Know My Velocity

My Peace Corps Experience in Ukraine

  • My name is Casey and I'm going to Ukraine with the Peace Corps to help develop non-governmental organizations. This is my adventure, and I'd like you to know my velocity.
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Last days in Ivanivka, First days in Zhytomyr.

Posted by defyphysics on June 21, 2011

Friday June 10th

Well, I haven’t had the time to write the last 10 days..  I’ve basically been doing something from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed every day.  I can tell you though, it’s been awesome.  I will try and sum up some of the best of times I’ve had the last week and a half the best I can.

One day last week, after a long day of lessons and feeling a bit homesick the night before, X, Amanda and I went out to this stream that goes by the village and out into a meadow.  I had also been roasting in my room because I thought none of the windows opened (more about that later), and was basically living in a greenhouse sweating day and night.  We threw down a blanket by the river, turned up the ipod and listened to some music, studied a bit and just relaxed in the sun.  There were several horses that just walked by, a herd of cows passed us and some locals walked by.  It was very surreal.  It felt like a movie (there are many times in Peace Corps Ukraine where this has happened).  It was exactly what I needed to keep me going.  It was also finally a bit cooler out too.

Christina and I have also been playing a lot of soccer (football) every night with the kids around the village.  Dima wanted to go one day, so he went and he was a riot.  He’s pretty decent even though he says he can’t play, but he’s also a comedian and keeps the game from getting too serious.  That night I told Dima my room was really hot and asked if the windows opened.  He said no, but then thought about it and said maybe.  He looked at the inner window panes and realized they were taped and stapled on   He ripped out a pane, set it on the other side of my room, and we opened the outside pane.  My overheating problem had been cured (although its still a bit hot at night, its tolerable).  The next day we played soccer again with Dima.  That was my last night with Dima, since he left for Belarus the next day.  It was sad to see him go.  As a parting gift I gave him my ipod shuffle, since I’ve used it about twice since I got it two years ago.  He loaded all his music onto it and I saw it get used more in one night than I’ve ever used it.

Also, some day last week we finally walked all the way to “the river” which is a watering hole about 5 kilometers out of town in the middle of nowhere.  I went three more times this week with different clustermates,.  There were people camping there, and I think I could have lived there all summer myself.  It was surrounded by beautiful meadows, and the walk out there is absolutely stunning.  The world gets a lot bigger when you walk out into the middle of a vast meadow.

I’ve also been helping out in the field a little bit here and there.  I have no clue what I’m doing, and usually my host mom or the people that come over to help have to explain what I’m supposed to be doing a few times, but it is actually very relaxing work, even though its hard work.  You hear nothing but the wind, the people working next to you, and the sounds of the village.  It’s amazing how much there is in the little field behind our little house. We have a ton of potatoes, grapes, apricots, tangerines, watermelon, tomatoes, melons, beets, radishes, onions, what I think are zucchinis and spices.

Today we went to the bazaar, and the girls in the cluster bought some stuff.  We had Kvac (which is something between a non-alcoholic beer and a root beer).  I also got my haircut, which was much needed.  Speaking of which, it is something I have been dreading doing since I got here.  How can you explain a haircut to someone in another language you barely know the basics in?  Well, it turned out great even though all I could say was “shorter please” in Ukrainian.  She did a great job cutting it “shorter” though.

After that we met up with our link cluster (the cluster we do some trainings with and the only other Community Development volunteers speaking Ukrainian instead of Russian).  We went down to another beach off of a lake in Chernihiv.  We lounged around, ate some snacks and got sun burnt.  We were supposed to come back for a wrap up class in Ivanivka, so we packed up and went to the same Marshrooka we got off of, thinking it would take us to the city center.  Instead, it ended up going all over Chernihiv for over an hour.  When we finally got to somewhere familiar we just got off and walked the rest of the way to our stop that goes to Ivanivka, way later than we were supposed to be.  So now we have one last class tomorrow for a bit, and then a picnic with all our cluster’s host families over by the swimming hole.

It kind of sucks that Ivanivka now feels like home and we have to pick up and leave and start growing our roots somewhere else yet again.  However, it will be nice to have my own place, cook my own meals, and be more in control of my own daily life.  I’m also anxious to see more of Ukraine, and see the differences between the small sections I’ve integrated into.  So far though, Ukraine has not been anything that I expected.  It is a place of many paradoxes, a place stuck between old and new, and a place that has luckily been very receptive, hospitable and diverse.

Friday June 17th

What a whirlwind the last few days have been.  On Monday Peace Corps sent us a bus to pick us and all our luggage up from Ivanivka.  We bid farewell to our host families, and went to Kiev, still not knowing where we would live for the next few years.  Once we got to Kiev, we all put our bags into the dorms and greeted everyone we hadn’t seen since starting our adventure in DC and the arrival retreat in Chernihiv three months ago.  Then, it was time to unveil where we would be going (FINALLY!).  We all gathered into the main conference hall, and they talked for about 30 minutes, with not one volunteer listening to what they had to say.  We were all dreaming of the many possible places we could end up.  Would we be in a city or a village?  Would we like our counterpart?  Would they speak the language we’re learning there?  Would we be close to our friends in the Peace Corps?

Finally, they announced what regions everyone would be going.  Each region is three oblasts (Ukrainian states), of which each is probably the size of Connecticut.  I ended up in a region in the “mid west” of Ukraine.  We all still had no idea where exactly these places were, what city or village we would live in or what we would be doing there.  We split up into our regions with our regional managers after that, and we were finally handed our assignment, which told us what oblast, what city/village, and what organization/school we would be working with for the next two years.  I ended up in a medium sized city of 270,000 people called Zhytomyr (Житомир).  I also found out I would be working with an organization called Modern Format, which is a youth organization.  I read the description over and over, excited about what it said and what they wanted me to help them with.  We still did not know who our counterparts would be, and had little information on our cities and villages.  We asked questions but our regional managers had a lot of information to disseminate in little time to everyone going to our region.  We had to wait another day for more information and meeting our counterparts.  We all headed back to our dorms and hung out with everyone we’ve become so close with over the last three months.  We all knew bittersweet goodbyes were coming on the near future.

The next day we went to the main hall where they talked to us for a while, and again nobody was listening because we knew our counterparts were arriving and we would be meeting them very soon.  The time finally came, and all the counterparts were in the main conference hall, and we had to hunt them out.  This is where I met the amazing Zhanna (Жанна).  We made an almost instant connection, and I can already tell it will be great working with her for the next two years.  The next two days were filled with more meetings, trainings, seminars, hanging with old friends and me and Zhanna trying to figuring out how I could fit into their small organization.

Yesterday we had our swearing in ceremony where we become official volunteers.   It was all pomp and circumstance in a hot, but very cool looking building where the first Ukrainian Parliament met called Teachers House.  There were many speeches, and a reception at the end.  Everyone’s departure was staggered, but I was one of the first to go.  We headed off in an SUV that dropped me and another volunteer off where Marshrookas and busses go from Kiev to Zhytomyr.  Zhanna and I got on the bus to Zhytomyr for our hour and a half trip and learned more about each other and her organization.  When we got to the bus stop, most of the people from the office I’ll be working at were there.  They gave me and all my luggage a ride to my new place.

I’ll be living in the 5th floor of a two bedroom apartment.  It’s old, but has a lot of charm to it.  Once we got me and all my stuff into the apartment, Sasha went to pick up some pizzas and my Zhanna and the rest of us went over to the store and bought some food to last me a few days.  We sat around and talked for a while and ate Pizza.  Zhanna speaks very good English, and throughout the night I found that the rest of them spoke fairly decent English as well.  Better than my Ukrainian!

I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me the next two years.  I can tell I’m surrounded by great people and my Zhytomyr seems like a great place to call home.  Here’s to my new home, my new friends, and the great adventure that Peace Corps is.


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