The former Mayor of Steinbach says his thoughts are with the people in Ukraine. 

Chris Goertzen made that comment following news that Russia plans to annex parts of Ukraine. The four regions set to be annexed include Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Goertzen was Mayor when Steinbach and Zaporizhzhia were named twin cities back in 2018. 

The Mennonite Centre in Ukraine falls within one of the areas said to be annexed. Goertzen says right now the people there are faced with a lot of uncertainty.

"Near the Mennonite Centre itself they are hearing bombs go off regularly from not far away," he says. "There is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to provisions and food."

Yet, Goertzen says their workers remain there providing food and hampers to people so that they can survive during these uncertain times. 

"We want to be a hope for people and so that's what our staff are doing there as well as in other parts of Ukraine that aren't occupied," notes Goertzen. "It's a real challenge for them but these are brave people who are working hard to make sure that peoples' basic needs in life are met."

Photo taken from just outside the war zone in Ukraine.

Goertzen cautions against putting too much stock in what comes out of Russia.

"Just because Russia or its leader says something, doesn't make it so," Goertzen points out.

He says the reality is that there is a lot of conflict and a lot of hardship in those areas. Goertzen adds the lines are constantly moving of where Russia is in control and where Ukraine fighters are moving in. 

"We know clearly that there are people on both sides that need help and so that's why we're there," he says. "That's why we're continuing to work, despite what is being proclaimed by individuals in Moscow or otherwise."

Goertzen says for now he knows that their job is to disregard what they are hearing when it comes to proclamations and just work on the ground to make sure they are aiding people who need help.

Further to that, Goertzen says he is not sure the announced annexation makes much difference to the people living there.

"Frankly whoever has the guns, is in charge," he says. "And so that's the reality and hopefully peace can return to those villages and to those regions."

Meanwhile, Goertzen continues to work with Ukrainian refugees who are settling in Steinbach. He notes it has been amazing to see local people step up by offering shelter, food and clothing. Goertzen says to date they have welcomed between 50 and 60 families to the Steinbach area, with a few more expected in the coming days. 

"It's great to see people finding work, trying to establish their lives here," adds Goertzen. "Whether it's short term or long term, they are looking for a place of hope and peace and that's what we can provide."