Greetings from Vinnytsia, Ukraine!
This is a city located in central Ukraine. Its population is 460,000 but the Russian invasion and occupation in Donetsk, Luhansk, Crimea has moved 60,000+ IDPs into this location. The city has a very rich history.
The surgeon Nikolay Ivanovich Pirogov was one of the first surgeons to use ether as an anesthetic in 1847, as well as the very first surgeon to use anesthesia in a field operation during the Crimean War. Dr. Pirogov moved to Vinnytsia and died here. He was renowned for his medical research and practices in surgery. Prior to anesthesia being used all operations had to be on awake patients. The mortality rate for surgery was very high because the pain led to shock which brought death. So the surgeons were to make the surgery as fast as possible. One time Pirogov operated on a man to remove a kidney stone and it took him one and one-half minutes to do the procedure! His estate is a state park and is a place of great pride. Pirogov died of mouth cancer at the age of 71. He diagnosed his own disease and recorded that it would not be healed.
This city is also the place of great tragedy where Stalin’s massacres of 1939-1940 were the population was decreased by about 30,000 citizens. Hilter’s “south command” was located here (and its ruins are still seen). In order to build the command center citizens were used as forced laborers and after the project was completed they were all murdered. The city was a center for a large Jewish population but then Hitler’s death squads came and murdered all the Jews. There is a famous photo titled “The last Jew” and it depicts the final Jew murdered by the Fascists. Hitler moved large number of the population out of Vinnytsia and repopulated it with Germans according to his devilish design to make the German people the world’s rulers.
Walking through these historic places reminds me…
- No matter how great the medical diagnostician or the skill of the surgeon…the physical body is designed for a limited time. The life here is preparatory for the life hereafter. Let us take hold of that which is life indeed (1 Timothy 6:19)
- No matter how invincible a man or nation may feel, the strength that lasts and is true strength is that trust founded upon the Lord (Psalm 25:1-3).
The visit to this city was at the invitation of those who had heard of our efforts and want to join with us in the benevolent actions. We were actually asked to come here 3-4 years ago but just did not have the time to schedule a visit. It seems that our visit at this time was propitiously scheduled. The benevolent fund has a friend from Donetsk (Gennady) who worked with us in distribution there. Gennady has seen the needs in the city and has often spoken of how we helped similar situations in Donetsk. The fund is directed by a man named Victor who is very involved in assisting the needy of the community and especially the elderly retired who are ignored.
Victor is a former paratrooper and is the chief of the paratroopers association in Ukraine. Through his association there are contacts literally anywhere in Ukraine. Victor presented me with a flag that few at the Donetsk Airport when the Russian troops were fighting to seize it. The flag is signed by some of the paratroopers’ present at the airport battle. Some signed that they also fought other battles around Donetsk (you can see “Maryinkia” on the flag). This is an honored gift. Go online and read about the battle of the Donetsk Airport and be impressed with the soldiers that fought there against evil. Understand that what you read is a less shocking narrative than what actually happened there.
There was a visit to the Art Museum planned with a class of special needs children. The group was phenomenal! They were very polite and mannerly and of course very friendly. Very cooperative with instructions not to touch any of the paintings or wander apart from the group. It was really a joy to be in the group. The guide took us to various rooms of the museum where paintings, casts, woodwork, etc, were presented. When we walked into the Modern and Postmodern sections the guide made an astute remark that largely went unnoticed. He said, “Now we come to the postmodern period. Look and you will see that in these works all lines are blurred. There are no distinct lines as you have seen in the other rooms portraying their period of history.” This comment sums up very well the damning cultural crisis that is controlling our civilization—all lines have been “blurred” there are “no distinct lines” that govern civilization’s decision-making!
On every visit I am impressed with one event but on this visit there are two events that seized my attention.
Memory number one took placed in the outer office of Victor’s fund. When I walked into the office I saw a number of older people sitting and talking. They looked at me and I am sure they wondered what I was doing there. They politely greeted me and made me feel welcome. I was taken into Victor’s office and this group remained outside talking and visiting. It was only later I found out the real reason this group were present. As I walked into the office Victor pointed to a bookcase and told me that the retired people brought what books they had at home and placed them on the shelf. The shelf served as a book exchange where the books could be exchanged for another that someone else owned. But today they were not there to exchange books.
Victor said that each had brought a small bag and it had clothes that the retirees were going to swap. Some have two dresses but need another clothing item so they bring one of the dresses…or shirts…or trousers, etc. Victor said these hardly have any clothing and what they do have is from the Soviet Union times (over 26 years ago!). And so these bring whatever extra they have in hopes to exchange for a clothing item they really need. This was a visible exclamation point to me of the importance that our sorting room folks do—in their efforts they are providing a shocking supply of clothing for those in desperate need.
I doubt many reading this can imagine how it feels to look at your clothing and decide what you will take to exchange in hope that you will get what you desperately need.
Memory number two focuses upon a 78 year old lady named Nadia (or Nadya but in Russian it is Nadezhda). When I walked into Victor’s office yesterday an elderly lady was sitting in a chair outside his office. At first I thought she was the keeper of the keys but later I learned she was one of the 60,000+ retirees in Vinnytsia who can barely live on the monthly pension given to them. Nadia’s monthly pension is 1,300 grievnas (about $50.00).
Last month Nadia needed some medicines but the cost had increased. She had saved the 100 grievna that the meds cost the previous month ($3.84). She had no other money. She went to the pharmacy and found out the meds has increased to 120 grievnas ($4.16). So she lacked 20 grievnas (77 cents). She could not get her meds. So she went to her house and picked some apples and was going to sell them to get the additional money. She went to the center of the city but even before she could sell a single apple the local government fined her and told her she could not sell apples.
The fine against this 78 year old woman who was trying to sell a few apples to buy medicines was 11,000 grievnas ($426.00)!
Nadia could not pay the fine. The government official said they would start taking 300 grievnas out of her pension each month until the fine was paid. She protested but to no avail.
As of yesterday the government had taken a total of 3,000 grievnas from Nadia’s monthly pension.
Victor’s fund stepped in to help Nadia and succeeded in getting the government to stop taking the 300 grievna per month but the government still held onto the 3,000 grievnas that belonged to Nadia. So yesterday Nadia was quietly sitting outside of Victor’s office waiting to speak to him about developments. She thought there was no way her 3,000 grievnas could be returned to her.
In further discussion I found out that Nadia had a neighbor and this neighbor was all alone without any relatives. The neighbor died. Nadia wanted her neighbor to be properly buried so she told the undertakers that she would pay the funeral expenses. So she had this debt which she was diligently paying when the government fined her and started taking 300 grievnas from her each month.
Victor’s fund started publicizing how Nadia had been mistreated. The city’s citizens were angered and the government stopped stealing the 300 grievna each month. But it still held 3,000 grievnas ($115.00) that belonged to Nadia.
So Victor started another public campaign and highlighted not only the thievery committed but the debt that Nadia had accepted in order to give her neighbor a proper burial. Victor said that news spread and even as far as Italy people sent funds to help Nadia. The debt was paid and Nadia was provided the meds necessary.
But the local government still held the money it had subtracted from her monthly pension. Nadia thought she would never see it again. It was a substantial amount to her.
Before I left today Victor came into the office with amazing news. With a big grin he said the money had been refunded to Nadia’s card! Victor says that he is not liked very much by the local government because of his efforts to help the pensioners. He says that there are those who slander him and accuse him of corruption and immorality so his name would be ruined, but those attacks and intimidating threats will not deter his energy to help those who are retired and have no one to help. I told him I agreed with him completely and no one should cower or be intimidated when false attacks are made. When situations like this arise I am always reminded that Nehemiah encountered slander and lies. Nehemiah’s response to those jealous of his work and attempting to intimidate him to quit was blunt, “Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind” (Nehemiah 6:8).
This incident reminds me of a third lesson to add to the two above…The Almighty God in heaven is very concern about how man treats the orphan and the elderly. “You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge” (Deuteronomy 24:17).
Victor says he will not relent from doing what he knows is right. I am not surprised. After all what else would you expect from a man who jumps out of a perfectly good aircraft?
This will be the last report for this trip. Upon returning to Kyiv from Vinnystia I will have some meetings and then depart for the USA on Friday. I will arrive at the Nashville, TN airport to celebrate grand #7 second birthday, worship with the Spring Hill brethren Sunday morning and the South Gate (Columbia, TN) brethren Sunday night. I will return to Searcy on Wednesday and prepare two container loads on Thursday that will be loaded on Friday!
Thank you for your prayers during this mission trip!
John L. Kachelman, Jr.