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How a century-old Canadian connection is bringing help, comfort to struggling Ukrainians

Jun 20, 2023 | News, Canada, Featured

Dina Khvostenko, Lydia Utkina and Galina Petrovna, left to right, attend the day program at the Mennonite Family Centre in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. There, they get two meals, help with personal hygiene, and socialization with other senior women. The free program is funded by Mennonites in Manitoba. (Courtesy Mennonite Family Centre)

Karen Pauls · CBC News

Mennonites continue to fund programs for elderly, disadvantaged and youth in Ukraine.

Every day, a group of senior women gather at the Mennonite Family Centre in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, to share some meals, take care of personal hygiene needs, visit, sing, and have a Bible study.

“We are here as a family. … We eat here, we socialize and talk, and we receive support,” said Galina Petrovna, 84, a retiree who has been attending the day program at the Mennonite Family Centre for eight years. She was speaking in Ukrainian and her words have been translated.

The centre was established as a registered charity in 2002 by the Mennonite Benevolent Society in Winnipeg, which continues to oversee and fund its programs.

“This is mainly elderly and disabled people who need material and emotional help,” said Sergey Butyrin, the centre's assistant director.

“We try to create an atmosphere like a global family so that everyone can feel that they are loved and accepted here … to remind of humanity and love.”

In addition to the day program, the centre offers home care for bedridden clients, most of whom are widows.

There's also daycare and education for children with special needs, a respite and seniors visitation program and a small medical clinic.

“We thank all those who take part in this because, thanks to your support, we can ensure a dignified existence and a very decent communication, nutrition and stay of those people who especially need attention, especially need help, especially in those very difficult times that our country is going through,” said Irina Gnidenko, program co-ordinator for the respite centre.

Zaporizhzhia is a city in the southeast part of Ukraine. Many people fleeing the bombardment in Mariupol have sought refuge there; more than half of the settlements in the region are currently occupied by Russian forces.

“It is a pity that now a difficult and disturbing time has come, the war has begun. Sirens often howl, we hear explosions, we close the windows of our houses in the evenings so that no light can be seen,” said Petrovna, who was born in Russia and still has family there.

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