In Vernon, the opening of a bakery is not usually front page news. For the people of Maryinka, Ukraine, it is a symbol of hope.
Since 2014, the war in eastern Ukraine has displaced more than three million people from their homes, while those who remain struggle to survive. But thanks to help from North American organization Mission Eurasia, life in Maryinka has become a little less bleak.
“People who were living peacefully in their homes had their means of survival taken from them because of the war; that part of Ukraine is predominantly coal mining and of course that all came to a grinding halt and infrastructure such as a huge food processing plant was taken out,” said Nick Tishenko, the Vernon-based Canadian director of Mission Eurasia. “Bread is a major staple for Europeans, so if that’s knocked out from underneath you and you have no source of food and then winter sets in, that brings other challenges.”
The conflict in the country began in April 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the violent actions of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The Bread of Life Bakery opened in Maryinka in March 2016 and is now not only providing bread for the 6,000 people who are trapped in the war zone but is also bolstering the local economy.
“We deal with a lot of churches as they seem to be the backbone of where people come for help and some of the leaders in the churches got together — and it’s not just one denomination, because in the end, it’s people that you want to help. They decided that one of the biggest helps would be bread, so Mission Eurasia started to truck in bread and other food supplies and drive into the war zone and find people who are stuck in their homes,” said Tishenko, adding that through Mission Eurasia’s I Care program, food packs were being distributed to families in need. “Every week our ministry would bring supplies to people; they kept people alive but realized it was getting not only dangerous but costly; it was one thing in spring, summer and fall but you get into winter and the roads are terrible; so the idea arose that we can raise funds to start a bakery.”
Coffee and information sessions were held in Vernon, partnering with churches in Kamloops and Kelowna, with $15,000 raised — enough to get the bakery up and running. Tishenko delivered the money himself and was there for the grand opening of the bakery last year.
“The bakery that was destroyed, a lot of the equipment inside didn’t get damaged; so even though it was old, it was heavy-duty commercial equipment, and we purchased a lot of equipment,” he said. “Four years into the war, some people are returning because of projects like this bakery; they see that there is hope for their existence, to come back to what’s left of their homes.
“And we didn’t have to look for experienced people because they were all there: our head baker came from that bakery and all the staff, and now we have students who go through our Students Without Walls program who distribute the bread.”
Mission Eurasia began as Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries (PDRM) in 1991, coinciding with the collapse of the Soviet Union and expanding to Canada in 1992 Changing its name to Mission Eurasia in 2014, it provides assistance in a number of areas, such as eyeglasses to those with visual impairment and building playgrounds next to churches to give children a place to play in safety.
Born in China to Russian refugee parents, raised in Australia and then moving to British Columbia, Tishenko and his wife, Ruth, have five grown children and nine grandchildren. He is now working to expand the work and support base of Mission Eurasia across Canada. The ministry works in all 14 former Soviet-bloc countries as well as Mongolia and Israel.
“This kind of work is part of my DNA: when we came as refugees from China to Australia, my parents did not have two coins to play with, but my dad found a bakery where for a pound he could buy a potato sack of day-old bread and he would bring it home and we would distribute it among the refugee families who came from China to Australia, so this became part of our life,” said Tishenko.
Ukraine has long been known as “the breadbasket of Europe,” and the Bread of Life Bakery in Maryinka is going from strength to strength: producing up to 3,000 loaves a day and giving out about 200 a day, with the rest sold at cost and with 20 full-time employees on the payroll.
“The staff that came on board donated three months of their time so that we could get the bakery up and running. After three months they received full salary and they always get their money, so they’re happy. We have opened up two other bakeries and the plan is to have five bakeries all down eastern Ukraine.
“We didn’t want to structure it as a business, but to feed those in need. The ladies who work there just introduced sweet breads, jam-filled cookies and everything. The main goal of this bakery is for it to be self-sustained; it carries itself just with the bread, but since they introduced the buns and the pastry, they are realizing a profit, which they put into a water purification system.
“So now they have clean drinking water, which they can also sell, and with the extra money they never have to worry about buying ingredients, and part of the money has been invested into other bakeries.”
If you would like to support any of Mission Eurasia’s projects in Ukraine, please call Tishenko at 250-938-0180, email email@example.com or go to missioneurasia.org
Mission Eurasia is hosting a 25th anniversary celebration banquet Saturday, Nov. 25 at 5:30 p.m. at Grace Bible Church, 5661 Silver Star Rd. All are welcome to this free event, which includes dinner, special music and guest speakers. Childcare will be provided upon request. Seating is limited, and a freewill offering will be taken, with funds going towards the construction of two more playgrounds in Ukraine. Please RSVP by calling 250-306-8013 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org