currently spending $20,000 a week in Ukraine.” Last year FOMCU raised $2.5 million dollars, nearly five times what it normally receives from donors.
The money goes to supply food, shelter, clothing, blankets, gasoline, medicine and other essentials. There is never a shortage of needs.
Last month’s destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam, an event that submerged entire towns in Southern Ukraine and displaced thousands, has been called a monumental humanitarian, economic and ecological catastrophe by the chief of the UN. Funds from FOMCU have gone to help some of those who were forced to flee their homes.
Oksana Druchynina knows families from Kherson, displaced in the flooding. She says many people she speaks to are preparing for what they are convinced is the next catastrophe—the destruction of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. “Everyone is expecting it.”
For more, see mennonitecentre.ca. Friends of the Mennonite Centre is a volunteer-run organisation that sends 100 percent of donations to Ukraine.
Janet Dirks recently retired as Alberta Bureau Chief for CTV National News. Now living in Victoria, Dirks is a member of the board of Friends of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine.
First person account from Ukraine
The following is an excerpt of the summer 2023 newsletter of the Friends of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine. It is written by Zaporizhzhia Coordinator Olga Rubel.
I cannot help but start my report with the destruction of the Kakhovka hydropower plant in Kherson Oblast. I will keep my emotions. You have yours and I don’t want to add to that. The catastrophe speaks for itself.
Nobody can, at this point, describe the exact consequences of the event. Dozens of villages are under water. The irrigation systems are destroyed. Thousands of hectares of fertile farmland are under water without a hope to be restored in the nearest future. Many cities are without water supply. Mass death of fish. And the most threatening thing—the level of the water above the destroyed dam is dropping. And the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, the biggest nuclear power station in Europe, needs water for cooling. And it is under Russian occupation.
I feel so helpless at times ... but I keep reminding myself that when people are united, they can work wonders. Every person’s help matters.
I talked with some people from Shiroke community (Neuendorf community). This area is not occupied, and the farmers keep sowing and harvesting. But they also have lots of problems because of the war. They can’t sell their grain, as some of the Southern ports are occupied. Before the war most of the grain was shipped through the Black Sea.
There are lots of internally displaced people in Shiroke community villages. And now the leadership is preparing to receive more from Kherson region.
Our partners from the central and western Ukraine are also getting ready to receive more people from Kherson. All of them are very grateful for the help which Mennonite Centre provides. They say that the Mennonite Centre is a very faithful friend by now. Many big organizations are doing short term projects. They come and go, but the Mennonite Centre, from the very beginning of the full-scale war, helps on a weekly basis. And it happens because you are faithful givers. Thank you again and again!!!
When things like the destruction of the Kakhovka hydropower plant happen, it seems that time stops. But it does not. Life goes on. Babies are being born, children are growing, young people get married, give birth to the next generation. And nothing can stop that. That’s why our partner organizations are helping different people in their today’s needs: buying footwear for children, helping people to fix their houses, providing mattresses for elderly people in a social centre, feeding hungry and providing shelter to homeless, supplying medication for the sick, etc.
In the Shiroke community they pay much attention to children, especially to internally displaced children. They organize different events which bring them joy. For example, they organized a trip to the biggest soccer stadium in Zaporizhzhia. Those who love soccer would understand the excitement of the children. And due to the Mennonite Centre children got presents - soccer balls.
Thank you again for your generosity and faithful commitment in helping Ukrainian people in these extremely difficult times.
For more, see mennonitecentre.ca.
Reprinted with permission.
Oksana Druchynina discovered this photo of the room that was her office before Russians took over the Mennonite Centre in Molochansk, Ukraine. (Supplied Photo)