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Thursday, 23 November 2017 11:57

The memories of the Ukraine still vivid for SWSask. resident

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It has been years now since I told my story to your newspaper about the events I witnessed in Ukraine in the Spring of 2014. For those who don't remember, I had a hobby where I helped people over the Internet with their English - many who lived in the same areas as my family had as German Black Sea settlers.
For me I still believe this is a stupid war, a war that never had to happen. I still believe the war in the Donbas never should have happened if people simply took the time to sit back and allow reason and understanding instead of the lust for power and greed to fill their desires.
I'm officially on nobody's side I am just tired of the senseless killing.
People ask me really what did you accomplish by going and speaking out in the media (Prairie Post)? Did you really think you could do any good? You are just one person of no significance. And who really cares?
When I was in Ukraine I never really saw any fighting but I did see weapons. I sat on the razor's edge as Odessa was ready to tumble into war and yes I actually literally did see blood in the streets. I saw people crying on the spots where their loved ones had died. I heard their cries and can never forget the effect it had upon me.
How do I ever describe seeing 3000 scared and hungry people at a monastery? As long as I live I will never ever forget that haunting empty look in their eyes. It still haunts me in my dreams.
I still get letters from my pen pals. All 17 still tell me that I visited them when they most needed it. Everyone of them made it in some way because I helped them. And no it wasn't all about money. I helped one pen pal just by showing up. I made them laugh with my stupid jokes when they most needed it. I offered them $50 they said offering them anything was insulting. Just to laugh and know someone actually gave a damn helped them survive. I have heard stories of near starvation during the awful winter of 2014-2015 in the Donbas. Although none of my friends had to revert to it they tell me stories of people eating dogs and cats to survive that horrible winter.
In January 2017 tragedy struck one of my pen pals in Lugansk when an artillery shell made a direct hit on their apartment. They got out with just their lives. With the economic sanctions and currency restrictions it is next to impossible to get any aid into the Donbas. I felt really bad about it.  I asked around and through a stroke of luck I figured out a way to get help to my friend through a man in San Fransisco who I use to send reports to when I was in Ukraine in 2014. I got my friend and family in Lugansk, almost literally off the street, I had legally done what seemed the impossible.
People ask me ‘was it all worth it?’ ‘Why would you help complete strangers?’ ‘How do you explain your past?’
This week marks the centennial of one of the most tragic days in world history - the October Revolution (November 7 -8) The day the Bolsheviks seized power in the Russian Empire and The Darkness they unleashed into the world. The deaths of easily tens of millions innocent souls lost to ideology. I think about how it impacted my family - the Russian Civil War, the Ice March, the repression, the famines, the executions, the Gulags, the Siberian exile and how we barely escaped but all 63 of my family left behind perished.
I remember the war stories and my grandfather telling me that when his uncle - a medical officer in the 4th Cossack cavalry - rode into one Mennonite village the villagers wept openly when they heard Odessan German voices amongst Denikin's soldiers. Nestor Mahnko was routed. The Mennonites would later leave through the Crimea for Canada and South America.
All I have to do is remember my past and think about what my ancestors would have wanted. What would they hope and pray for? What would they want me to do? Would they accept help from total strangers in the Great Famine of 1932?
If people think I am a fool or an idiot for my hobby and my search for those left behind so be it. It is your prerogative, we are fortunate enough to live in a free country. But more came from this.
In San Fransisco Nick Buick, former sub-deacon of St John The Wonderworker (St John is sort of like Mother Theresa in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and credited with saving thousands of lives in the Russian Civil War) saw opportunity and used the doorway opened to help my friend to send in humanitarian aid.
A bunch of people got together and pooled their money (as little as $10 USD) and each week we are helping provide Sunday meals for about 250 people, assist 140 families plus provide medication for pensioners who have nothing. So there in a Lugansk church, in a poorer neighbourhood just 15 kilometers from the fighting people are being fed. My friends in Lugansk went to church and tell me some of the older people there call it a miracle. Their prayers have been answered.
At the time of writing this letter the Lugansk project will have provided the equivalent of 10,000 meals in the heart of a war zone.  As far as I know the Lugansk project is one of the largest independent Western aid projects in the city. It all sprung in some way from my spare time while I sat on call in Swift Current working in the oil patch and I didn't want to bug my relatives (again) or my beloved Broncos weren't playing.
It all came from a series of coinciding events that in many ways just started to snowball.
I will admit I am no hero, I am no saint I'm just a guy with a hobby who often used the computers at the Swift Current Public Library to try to give people the tools and skills to live better lives.
Robert Thomas, Southwest Sask.

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