After a 24 hour train ride in a double bunk bed cell, Ukrainian managers Oksana, Olga and I arrived in Lviv, Ukraine. To get here we traveled in a north-western direction from Zaporozhye. We arrived in good spirits. Actually most people would after riding for such a long time.
Lviv is a beautiful old city with a population of nearly one million. Virtually no buildings were damaged during the last two wars. It has an incredible number of old churches and appears to be very Polish and western looking. It is 80 kilometres from the Polish border. Tourism is a booming industry here, primarily because Crimea is off limits to many Ukrainians. The downtown was packed with tourists, many coming for the Jazz festival.
Friends of the Mennonite Center board member, cardiologist Dr. Art Friesen, joined us in Lviv. Our purpose was to visit the newly established rehabilitation centre for people having major spinal cord injuries. The Center has civilian and military patients. This Centre was established less than one year ago with virtually no government funding. They were given a run down abandoned building on the grounds of a hospital. They had no equipment ,no staff and a run down building full of holes. Dr. Rustyslav, a dedicated doctor who has training in this area, took on the challenge. He called for volunteers to renovate the building, international agencies to provide rehab equipment, and physiotherapists to come and volunteer at the Centre. Amazingly, he has a staff of 17 who put in long days and make a few dollars a day. They could make 10 times as much in wages at a private clinic.
One of the volunteers is a physiotherapist who spent three years training at the University of Manitoba. Lesya is one of the few foreign students in her class who returned to her home country. Obviously her English is very good. She is also a specialist in dealing with children with special needs. When asked what she needed most in her work at the Centre, she simply said, "a holiday."
We became aware of this facility coming out of a tragic story. A young civilian man from Mariupol was returning to his mother's home near the fighting to pick up some of her personal possessions. While driving the car back to Mariupol he was shot and his spine was severed. We were asked if we could contribute some funds for his rehabilitation here. The goal is to get him to the point in his recovery where he can still find a quality of life even when paralyzed in his lower body. The challenge will will be to find a suitable place for him to live and function. His mother is with him at the rehab Center.
I have met a senior official from the military, and also met with a young man moments after he passed his medical and now was preparing to say goodbye to his wife and two children. I have seen paralyzed young soldiers trying to build up upper body strength, and visited a warehouse of goods for refugees. At times the war seems to be everywhere; at other times it is hidden behind hospital walls and gated army bases.
When you stand with thousands of others in a big open area in Lviv centre and listen to musicians at the Jazz festival, enjoy cherry filled verenika like my mother made, or take in a liturgical service in Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, you appreciate that in the midst of hate there is also hope. And hope is what fuels this country.
To contribute to the work of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine you can make your donations to "Friends of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine." All cheques should be mailed to George Dyck, Treasurer, 3675 North Service Rd, Beamsville, Ontario, Canada - L0R 1B1.
If you wish to donate online go to the website www.canadahelps.org, key in "Mennonite Centre Ukraine" and click on the search button. Then click on "View Profile" and then "Donate Now".