Ukraine center under Russian control

Oksana Druchynina discovered this photo recently of the room that was her office before Russians took over the Mennonite Centre in Molochansk, Ukraine. — Mennonite Centre in Ukraine Oksana Druchynina discovered this photo recently of the room that was her office before Russians took over the Mennonite Centre in Molochansk, Ukraine. — Mennonite Centre in Ukraine

At first glance, the office appears unremarkable, but for the photograph of Vladimir Putin on a bookcase and the Russian flag on the desk. The woman in the picture looks awkward; her hands seem to rest uneasily, holding neither paper nor pen.

The photograph was shared on an online chatroom called “Collaborators of Molochansk.”

The room in the photograph was once the office of Oksana Druchynina, who for many years served as manager of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine in the town of Molochansk, formerly Halbstadt. Now the room is occupied by a clerk for the Russians, a woman who, Druchynina says, accepted food hampers from the Mennonite Centre.

“That is my desk, my phone and even my plant,” Druchynina said. “I guess it’s good to know the building is still standing.”

Druchynina and her children left Ukraine at the beginning of the war and now live in Abbotsford, B.C. She continues to work remotely for the Mennonite Centre, which administers humanitarian aid in Ukraine.

She hears little from the people back in Molochansk, as “most are being monitored by the authorities.” Photographs, such as the one of her former office, are shared by those who have left the town.

For two decades, the center provided food and medical aid, as well as programs for seniors and children, working out of the former girls’ school, built by Mennonites.

Even after Molochansk was occupied by Russians at the beginning of the war, eight staff members continued to work at the facility — what became the main supplier of food for the town.

“We were basically a large soup kitchen,” said Alvin Suderman, board chair of Friends of the Mennonite Centre, the Canada-based organization that funds the center’s projects in Ukraine.

But the building was seized by Russian authorities in September, and the center reluctantly closed operations in Molochansk.

Suderman said they had little choice.

“They insisted we set up a Russian bank account in Russian currency and register under the new Russian administration,” he said. “They started flying the Russian flag.”

That’s when the decision was made to focus on partnerships with several church-based organizations throughout Ukraine, including in the Shiroke community, formerly Neuendorf, and in the city of Zaporizhzhia.

“We are helping at a much higher rate than we were in previous years,” Suderman said. “We are currently spending $20,000 a week in Ukraine.” Last year Friends of the Mennonite Centre raised $2.5 million, nearly five times what it normally receives.

The money goes to supply food, shelter, clothing, blankets, gasoline, medicine and other essentials. There is never a shortage of needs.

The destruction in June of the Nova Kakhovka dam, an event that submerged entire towns in southern Ukraine and displaced thousands, is a monumental humanitarian, economic and ecological catastrophe. Funds from FOMCU have gone to help some of those who fled their homes.

Druchynina knows families from the nearby community of Kherson who were displaced in the flooding. Many people she speaks to are preparing for what they are convinced is the next catastrophe — the destruction of Zaporizhzhia’s nuclear power plant.

“Everyone is expecting it,” she said.

Janet Dirks serves on the board of Friends of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine, a volunteer-run organization that sends 100% of donations to Ukraine. For more information, see For U.S. donations, contact Anita Toews at This article first appeared in Canadian Mennonite.

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