Peace Corps - Ukraine

The Evacuation: A Detailed Retelling

On Tuesday, Feb 18, violence erupted in Kiev. I was sitting with my new across-the-hall-neighbors Gregor Ivanovich and Valentina Paulivna, who had abruptly invited me to their house when they heard me coming up the stairs. February 18 is their granddaughters birthday, and in true Ukrainian birthday fashion they had prepared a feast and invited their two closest friends – Babusya Anya and Lida. They had the tv on in the background, and in the midst of my conversation about the state of Arizona where Anya’s daughter lives, I heard gunshots from the tv and saw snipers on rooftops shooting at running targets.
I thought it was a movie but then recognized the streets of Kiev and saw that it said “Live”. Gregor explained that it started today because they had revoked the Constitution from 2004.

I had an underlying feeling of anxiety that only continued to grow as I felt isolated and helpless in my village with no Internet or TV.

Later in the evening we received an email from Peace Corps saying we were back on Standfast (Step 1 of our Evacuation Plan, where we are not allowed to leave our sites. This has been our status off and on since demonstrations began in November).

The situation Wednesday was peaceful, but transportation in most major cities remained closed through the center due to demonstrations.
I called Volodia, our Peace Corps Language program coordinator, and one of my favorite people in Ukraine – who had invited me to play chess and spend time with his family for the upcoming weekend.  I told him I wasn’t sure if I could still make it to Jytomer. I wanted to still go despite being on Standfast. He told me to listen to Peace Corps, and I listen to Volodia, so I listened to Peace Corps.
I then canceled my plans to teach at the Windows on America Library, and the seminar I was to teach at the Center for Culture in Vinnytsia later in the week.

On Wednesday evening a curfew was established for volunteers by Peace Corps – we were to be inside by 7pm every night.

Thursday morning my mom called and said Jacqueline, I don’t care what Peace Corps is telling you to do, I want you to come home right now.

I tried to explain to her that I wanted to be home but that I couldn’t abandon Ukraine right now.
At the same time I was barely able to remain calm myself, as my underlying feeling of anxiety was only growing. I tried to appease her by saying Peace Corps was taking care of us, but after getting off the phone I only felt more anxious.
My gut reaction to the uncertainty and instability of the situation in Ukraine was that I just wanted to be with my family, at home.

When I got to school I saw Volodomir Ivanovich and asked about the news. He said another 31 people had died. His voice shook, he said he couldn’t concentrate on lessons, he couldn’t do anything. The news was too horrible, to see his country like this.

Hanz, fellow PCV and head of our Safety and Security committee, called to say he was meeting with our Security Officer later in the day and he wanted to know honestly how I was feeling.  And he asked me about my general sense of how other PCVs were feeling to.

I told him I couldn’t hide my anxiety. That I trusted Peace Corps but that I personally was feeling pangs to be home. And more – what does it take to constitute a consolidation? How much blood must be shed?

I walked through the halls of a school during lunch time and every kid greeted me as they do every day: Jakleen!!! Xello!! Taras from 6th grade ran up behind me and have me a cookie in the shape of a rose. Alina and Alona from 6th grade asked me “How are you?” in English. First time ever. I was so proud.

I started telling people that my mom called and wanted me to come home. That I was worried for the future of Ukraine. That I didn’t know if I would stay here.

They told me, Jakleen, you can’t go. We will stand by your window and guard you. We won’t let anyone hurt you. We will hide you in our basement with the potatoes.

The fact was it wasn’t about my safety, it was about the future of their country, but they continued to just care for one another.
This is what Ukrainian culture is about. About loving your neighbor, about caring for the health of one another, about worrying, about wanting to keep loved ones close.

While I wanted to go home, I also felt like I was home. That Zoziv is my home now too. That Ukraine is my country. That leaving would only show that we were abandoning them in a time when we should stand together.

Thursday after school I watched the news with Volodomir Nifonovich and Nadia Ivanivna. We drank wine together and drank to the future of Ukraine. And to friendship. We laughed about how Kate had said shmacho at our Christmas feast.
I fell asleep on their couch wrapped in their kitten blanket, due to effects of their homemade wine.
When I woke and went home, Nadia ivanivna walked me home and we commented about how beautiful the sky was. The stars were so bright. Nadia asked me if the sky was as beautiful in America. And I said yea. Not in the cities, but in the mountains it looked the same.

And then the orders came from Peace Corps to consolidate the next day.

Lilia and Nastia (the school nurse and her 7th grade daughter, my new downstairs neighbors) and Sasha (the maintenance guy who put in my toilet and had been giving me eyes lately) were drinking tea with me when the news came. I told them. I told Sasha I wanted him to have the toilet he had just spent all week putting in for me.
At this point I thought we would consolidate for the weekend, maybe a full week and then be back at sites. 
Zach called and he asked what I was packing. I said all my technology and some clothes and peanut butter.  He said… Socks. He asked if I thought this was it. And I said, No. No way, this isn’t it. We’ll be back. 

Nevertheless I made a list of the stuff I was leaving behind and specified who I wanted to have what.
It felt like writing a will. Like I was dying in Zoziv and only my memories and things would remain.

Friday I went to Lypovets to meet Anya and Yura (my original counterpart and her husband who moved to Kyiv last summer). They told me the news that they would be going to America in August because Yura just received his acceptance into a college program. The sun shone, we ate at a restaurant to celebrate – it was the first time in Anya’s life eating out in Lypovets despite her living there her whole life.
I complained about my new counterpart, and we made a plan for Spring and Summer in Zoziv – working closer with other teachers, doing Romeo and Juliet with Victoria Victorivna, beginning teaching at a school in Lypovets one day a week.

I spent all day with this family, who had originally invited me to Zoziv. I joked with her mother and step father. Ate more borscht. After dinner, as I waited for the final call from my Regional Manager coming from Kyiv to meet her at the bus stop, I sat on the floor watching the TV – a live broadcast of the parliament. They voted to reinstate the constitution. The members of Parliament cheered and hugged, as the votes were counted.  Yura said it’s over, it’s all ok.
And I said no Yura, this is far far from over. This is good, but it is a long road until everything is ok.

I finally got the call, that it was time to go. Yura, Anya and I walked to the bus stop. I walked through the mud. The stars shone bright. I heard dogs barking. The echoes of a man drunkenly singing Ukraine’s national anthem.

These are the sounds of the Ukrainian village.

I was picked up at 7:15 pm by a Peace Corps van, along with my RM and a few other PCVs in my region to go to our consolidation point.
I sat in the front next to the driver and we spoke the entire ride  – first about cars, how popular Toyotas are in America. Then about philosophy. About philosophers, eastern literature writers, French artists, existentialism. All in Ukrainian. And I understood every word.
It was beautiful.

The call came from John while we were still on the road. John is one of the Borova 5, who had been keeping me updated with News and Peace Corps alerts, as I didn’t have access to internet. He had just received the email from Peace Corps. We were evacuating.
My stomach dropped.

Part of me was convinced I was never coming back. Part of me felt like I should not be leaving in the first place.

I didn’t say bye to any of the kids. What would they do without me? What would they think when I wasn’t at school on Monday?

We all met and our RM’s voice shook as she told us she didn’t know what would happen. But that after working here for 18 years with Peace Corps she had seen the change. Her first volunteer had asked back in the early 90s when there was whispers of unrest, why don’t you protest? And my RM had replied, How? What do you mean?
And now there are people in the streets self-organizing, marching, protesting.

Ukraine has risen.

I slept restlessly, as the only thing on my mind was our impending evacuation the next day at 11am. We had one final meeting to turn in our house keys, and give the inventory of our things we wanted sent to us, in the event that we weren’t coming back. At the meeting everyone was worried about their things. I felt so detached from my things. Who cares? It’s all replaceable. I just couldn’t believe that we were leaving Ukraine. 

I called my director, Olga Volodomirivna, and explained I wouldn’t be at school Monday morning. She couldn’t believe it. And asked about my things, I told her I didn’t care – it wasn’t important. The only thing I wanted was the handmade Ukrainian doll and headwreath the kids gave me on my first day in Zoziv. And this made me just cry and cry. The doll represented all the hope I had when I first came to Ukraine – the uncertainty of what lay before, but the openness and acceptance Zoziv received me. It was a manifestation of the best aspects of Ukrainian culture – warmth, generosity, hospitality, hand-work, thoughtfulness, and my connection and friendships I had built in just 9 months in this foreign little corner of the world. And I was being forced to just leave it all behind. 

I continued to cry and cry, as I called the other people I was closest with. Volodomir Ivanovitch, I told him – Ukraine would be a better place if everyone was like him. That Zoziv and Ukraine needed him. He said, oh no, jakleen. We got used to you here. I told the 1st grade teacher Larisa Vasilivna that her pizza was the best in the whole world, and that I wanted her grandson Taras from 3rd grade to have my guitar. I told Olena from 11th grade that she was like a sister to me, and I was sorry I never showed her how I made cookies. I told Volodomir Nifonovitch and Nadia Ivanivna that my last meal in Zoziv was with them, and I didn’t know it would be the last, but I was so glad it was. That their Christmas meal with me and Kate was the longest I ever sat with someone at a table, and I wish we could’ve sat even longer. I told Vova from the 7th grade that he had a wonderful character, and was smart, and humble, and funny, and that I remember even the first week in Zoziv when I saw him riding his bike around and he would wave, he always made me feel good. I told Lilia that I wanted to be back to help her plant potatoes, and that I would come back. And to tell Sasha I would miss him. I called Misha from Vinnytsia and he said, go eat chocolate and don’t be depressed. We will skype. I love Misha.

There were so many other people I wanted to call, but I didn’t have the time.

We were corralled into an 8 passenger vehicle – all 11 of us PCVs from Vinnytsia, with our luggage, our 2 Ukrainian escorts, and the driver. We ate the last of our Ukrainian Roshen chocolate, and shared tangerines as we crossed the border to Moldova. The officer at the border asked us – are you going to a wedding party or something? And we all looked at each other and said, yea yea, that’s it. A wedding party. 
Peace Corps staff and vehicles met us at the other side of the Moldovan border where we had our last tearful goodbyes with our RM and Lena Nastenko, our Language program facilitator. I had never seen a Ukrainian cry before, but they cried. And we promised to see them again. 


The rest of the evacuation period was a blur, for so many reasons… 

As I moved farther from Ukraine, I became more excited to return to America. We were held for 2 days in Moldova, where yes, I was piledriven into the wall by an overly friendly other PCV who just wanted to dance, resulting in a colorful black eye. We flew from Moldova through Frankfurt, to Detroit, and finally to DC. At our layover in Detroit, Drew and I sat at the very back of the plane, and I don’t know exactly why, but the flight attendant took a liking to us. She secretly gave us little chocolate cupcakes just before landing. And as we descended, through turbulence, I heard the flight attendant say, Whoa there, cowboy. It was so nice to be back in America. 

During our brief layover in Detroit, we all sat at the bar and the nice businessman at the end of the bar bought us all a round of Sam Adams. We signed 5 griven for him, (50 cents) and thanked him. It was good to be home. 
The next few days was a whirlwind Peace Corps conference where we were given all of our options, information about the forms we needed to complete, and a few sessions by a psychologist to help us cope with our sudden evacuation and re-adjustment to America. It was a necessary conference, but it was insane and overwhelming in every sense. 

I arrived back in the beautiful Bay Area on Friday night, where my mom and dad picked me up from San Jose, all of us teary-eyed. They treated me to a nice seafood dinner at Market Broiler, where I didn’t think twice about eating a crab cake, tasting clam chowder, scallops, salmon and crab legs. Momma’s back and she ready for some meat. 

I have now said a few hellos to my closest friends, and I feel as though I am seeing America with new eyes. Everything is so familiar, yet slightly different. The walls of Tacqueria Cancun seem more colorful. The roads are extra-smooth. The toilets flush impeccably.

There is no sense in being sad about being home with people I love, so I am not. I am really happy to be home. But my heart is with Ukraine. I am nervous about the near-future, but I know that Ukraine is strong, unified, and will become a better and more stable country in time. The people there are too good – too smart, too wonderful, and too hard-working for anything less.  

So what next? I am currently on “Admin Hold” for the next 45 days, until April 15. This means I am still a PCV, and can be invited to Ukraine at any point during this time. If not, I can apply for a transfer to a new country where I would have to start at day 1 of a 27-month service. I can also choose to close my service, and would receive all the benefits of a PCV who completed their full 27-month term. It is still impossible for me to hypothesize into the future, so I am remaining in a state of quiet calm. I really don’t know what will happen, but I am at peace with this. I know everything will be ok. And of course I am thinking a little bit about my future, but only time will tell… I’ll KYP. (Keep You Posted).

Україна – я з тобою!


Peace Corps - Ukraine


#2nd World Problems

The views expressed below are my own, and do not reflect that of Peace Corps or the U.S.A. I do not give permission for them to be republished in any way.

While I was looking forward to my return to Zoziv after a few weeks on the road, it was only natural that my re-adjustment to the village would be a little challenging. But what I did not expect, was to find my landlady Leana back in my house, with her old, sick mother. I returned to find the furniture in my room rearranged, my pictures on the fridge taken down, and the kitchen a mess of various dairy products fermenting. #Ukrained

Needless to say, I was a little surprised!

I didn’t spend much time at home during the week, as my return to school was met with innumerable invitations by students to come to their classes, to help with English, to play on their team in P.E., and then followed by endless invitations to dinner at various people’s houses. But over the weekend, in an attempt to escape the below freezing temperatures, I sat with my space heater as close to my body as possible without burning my long underwear, while I read for hours and hours. I moved only to make a new cup of tea or cocoa, get some food for the kitchen, or use the bathroom. Quietly, diligently, determinedly, a prisoner in my own room, I finished not only Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, but also Steinbeck’s East of Eden. (By the way, both wonderful books, highly recommended).

I was interrupted only by Leana who stormed into my room Sunday morning, telling me “we need to talk”. She explained that my space heater was using 25 kilowatts of energy each night (whatever that means), and that I would have to pay a lot extra for it. I said, I will pay, I can pay. I am freezing and I need the space heater on. She then went on to criticize the way I sealed the windows shut. And then she explained that she and her mother will be staying here until her mother dies, and in the meantime she will not be working at all (usually she works and lives in Vinnytsia). She then continued on to say, so she will not be cleaning up after me.

I just nodded and said ok. But I really didn’t understand what prompted this, and actually really offended and put off – none of my belongings were in common space, and I was the one cleaning up after her, doing her dishes and doing my best to just stay out of her way. In fact, I am afraid to use the kitchen because of all the various open jars she has around, and god knows that Botulism is a real and ever-present force to be reckoned with.

Plus, it could be weeks, or it could be years before the mother actually passes. She has amnesia and is bed-ridden, moans throughout the night, and calls for Leana if she leaves her mother alone for more than 5 minutes. After walking out of the kitchen Sunday afternoon to see the bedroom door ajar, revealing the old woman naked from the waist-down, squatting and shitting over the-jimmy-rigged-toilet-contraption of a chair with the seat punched out and a bucket underneath… I decided, enough is enough. I gotta GTFO.

In true village fashion, word spread like wild fire – the greeting question everyone asked of me was no longer, “Hi Jakleen, are you freezing? Have you heard what’s happening on Maidan?” The question became, “Hi Jakleen, have you found a place to live? Is your landlady bad?”

I was both embarrassed by my situation, as well as hopeless about the potential prospects in Zoziv. The blessing and curse of village-life is that everyone knows everything about each others lives. Luckily, the real estate God of Ukraine shined down upon me, and a little 2-bedroom apartment is available in the other side of the school from where I live now! Fingers crossed, there will be no surprise-dying-landladies to live with.

I have been keeping up with Ukrainian superstitions, and 3 come into play here. When moving to a new place, you are supposed to send the cat in first to ward off any bad spirits. So George will go in Sunday alone. Secondly, you are supposed to sleep there one night alone before you bring your things in. And thirdly, if you start something on Monday it will bring bad luck. Here in Ukraine, I do as Ukrainians do, and I am superstitious. So Tuesday it is – the day I’ll bring my things to my new home! I am closer to a few of the other teachers (like the ones I was at for Christmas), as well as the retired mayor of Zoziv, and the nurse of the school. In short, I think I’ll be moving to a place with better company. Because right now I’m surrounded by old, dying people which to be honest, isn’t the most uplifting thing. I think I take more after my dad than my mom in this regard – and I’ll leave the whole “helping-people-cope-in-the-face-of-death” thing to her.

In other news…

I am back to being on difficult terms with my VP I share the office with, Natalia Stepanivna. She and the director came to my home to negotiate with my landlady, and saw my room. Now I know I’m not a Type-A, clean person. In fact, I love my piles. I keep my pajamas out, and a few extra sweaters in a pile on a chair. I also leave Ukrainian flashcards out, as well as whatever book I’m reading. I like to glance at the flashcards whenever I have a dull moment. But I am probably cleaner and more neat than I have ever been in my life – there is literally nothing on my floor of my room! And MOST of my clothes are in the wardrobe. But my VP starts lecturing me, saying she’s going to talk to me like a mother would talk to her child. She starts going on and on about how I need to be more tidy – I need to keep everything in plastic bags, or boxes, and then throw a rug over it when I leave. She said every surface in my room is covered with a rug. She said I’ll have a lot less problems with my landlady if I do this – implying that it’s MY fault that my living situation and relationship with my landlady fell apart.

But good god, that is no way to live! How do I know what’s under the rug when I come home? I like to see what I have! In my neat piles! I don’t want to live out of boxes and plastic bags – I want to unpack and really make my space feel like my home. It’s the only sanctuary I have in this god-forsaken-icy-hellhole. And anyways, who is she to tell me how I organize MY space and MY things that I pay $35 a month for! That is MY room, and I can do what I want with it!

I know this is the self-righteous American in me talking. So I’m trying really hard to not be annoyed by this, but I am. I am so annoyed.

Enough about my living situation.

The even bigger problem I have with her is just the general way she treats people. Yesterday a boy from the 8th grade was brought into the office of Natalia Stepanivna by the very old-school and strict Biology teacher. The biology teacher said the boy was acting out in class. Natalia Stepanivna then went on to literally scream at him, louder and louder, yelling, “DO YOU KNOW HOW TO ACT IN CLASS? HOW ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO ACT IN CLASS?” until he was in tears, balling. And she continues, “YOUR TEARS DON’T MEAN ANYTHING. THAT’S NOT GOING TO MAKE IT BETTER. YOUR ONE JOB IS TO BEHAVE IN SCHOOL. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?” and between sobs, he’s saying “I promise I’ll never do that again. I promise”. Now I’m sure that kid is no angel in class, but no one deserves to be spoken to and humiliated like that.

The hardest part for me to see is that this kid is going to grow up thinking that this is the way to raise a kid, that this is the way people treat one another.

I see this behavior between all heirarchies here in Ukraine – it is socially acceptable for a superior to humiliate their subordinates. It makes me sick.

A few other things have been bothering me lately, so just bear with me because I am on a roll.

One of the kids who often invites me to her house is Olena, in the 11th form. Olena took care of George when I was on the road, and every time I go over to her house I help her with English. In return she either gives me a manicure or braids my hair while her mother feeds me delicious borsch (she really does have the best borsch recipe), or fresh apple strudel, and sends me away with a gallon of milk, butter, potatoes, and leftovers. It’s actually really inconvenient to carry home because I live about a mile away so it’s about 30 minute walk through snow with heavy plastic bags weighing me down. #2ndworldproblems

Anyways, just yesterday Olena was explaining to me that the English teacher, Victoria Victorivna, has actually been reprimanding her for asking me for help with English. Additionally, she has been giving Olena low marks on her work. Olena said Victoria Victorivna gets angry at kids who ask me for help with English because she charges kids for individual tutoring. Olena also said that paying for individual tutoring always results in the kids who pay getting better marks.

I was Outraged, just livid about this. First of all, what kind of message does it send to kids when they are reprimanded for seeking outside help – for trying to do their homework well. I mean, there’s no way most of these kids can afford individual tutoring, and they can’t ask their parents for help with English. Secondly, what kind of message does it send to a kid who is reaching out and showing kindness to a stranger. The fact of the matter is that teaching kids English is one of the only avenues I have to connect with and help the kids in Zoziv. So how dare the English teacher discourage this. And thirdly, how dare she have such selfish intentions that she thinks my helping kids with English is taking away from her side tutoring business. The goal here is for the kids to do better in school, to build their confidence and self-worth, and to encourage open-mindedness towards new experiences and other cultures – all of which happen when I am able to help kids with their English homework.

On Monday I intend to speak to her about this. But this is easier said than done. Firstly, she never speaks to me in English except to say “Good day to you”. But the bigger problem is, I do not think the Ukrainian way is to directly confront someone. So I am not sure the what the best way to handle this is. I may be making a huge cultural fauxpau, but I just can’t stand aside and be silent.

Enough with the “I’m the nice American who is flexible and silent and smiles”.

We’re in the middle of a revolution here and it is my time to bring the American hammer down. So the Ukrainian traditions of just “pushing everything under the rug” – both literally and figuratively – can kiss my American ass.

As a final note, I want to emphasize that despite this particular blog being an expose of everything I am frustrated with here, there are still many wonderful things about this culture that we can learn from. Even though kids can be humiliated to tears, it is also obvious the importance of family and the love people have for one another here. People really do take care of one another, and have opened their hearts to me as well as part of their family – the entire village was worried about my living situation, and was eager to help, to make calls to relatives of abandoned houses, many offered a bed for me to sleep for the time being, to make sure I was comfortable. And I know that I won’t be moving alone – there’s going to be an army of 8th grade boys carrying boxes for me, come Tuesday. Even the fact that Leana is leaving her job for the time being in order to care for her mother full-time shows a dedication to our loved ones that many of us in America don’t have. Once things become inconvenient in America, we merely find a way to not deal with it – or create a system that will rid us of that inconvenience. Regarding the appearance of my room (and the ever-present disparaging comments about my nails, and the lack of high-heels I wear and my funny hat) – while I think that the emphasis on appearances is superficial, it also shows that people have a pride in who they are and how they present themselves to the world. I know that there are many critical eyes on Ukraine now, and from one little lady’s perspective, Ukraine is a beautiful place with beautiful people.

Peace Corps - Ukraine

A quick update straight from the horse’s mouth

The opinions expressed below are mine, and do not reflect that of peace corps or America or anyone else for that matter.

The question is no longer, “hi Jakleen, are you freezing?” The most common greeting is now “hi Jakleen, have you heard what’s happening in maidan?”

I have not been in Zoziv since bffitwww Kate from America was visiting Zoziv for the week of Jan 6. The past couple weeks I’ve been on the road – first with aforementioned bffitwww Kate to Lviv, and then in back to back trainings from peace corps, followed most recently by a weekend seminar at cluster-mate johns with the Borova 5 in the northernmost village of Ukraine. The first, a grant-review committee and secondly, a week of Ukrainian
language refreshing in the region north of Kiev. I passed through Kiev before the violence began and most recently yesterday on my way back to Zoziv.

At Johns in seminivka, (in between working of course) the Borova 5 enjoyed Ukrainian hospitality at its best with a classic Banya experience, lots of food, watching ukrainian men and suzie dip in the river that they used a chainsaw to make a hole in the ice (as if merely living in Ukraine isn’t tough enough?!), and a little dancing.

I am finally returning to home sweet home Zoziv. I don’t feel endangered, and rest assured, I do not feel compelled to join the ranks on the front lines of the revolution.
The violence and activists are contained to only the central administration in each regions center. Otherwise, the only noticeable change is that everyone is talking about it, and is unsure of what the future holds.

It is obvious that current president victor yanukovich will not be relinquishing his power willingly, though it seems that at this point the only way to remedy the situation is to immediately hold elections (elections are currently not planned until 2015).

What does this mean for pcvs?
We are currently in a “stand fast” state which means we are to remain at our sites until further notice. This is a way for peace corps to account for our whereabouts. In the meantime we are also instructed to inventory our belongings in the case of an evacuation.
To be clear, I do not foresee a country wide evacuation in the near future. There are still many steps leading up to this point, including consolidating at a nearby pcvs site with other pcvs in my region. As well, the evacuation, were it to happen, would be to a nearby country.

So as much as I would love to be in that California sunshine, it is not even close to being a possibility for now.
I am in good hands, both in terms of a trusty peace corps staff supporting us, and in terms of the calm quaint village of Zoziv insulating me from the outside world.

Just in case, you can call me directly (and i encourage you to!) on my Ukrainian phone # at: 380-67-458-1518





Cross Cultural Experiences · Peace Corps - Ukraine

EuroMaidan – the Revolution in Ukraine?

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and do not reflect that of Peace Corps or the United States of America.

The travel-ban to Kiev has been lifted! And with that, I would like to release my pictures of life on Maidan Nezhaleznosti (Independence Square):

For an Extremely brief history of the situation: Many citizens of Ukraine were in favor of Ukraine signing an agreement to join the EU. The president of Ukraine, Yanakovich, abruptly in the middle of November 2013 -about  one week before final negotiations – decided to back out of signing the agreement with the EU, in favor of joining some type of trade agreement with Russia.

This catalyzed the events of the “EuroMaidan” movement – where citizens of Ukraine have created a barricade around Independence Square, and there have beenrallies, protests, demonstrations, millions of protesters taking part over the past two months. While it has been mostly peaceful, there have been violent clashes between the police and the protesters.

Read more here:

Here are pictures:


























While it is unclear what will come of this, it is clear that these protesters are here to stay. The barracades are strong, the man-power is unfazed by the winter, and people are passionate about this. It is a nationalistic movement, where a majority of people are expressing frustration with their current government lacking respect for democracy. Political leaders are often viewed as corrupt and self-serving rather than representing the people.

While most people I talk to seem to be unified against the current political party in power, there is absolutely no clear vision or unified opinion of what should happen instead. I am struck by the distrust and pessimism of a future and a government. And these varied opinions are not defined by other factors – for example, not all old people, not all young people, not all people from the East or West hold the same views. There truly is no majority, which in my opinion, makes this protest all the more important for individuals to share their voice.

Only time will tell…

Cross Cultural Experiences · Peace Corps - Ukraine

Christmas Never Ends

I can’t believe that the time came – the time I spent the holidays in a village in Ukraine.

Due to the non-stop whirlwind party that began on December 19 and just recently is beginning to slow down, I have little to comment on, but many pictures to share.

This was back in November when the first snowballs were thrown in our school yard:


This Ukrainian lady on the left tried on my “funny hat”. But look at the Ukrainian lady on the right, and you tell Me who is wearing the funny hat?!


This is St. Andrew’s day (December 13) where children eat huge donuts off a fishing pole while an adult marks their faces with flour. I’m not sure what the religious meaning behind this is…20140103-185523.jpg

I, too, shared my own Christmas experiences by baking dozens of ginger snap cookies and sharing with all my neighbors and other teachers. The main ingredients of molasses, ginger, and cloves are virtually non-existent in Ukraine so they were like nothing anyone ever tasted before! Plus, Grandma Karen’s secret family recipe…20140103-185530.jpg

This says: “Happy Holidays!” ❤ Jacqueline20140103-185537.jpg

The best and saddest part of the holidays were the care packages I received from my wonderful friends and family. Things are wonderful, but still a poor substitute for people.20140103-185549.jpg

Santa Claus comes to Ukraine too!20140103-185556.jpg


As part of the holiday season, I visited my friends’ sites – Daven and Hannah and we did ginger-bread houses, egg drops, new years resolutions, concert performances, caroling, and many other “traditional American things” that I never did before. I finally learned all 9 reindeers names!20140103-185636.jpg






This is me (on the right) with a real Ukrainian babushka escorting me to the train station. This is also proper form for carrying baggage in Ukraine:20140103-185810.jpg


I also helped celebrate Hannah’s birthday – she was born on Christmas day! To be honest, I never want to celebrate another birthday at a Ukrainian table again if it involves home-made wine or home-made vodka or any other alcohol at all.20140103-185824.jpg

When the other Americans came we did Secret Santa and made snickerdoodles!



Hannah was even given a goose by her school!20140103-185853.jpg

The Americans practice our grand-finale dance performance during the instrumental of Rudolf the Rednose Reindeer in front of hundreds of Ukrainians, as part of their annual Christmas Concert (somewhat equivalent to the Nutcracker ballet, except it is song after song of Ukrainian holiday music mixed with the plot of Cinderella (where Hannah starred as the fairy godmother)). See our stellar performance here!





Note the rhinestone stilletos worn by 8th grade Cinderalla, herself, as she sings “I’m a Survivor”






And that’s only the half-of it before we celebrated the REAL Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas on Jan 7th… more on that in an upcoming blog of Kate and my adventures through Ukraine…

Peace Corps - Ukraine · Travels

Vacation, Hoorah! Georgia, Athens, Israel, Oh My…

For the first time since moving to Ukraine, I took a real vacation to another country… where I remembered the value of the American dollar and lived beyond my means of a PCV in a Ukrainian village…

On Dec 26 I arrived in the country of Georgia, where I spent 3 days in the capital city Tbilisi with other PCVs from Georgia and Tommy:20140103-183149.jpg

Even Georgians are for the revolution in Ukraine…20140103-183236.jpg

Street art.


The synagogue.


Castles on a cliff.


Gondola rides across the city.20140103-183337.jpg



The city of Tbilisi


The mother statue overlooking the city of Tbilisi.20140103-183419.jpg

The butt shot.


This was the most delicious and cheapest restaurant in all of Georgia – Go to Georgia, find this place, and order a tray of their Meat Dumpling things (Khinkali)


Mushroom appetizer, with pomegranite seeds20140103-183504.jpg

The meat dumpling things (called Khinkali)… I even tried a bite, and it’s making me question my vegetarianism…20140103-183513.jpg

Other traditional Georgian food includes the Hachipuri – a cheesy bread dish, and more salty bread on the side20140103-183522.jpg

The kitchen where the magic happens…20140103-183531.jpg

Opera house on the main street:20140103-183540.jpg

More of the main street:


Beautifully lit up at night:




Sorry to take so many pictures of food, but it just had to be captured. This is an eggplant dish, with a walnut spread, garnished with parseley and pomegranite.








What’s a capital city without a human-sized chess board and a piano for a giant? Dad, this is the place for you:20140103-183738.jpg



This is a march – maybe in support of Ukraine? Maybe everyone just wanted to walk together?


Georgian wine….




This was our wine-tasting guy.20140103-183903.jpg

Was he also the DJ at the club we went to later? You be the judge.20140103-183910.jpg

More stencil wall art…





In sum, Georgia felt a lot like Ukraine… Here’s a stark contrast between the endless unfinished construction on every street, with a Porsche in the background.


Visiting the old capital city of Georgia, and famous churches/World Heritage Sites:














After our morning of sight-seeing we tried to find a cafe, but were instead ushered into this woman’s basement. When in doubt, just trust the older woman with no teeth yellilng at you in a language you can’t understand and eat whatever she puts in front of you…20140103-184509.jpg


At first, skeptical (pictured here Georgia PCVs Egle and Scott)…20140103-184529.jpg

After noticing the deer with silver ear-warmers on, we knew everthing was going to be ok:


Especially after she showed us her storage of wine and jams (just like Ukraine!)


Sauteed spinach with pomegranite, an eggplant dish, pickled cabbage, and a meat stew, with salty bread on the side:



This is “cha-cha” – moonshine made from fruit. I thought our vodka was strong in Ukraine, but this puts it to shame:



Our official bill:



A sulfur bath-house. After a large woman scrubbed me from head to toe, I feel like my skin is softer than butter. She scrubbed really really hard. Beware.



This is another version of their “Hachipurri” – a bread bowl, with a feta/cottage cheese baked in the center – then with a raw egg cracked on top, and a healthy hunk’o’butter to top it off. DELISH!20140103-185226.jpg



Oh, just hanging out at the airport with my new friends:


Landed in Athens at 7:30am, with a 15 hour layover on our way to Israel – giving just enough time to get lost in this ancient city, climb up and down hills, make new friends, and eat more delicious food.20140103-190548.jpg









Pick a hill, walk in that direction, until you make it to the top:



After walking for hours, I decided to finally stop and have a meal. I asked a woman selling clothes on the street where she would eat lunch, and she pointed me to this restaurant away from the crowds of tourists, with local Greek people eating there. The old man sitting at the table next to me said I can’t order from the menu, I have to go look at the food. That convinced me to get a “half portion” of every vegetarian item listed there – rice with spinach and lemon, garbonzo beans boiled with tomato broth, and eggplant baked with peppers – all accompanied by fresh feta cheese and bread. 20140103-190736.jpg

The old man sitting next to me, Thanassus, who in broken English explained that he is a taxi driver, but today is his day off so he’s taking care of his sick friend who lives above the meat shop down the street (pictured below), offered to show me around Athens on the back of his bike.


How could I say no to a face like this?20140103-190754.jpg

Plus, my legs were exhausted, so up and around endless ruins and through open markets we went for the rest of the day:20140103-190805.jpg






This is Thanassus and his best friend, Kostya, who have been best friends since they were 6. We spent a long time sitting together, discussing caring for birds.


Me and Thanassus!



Don’t worry, not all strangers are bad – I made it unharmed to the airport, and onto the last leg of the vacation: Jerusalem.

The main street, Jaffa:


A bakery – get the cheese puffs she convinced me!20140103-190938.jpg

A hike to the top of Mesada to see the sunrise on Jan 1st. A majestic, amazing, wonderful way to begin the new year:20140103-190954.jpg







Followed by a drive along the coast, to the Dead Sea.20140103-191104.jpg

Followed by eating 3 Falafel Pitas, which Tommy gave me 40 shekles for eating within 30 minutes, as well as paying for the last 2 pitas for me. Sure, I felt like I was going to throw up and don’t need to eat another falafel for the rest of the year, but heck – anything for a sheckel!20140103-191111.jpg




The western wall, with the Dome of the Rock (mosque) in the background.20140103-191140.jpg






The market frenzy before shabbat.20140103-191248.jpg



And then, home sweet home… 20140103-191311.jpg


The vacation was wonderful, I would recommend all the places I went to, all the people I met, all the food I ate.

At the airport I waited a few hours, because the one and only Kathleen “Mad Dog” Cahill arrived on my birthday and spent the next 10 days in Ukraine with me!

Stay tuned…