Johann Cornies memorial
Several weeks ago I received word that a historical society in Melitopl Ukraine had put up a plaque at the Berdynask Forestry site. I understood the plaque made reference to Johann Cornies. When I arrived in Molochansk earlier this week, I was told that the society members and other city officials wanted to meet with me to outline some of their plans for future development in this area.
On Wednesday, Mennonite Centre Director Oksana Bratchenko and I bobbed and weaved the 40 kms south to the forestry site. There we were met by a party of 10, eagerly waiting to tell us all about their plans. Pictures were taken of the plaque which announces that a monument to Johann Cornies will be built here. Now this group would like to involve us in the design of a memorial for Cornies honouring his larger contribution to the economic development of the entire Molotschna area. I am sure this is not the first monument to Cornies. I listened with interest and thanked them for their interest in the Mennonite story.
I was introduced to the noted Mennonite historian Nikolai Krylov from Melitopol University. Other society members were also present. Theypresented me with a lapel pin and declared that I am now a member of this group. One of their other projects is to restore some of the barracks that were constructed to accommodate the young Mennonite men who chose alternative service as tree planters before and during WW1. One of the society members is living in one of the barracks and another of the barracks has been developed into a museum.
Every significant event needs to be celebrated with speeches and toasts fueled by local wines and honey vodka. I was told by an apparent local expert in medical matters that honey vodka clears the blood vessels in your brain thus causing you to think more clearly! I only hope that my friend's understanding of history is better than his understanding of anatomy! Fortunately I had my on camera interview before I cleared my brain's blood vessels.
What continually impresses me is the willingness of Ukrainians to celebrate their past and their acknowledgement of the contributions of others in their story. To be noted is the fact that the Berdyansk Forestry site is directly in the path where pro-Russian troops would be fighting to make a land connection between Crimea and Russia. There is no little irony that a forestry and much loved park site built by conscientious objectors 100 years ago could now become a battleground.