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Statement on Senator Plett and Senator Harder's official visit to Ukraine


Official Visit to Ukraine

Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Thank you, Senator Harder, for those opening comments. Honourable senators, I certainly want to echo as well the pleasure I had travelling with Senator Harder as we travelled to areas where both his ancestors and mine came from.

I want to thank the Mennonite Centre for their invitation to both of us to go there and celebrate their fifteenth anniversary. The centre is very active in helping Ukrainians make sure they have things they need, such as eyeglasses, access to medical help and so on. The Mennonites have pretty much left that area.

I want to thank Ambassador Roman Wolchuk for extending the invitation to both of us to travel to our ancestral home, if you will, and represent the Government of Canada.

It was an emotional trip for me, finding the abandoned gravesite of my great-great-great-grandmother and three of her children, who were buried in the village of Lindenau. An abandoned gravesite. It was destroyed by the Russian army as they came through simply because the Mennonites had German names, and they destroyed them. But there was somewhat of a dilapidated memorial there that my wife and I were able to visit.

We then travelled on to the village of Blumenhof. There I found what I believe was my great-great-grandfather's abandoned, broken-down home. As Senator Harder did — my luggage was checked, Senator Harder, so I know we were legal — we both found a brick from the abandoned buildings, so I now have a brick that the Mennonites used to build their homes. I now have that as a keepsake, something that my great-great-grandfather used to build his home back in 1870.

One of the more emotional parts of the trip, Your Honour and colleagues, was visiting a restored church that the Mennonites, our ancestors, built. It had been completely abandoned. There were trees growing inside the church. A Greek Catholic priest had a vision; hewanted to restore this church. He restored it. We were there at a service, and we heard, and I spent a good part of my trip travelling with, a choir. They were the Mennonite Faith and Life Choir. It is a male choir composed of about 40 men; 22 of them were travelling with us. They sang in that church at that celebration, and Senator Harder and I both had tears in our eyes as we listened to them singing the song "Gott ist die Liebe," which translates into "God is Love." They sang it in the language that my grandparents and my parents sang in, as did Senator Harder's. So it was very emotional hearing that song in this church, a song they would certainly have sung back in the 1800s and 1900s.

My ancestors came to Canada a little earlier than Senator Harder's. My great-great-grandfather and his family travelled from Ukraine to southern Manitoba. Strangely enough, they have towns by the name of Kleefeld that we both had ancestors at, the village of Blumenhof. When they came to Manitoba, they renamed the settlements they settled in the same as they were there. My great-great-grandfather started a settlement in Manitoba called Blumenhof.

Senator Harder, my time is up. I want to leave you with this final comment that I found very interesting and quite enjoyed. As we travelled and as we were at the village of Kleefeld, not only did we find out our ancestors are from Kleefeld; we also found that we are in fact related.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Senator Plett: I do want to assure all colleagues this will not prevent me for one minute from criticizing the Liberal government for many of their broken promises. Now I can do it in the spirit of family feuding, and I know that at the end of the day we will break bread.

Senator Harder, thank you very much for your company.

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