‘Hurts to see’: Russians take over Mennonite building
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/08/2022 (277 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
RUSSIAN flags have been raised on a ministry in eastern Ukraine that’s been supported by North American Mennonites for decades.
Alvin Suderman, chairman of the board of Winnipeg-based Friends of the Mennonite Centre, called it heartbreaking.
“It hurts to see that,” said Suderman, “the staff were forced to do that.”
The Russians will take over the Mennonite Centre building, a former girls school, in Molochansk on Sept. 1. Eastern Ukraine was captured by Russian forces early in the war.
“When we refused to register our organization with the Russian authorities, they gave notice they plan to seize the building,” said Suderman.
The board refused to register because sanctions make it illegal for Canadians to do business with Russia, Suderman said, noting registration would include needing to do business with a Russian bank.
“We also didn’t want to acknowledge the occupation of the town by the Russians, to indicate they have any authority there,” he said.
Suderman was told the Russian authorities plan to turn the building, which was constructed in 1905, into a headquarters for a pro-Russian political party.
The town of Molochansk donated the building to the Friends of the Mennonite Centre in 2000. The organization spent about $100,000 on renovations.
“That building had come to symbolize our work,” he said. “I feel quite hurt it has been taken from us.”
Under Ukrainian law, Friends of the Mennonite Centre still owns the building, Suderman noted.
“If Ukraine recaptures the town, we will come back and use it again,” he said.
Despite the setback, the ministry continues to be active in Ukraine by helping people affected by the fighting.
“We are providing about $30,000 of aid a week,” Suderman said, adding they expect to have provided $1.5 million in food and other assistance by the end of the year.
The help is made possible by donations from Canadians; about one-third of the support is now coming from non-Mennonites. About 15 to 20 per cent of donations come from Manitobans.
The funds are being shared with Ukrainian partners that provide assistance to refugees and others hurt by the war, Suderman said.
The centre is relocating to another former Mennonite town, Chortitza, now part of the Ukrainian city Zaporizhzhia, about a two-hour drive north of Molochansk.
The centre will be housed in a cluster of former Mennonite buildings, including a former girls school and a residence.
“We will continue to provide whatever is needed from there,” Suderman said, adding the work in Molochansk will cease.
“We had only been doing lunches a few times a week,” he said, noting that tightening Russian restrictions had made the work difficult.
“We just supported whatever our staff felt safe doing.”
As for Suderman himself, responding to the needs in Ukraine has turned into a full-time job.
“I’m supposed to be retired,” he said, noting the needs in that country are great.
“We are dedicated to serving Ukrainians in need during this stressful time,” he said.
Donations are accepted at www.mennonitecentre.ca
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John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
Updated on Wednesday, August 24, 2022 10:06 AM CDT: Corrects spelling of Zaporizhzhia
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