“I Was There”

Before the pandemic, Andrew and I had been planning a trip to Ukraine, to see the village of his grandfather (and my ancestors), to see the Island of Khortitsa where my ancestors had lived.

Then the pandemic struck and all travel plans canceled.

I think one day we may have the chance to go. However, even if we don’t, there are others there on-site, making new discoveries every day.

Like Andrew and I, Werner Toews has not visited Ukraine either… yet he is actively helping Max Shtatsky uncover what remains of the Chortitza Mennonites, seeking information from those of us on this side of the ocean.

He does this mostly through the Mennonite Genealogy & History group on Facebook. A few weeks ago (on Feb.4), Toews shared a post by Roman Akbash which states (rough translation, poetic license taken, by me):


I need your help, especially the residents of Upper Khortitsa

I have a dream to find the Mennonite Centennial Stone, or at least understand its fate

A photo of the foundation of the monument taken in 2004

But many years have passed, the woman who took the photo can no longer tell its location.

Have you seen it somewhere?


I find one reply in particular, haunting:


I was there

There were so many things I wish I could have seen and taken pictures of

I couldn’t walk very well, and sometimes with the wind blowing, I couldn’t hear very well


Though to be honest, this person who thought they had been at this spot, was incorrect. By “I was there”, they meant in Ukraine, seeking Mennonite history, likely on a tour.

More than facts (which can be disputed forever) I am most captured by the impossible dream, by the erasure caused by time, distance, and sleep.

Sleeping and forgetting night after night, decade after decade, generation after generation.

And I am captured by the difficulties of assessing the experience and information accurately even while on the site, in the moment.

It’s like a Monet… no distinct lines, but rather, impressions.

While it doesn’t get us anywhere in terms of learning new details such as the location of this stone, these collective impressions tell a story of curiosity, of striving across the miles and memories.

Also if you can help, please do.

I have not been here. Yet. But perhaps you have.