What’s Happening with the Chortitza Headstone Project?

by Werner Toews
Chairperson, Ukraine Headstone Project Committee

(image/sketch credit: Brent Wiebe)

The following is a short summary and update of the Ukraine Headstone Project which began on July 22, 2019. On that day, Senior Research scientist Max Shtatsky and his colleague, Mykola Anatoliyovych Svydran, from the Khortytsia National Reserve, along with local historian Roman Akbash, started the excavation of a barn foundation in an area now called Upper Chortitza, a suburb located in the city of Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. The goal of the excavation was to uncover headstones that were once located at the former Chortitza cemetery. By the end of November, over 100 headstones and pieces of headstones were identified and transported to the property of the Khortytsia National Reserve.

The work of identifying the headstones and fragments of stones continued over the winter and into the spring of 2020. This took place despite the limitations caused by the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. The initial list of headstones that could be identified increased and, as of November 2020, 118 headstones had been identified.

(The hard work of headstone restoration; credit: Werner Toews.)

In December of 2019, a number of individuals with Mennonite ancestry, which included historians and people representing various organizations, formed an ad hoc committee to assist the Khortitsia National Reserve with this project. The committee, the Ukraine Headstone Project group, has been actively involved in providing assistance to the KNR with fundraising, historical information and the creation of a memorial.

After many discussions and budget considerations with the staff and the Director of the KNR, Maxym Ostapenko, it was decided that 15 stones would be cleaned and restored to create a memorial that will be located on Chortitza Island. The memorial will be located on a portion of property that is part of the KNR and will be monitored by KNR staff. There is ample room for visitor parking and the property is located beside a main Island roadway. The balance of the recovered stones will be stored at the KNR and will available for viewing by visitors. The restoration of the 15 stones will be completed in the spring of 2021 with site preparation soon to follow.

(This is the Hoeppner grave site. The stone beside the site belongs to a female, Margarina Ludvigovna Padalka, 1878-1934. THey do not know who she is. It appears that the pad for the stone is still in good shape; credit: Werner Toews.)

At this point in time, some of the names on the list have not yet been identified in the Grandma genealogy database. We would encourage anyone that has any information regarding the names without a Grandma number, or those numbers with question marks, to contact our committee. This will also assist the staff at the KNR who will be publishing a catalogue with the names and photos of the headstones sometime in 2021.

As part of our involvement with assisting the KNR with this project, Dr. Roland Sawatzky, Curator of History at the Manitoba Museum, has offered to conduct a historical study of the recovered headstones. Dr. Sawatzky will conduct an analysis of the shapes, symbols, types of stone and written content which will be linked to the dates of the stones. This analysis should reveal certain patterns where we may be able to see changes in the Mennonite concepts of eschatology and the individual’s social status in that community.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the members of the group who have participated in our meetings, discussions and the organizations that they represent. I would especially like to thank all the people who have made donations to this project.

(Workers at the site; credit: Werner Toews.)

Group Members:
Alvin Sudermann, Friends of the Mennonite Center, Ukraine
Louie Sawatzky, Mennonite Benevolent Society
Conrad Stoesz, Archivist, Mennonite Heritage Archives, Winnipeg
Dr. Roland Sawatzky, Curator of History at the Manitoba Museum
Alf Redekopp, Archivist, Mennonite Heritage Archives, Winnipeg, retired
Olga Rubel, Friends of the Mennonite Center Ukraine
Chris Goertzen, former Mayor of Steinbach, MB
Rob Hessenauer, MCC representative in Zaporozhye, Ukraine
Dr. Peter Letkemann, historian, author
Dr. Lawrence Klippenstein, historian, author, Mennonite Heritage Archives Director, retired
Andrea Klassen, Senior Curator, Mennonite Heritage Village , Steinbach
Dr. Aileen Friesen, Co-director of the Centre for Transnational Mennonite Studies, University of Winnipeg

The following headstone names were added to the original list, with Grandma number.

Braun, Gertruda geb. Loewen 15.05.1837—28.11.1904 #508078
Dyck, Dietrich 1737—1834 #196677
Dyck, Heinrich 18.12.1843—21.12.1843 #353471
Dyck, Helena 08.07.1846—12.02.1848 #353470
Dyck, Julius 03.09.1850—29.04.1860 #353467
Ens, Kornelius 4.10.1819—23.01.1884 #56263
Epp, Aganetha geb. Rempel 05.04.1848—29.08.1892 #12662
Heinrichs, Julius 1893—1893 #458494?
Heinrichs, Jacob 1891—1892 #458494?
Martens, Katharina geb. Braun 08.03.1823—16.10.1891 #349712
Niebuhr, Margaretha 31.05.1885—13.02.1889 #508151
Peters, Helene 25.06.1800—21.05.1853 #311340
Pries, Kornelius Gerhard 29.09.1831—01.01.1863 #341156
Rempel , Aganetha geb. Hamm 04.05.1847—29.10.1891 #518489

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