Category Archives: Kyiv

Book Review: Diane Chandler, “The Road to Donetsk”

I was recently contacted by Blackbird Digital Books to read and review a new digitally published novel, Diane Chandler’s The Road to Donetsk. I received a free digital copy of the book and no other compensation. All thoughts and opinions below are my own.

Photo from Google Images

In May 1994, fresh-faced 26-year-old Vanessa arrives in newly independent Ukraine from Manchester, England for her first international aid stint. From Kyiv (Chandler spells it Kiev, the Russian transliteration) Vanessa will oversee the implementation of a £3 billion program to help set up job centers and training to battle rising unemployment after the fall of the Soviet Union.

One of the first non-Ukrainians that Vanessa meets in Kyiv is Dan, an American working for USAID in Ukraine. Before Vanessa is properly introduced, we find ourselves in a propellor plane with her and Dan, on a last-minute trip to Donetsk for a coal mine tour. (Donetsk and its people, we quickly sense, will become a central part of the novel’s narrative.) Vanessa is immediately attracted to Dan’s relaxed American charm, and it does not take long before a romance develops. However, for the first third of the book the romance feels forced and awkwardly dropped into the otherwise fascinating and insightful commentary on Ukraine in its early days of independence.

Chandler vividly and accurately depicts Ukraine in its many guises: simple, sparkling yet laborious village life alongside grim and grimy underpaid miners; expat communities in Kyiv; vast steppe and birch forests; crumbling balconies and garish curtains; complex people who are hard to get to know. Chandler knows her stuff, having managed aid programs in Ukraine around the time she sets the novel. Vanessa’s story at times reads like Chandler’s memoir, so accurately and sensitively does the author portray Ukraine.

Vanessa begins her time in Ukraine as a stereotypical self-professed altruist; she feels a need to “help improve” the lives of the Ukrainians and yet shies away from learning from the people, about the people. Dan emerges as her mentor as well as her lover, feeding her astute commentary such as:

…it’s the way it is here. They expect you to come up with the answers. They always come prepared with their set piece, they toss a problem in the air and then they sit back wanting you to fix it for them. [..] Look, in the Soviet Union, you didn’t speak out, you didn’t offer solutions… (69)

Myriad cultural differences lie under the surface, differences so ingrained into each culture that Vanessa needs all the help she can get to begin to understand them. A surly Ukrainian colleague on the aid program staff helps dispel Vanessa’s naivety:

But do you really expect that we should welcome you here as missionaries? To show us the right ways? If so then you are misled. Because we are more clever than you. Have you any idea of the intelligence we needed simply to survive under communist regime? (355)

This could not be a more timely book, highlighting Ukraine’s precarious position between Russia and Western Europe that has been the case for much of history. This position is particularly relevant since the Euromaidan demonstrations starting in 2013 that have led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and part of eastern Ukraine. In the context of the novel, a Ukrainian tells Vanessa at one point that Ukraine stands “at the crossroads between East and West, we are the prize which you and Russia fight over. It is like a tug of war” (354). How times have not changed.

As Vanessa struggles with her position as a western aid facilitator in a complicated country, her romance with Dan also develops its own complexities. The novel’s romantic elements start to feel less forced as Vanessa’s attraction to Dan develops a balance between Dan as a more experienced mentor in the aid world and Vanessa’s fresh, somewhat naive take on it. Recalling that this story is told as an older Vanessa’s memories, we start to sense that something may happen to doom the relationship. Will Ukraine get in the way?

Overall, Chandler’s novel is insightful and enjoyable to read. There are some inconsistencies, such as when Ukraine’s Independence Day is stated as August 25th (it is actually the 24th). I  also found some of the British slang stilted: Vanessa sits “keening silently”; why not just “weeping”? Despite these rough patches, The Road to Donetsk improves greatly after the first third and illuminates important and timely aspects of the aid world.

My reading experience was further enhanced by having lived in Ukraine for over two years as a US Peace Corps Volunteer. I often identified with Vanessa’s feelings and observations about the Ukrainian people and their lives. For example, I never did discover the answer to this conundrum:

…the young for the most part attractive and svelte, while the older peasant women had become almost tubular with age, their skin gnarled. At what point did this transformation happen? I wondered… (150)

Discussion of how Vanessa’s aid program impacts the country and people at the grassroots level also struck a chord with me, as this is what the Peace Corps aims to do in sending out volunteers to communities around a country. Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) strive to “walk alongside” the people to foster cross-cultural connections and transfer skills. I remember having similar feelings to Vanessa upon reading this passage near the end of the novel:

That we expect a programme to bring about a lasting and yet so radical change in three short years is unfathomable for me – although I did genuinely expect this back then. […] All those people who came into contact with our programme took with them skills and experience into the local economy, into their future… (383)

Many PCVs begin their service with expectations like Vanessa’s; however, we soon learn that despite all the grants we write and trainings we lead, implementing something sustainable in a country with such a different history, culture, and mindset can be nearly impossible. But the people who do come into contact with a PCV or other aid program take away skills and experience, along with memories, into their futures. The exchange is mutual and it changes us for the better.


The Road to Donetsk has been named a Finalist for this year’s People’s Book Prize. You can purchase Diane Chandler’s novel from Amazon UK and Waterstones. Many thanks to Blackbird Digital Books for the opportunity to read and review this fascinating novel.


Ukrainian Perspectives on Ukraine

Rather than posting another set of articles about the ongoing situation in Ukraine (get caught up here and here; read some of my fellow Ukraine RPCV’s thoughts here and here), I thought it would be interesting to get some perspective from Ukrainians whom I worked with during my time in the Peace Corps: former pupils, colleagues, English-clubbers, and friends. Many are in Sniatyn and the southwest, far from the main protests, but some are in Kyiv, closer to the action. Here is what they say, in chronological order (I have made some small edits for clarity):

My pupil O.V., who is at university in Poland, wrote on 1 December [right at the beginning of the protests]: “I think that is awful, the situation in Ukraine is not so good. Many people go to the Independent square and try to protect our country. Our president don’t want to go to the EU. In my opinion it’ll be better for Ukraine to sign the agreement with the EU. Polish people support us, they dissagree with Yanukovych. I suppose that the situation will be better.”

Another pupil, I.L., who has finished school, wrote on 4 December: “I think it is good and bad, like 2 in 1. Because we have police Berkut who beates people [a lot]. I heard about it []. I disapointed so much. It is not good for us! One young girl has died. It is so sad 😦
But I think Ukraine will be in EU!”

My friend and pupil, K.K., now an 11th-former, wrote on 4 February: “Actually, the situation in Ukraine is quite tragic. I don’t know if you’ve heard but lots of people faced the violence of the police and are injured, tortured and some of them are even dead because of this. Definitely, it’s all the authority’s fault. People in Sniatyn are worried very much, of course.”

An English-clubber, D.R., from Sniatyn but now working in Kherson (on the NW coast of the Black Sea), wrote on 7 February“Concerning the situation in the country – it is very stressful. The views about federalization of the country became very common in all regions… Three weeks ago it was still a peaceful protest. But then it grew into the violent confrontation (which is currently stalled). In most, people on the east and south think that all protest actions are finance[ed] by the U.S. The media say differently, so people have different views. The truth is that [the] government actions [are] causing this conflict… Maybe it does not sound good, but euromaidan is the confrontation between the educated independent part of society and [the] part, for which there would be a better life in the Soviet Union… The only thing that unites people, is the wish about peaceful quick ending..”

An English-clubber, Y.S., now at university in Kyiv, wrote on 5 March:

I am okay after that extremely dangerous events on Maidan,though I know a couple of guys who were brave and a litle bit mad and they have been wounded(for example,a grenade [burst] near the shoulder).Of course,they have fought on the [front] barricades…
I should say that last 3 months were completely special for me as well as for the Ukrainian people.Firstly I came there on…22 [] December and had been staying till January.At that time it was my everyday life. Then on the second day of Euromaidan nobody would have thought about SUCH consequences…As you know,peaceful demonstations have [evolved] a lot during all this time.Frankly speaking,my friend and I could easily [have been] present at Maidan on the night of 30 December(when the students were beaten by Berkut).Fortunately,we took the taxi at 2 a.m. and went home…they were pursuing the students on that night to beat [them] more and more…
Now Kyiv is [safe].People at Maidan are grieved,but they feel great support from all Kyiv. Grief unites people.It is extremely valuable experience for our nation which didn’t want to stand bandit regime anymore. But we have a problem with Eastern and Southern regions. Well,Putin consolidated the Ukrainians as well as Yanukovich did(all the people are against war),but still there are those who want[] to separate. You know,Russian TV has terrible influence on Crimean people…

A friend (and fellow runner) R.T., who lives and works in Kyiv, wrote on 6 March:

It is important to know people understand what is really going on in Ukraine.

These days in Kiev it is pretty calm. It used to be quite difficult during last 3 months and especially during the days when they killed people.

I was on Maydan during protests bringing food. When they were shooting people I helped with medicines in hospital.

Now Ukraine is bleeding but Russia invaded Ukraine with plans to seize Crimea peninsula[]…my nationality is Russian I was born there and spent my childhood, but I love Ukraine, Ukrainian language and people here. When I talk to my relatives from Russia I can’t believe they tell bad things about Ukrainian revolution and Maydan. For some reason Russian TV channels deliver false information about what is going on in Ukraine. Sad to know that, I am ashamed for my motherland.

The revolution has finally happened. We have won. 94 people were killed during protests and clashes with “police”. Too big price…can you imagine people were killed in the very center on Maydan. Minister of internal affairs (chief guy of police) says there was another power who killed people. Investigation is still in progress but they are going to publish results. We will see.

My friend N.K., who owns a shop but travels regularly to Odessa for business, wrote on 7 March: “…from last week [to] today all of us [talk] about war only.It’s very hard.I am afraid to go to Odessa.[Those] people don’t understand why the western part of Ukraine [want] to Europe.”

My pupil, V.R., now at university in Kyiv, wrote on 9 March: “In our University and campus everything was ok, Some of my groupmate’s went to the maidan a few times during the demonstrations, but they wasn’t there when the main attacks was. Atmosphere was hard in some areas was dangerous to go out. Also shops became empty very fast, because roads to Kyiv were closed. Many of Our students decided to start patroling our Campus to protect those who stayed here. But everything was quiet here. I don’t even worried about my safety because I knew that we will protect each other. Only yesterday I have been on the Maidan and Institutska street. My mother and I tried to find the place where our family friend died. It was terrible to see all this people, all this flowers, I felt myself guilty because I haven’t been there, but from the other hand my parents couldn’t live if something happened with me there. Now we have a new problem it’s the Crimea and I hope that Europe and The US wouldn’t let Russia to get it. As one of my teacher’s said at this moment we can do only one thing studying. It will help us to overcome this threat with over intelligence, so that’s what”

It’s amazing to read these different perspectives, from young people studying at school and university to those in the workforce, in Sniatyn, Kyiv, and elsewhere. I hope, along with them, that things are resolved soon.

Ukraine: When Violence Visits Your Own Home

Sasha, who was a PCV in Ukraine at the same time I was, shares her powerful thoughts and feelings on the current situation in Ukraine. Please read her entire post. Here’s an excerpt to get you going:

Please pray for Ukraine. Please write your congressmen and women. Please just educate yourself and see what the New York Times, or CNN, or the BBC is saying about what is going on. Read the articles on KyivPost, the English language news source in Ukraine (whose site is sometimes taken down by the government, although it still manages to keep reappearing). Scroll through these pictures of what Kyiv looks like today. Read my own blog posts about the beautiful country that is Ukraine. Please ask me questions. I’m happy to share with you what I love, and what I know, about Ukraine.


P1020356 Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the central square in Kyiv where opposition protesters have been camped out since November 2013.

When you read novels about destruction, revolution, or dystopian realities, if well written they cause you to feel real fear. The terror seems alive because, in your mind’s eye, you can imagine what that destruction and turmoil would look like in your own home, your own country. Classics like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, popular literature like The Hunger Games trilogy, and films like V for Vendetta have all created revolutions, post apocalyptic realities, and extreme violence in the imagined worlds I’ve inhabited while immersed in the stories.

But in the last few weeks, I’ve no longer had to imagine this horror. It’s happening, if not immediately around me, then around the places in which I recently lived, and the people I love more than I can express. My country, the place I lovingly…

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Unrest Continues in Ukraine

At the end of November, Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych backed out of signing an Association Agreement with the EU. Pro-EU protestors took to the streets in Kyiv and around the country. (Read my post about the early days of protest here.) Two months later, protests are still going on and have become increasingly violent, especially in the wake of Yanukovych signing in laws that “severely curtail media rights and regulations on public gatherings,” which Sweden’s foreign minister called “the most solid package of repressive laws that I have seen enacted by a European parliament for decades.” This article has a clear explanation of the legislation, and this poster has begun circulating on the Internet:

New articles, essays, and editorials are appearing every day as the world keeps a close eye on the rising tensions in Ukraine. Ukrainians are taking to the streets and occupying government buildings in other — mostly western Ukrainian — cities (including Chernivtsi and Ivano-Frankivs’k, the two cities between which I lived during my time in the Peace Corps). Last week, two people were killed during protests in Kyiv. Here are a few particularly good write-ups on the current situation:

At this stage, however, the United States and Europe need to do more than hand out treats. They must make clear their opposition to violence, as the State Department did on Wednesday when it urged everyone to calm down, faulted the government for not engaging in serious dialogue and for approving anti-democratic laws, and criticized the extreme-right group Pravy Sektor for aggression.

Now that blood has been shed, there is a real risk that the clashes could spread beyond central Kiev, rendering a peaceful solution less viable. But the West must also make abundantly clear to Mr. Yanukovich and his lieutenants that they will pay a price if they try to use the talks simply to gain time, or if they order a bloody crackdown.

If you want to read beyond what’s above, I’ve posted lots of good articles and editorials on my Google+ page. Please keep Ukraine and her people in your thoughts.

Unrest in Ukraine

The protests started when Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s president, announced at the last minute that he wouldn’t sign an association agreement with the EU. There had been build-up to the Vilnius summit for months, and things looked positive for Ukraine’s signing the agreement, which would have granted Ukraine free trade with the EU and done other good political things — until Yanukovych abruptly backpedaled. He claimed that pressure from Russia (i.e., Putin) was too strong and he was afraid that signing the agreement would piss Putin off. Yet as I see it, Ukraine would benefit much more from free trade with the EU, and from the agreement’s implication of moving Ukraine closer toward integration with western Europe.

Apparently many Ukrainians shared my thoughts, because they took to the streets in Kyiv and around the country to protest Yanukovych’s backing down from signing the agreement. At the end of last week, the peaceful protests turned violent when riot police showed up in the middle of the night and started beating protestors. That only made people come out in greater numbers. More than ten days later, the protests are still going on; hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are out in the streets. Protests are still going on in Ukraine and elsewhere — even London.

Media is playing a big role in aiding the protests; tons of stuff is being blasted out via Facebook and online news platforms. The main marker being used for the protest movement is Євромайдан (“Euromaidan”), to represent people gathering in “maidans,” or squares — most largely in Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) — to protest in favor of moving closer to Europe.

It’s thrilling to watch the Ukrainian people fight so hard for democracy and freedom that being associated more closely with the EU would represent. Part of me wishes I were there to join in — living and working in western Ukraine for two years during my Peace Corps service definitely turned me into a big supporter of the country and its people. Sniatyn even had their own pro-EU gathering a couple of days ago, which I would’ve loved to attend. I am rooting so hard for the Ukrainians, following the news closely, and hoping that things turn out well.

That’s a very basic summary, but there is a lot of history behind the current movement — most notably the 2004 Orange Revolution, but also going further back to Soviet and pre-Soviet times. If you want to read more about what’s been going on and why, check out some of the articles below; I’ve tried to pull out the most interesting bits, but many of them are worth reading in full.

  • For some backgroundThe New York Times ran a clear, succinct opinion piece near the beginning of the protests, called “Ukraine on the Brink.” I recommend reading that first to understand where all of this comes from in Ukraine’s history. Business Insider‘s “Why 1 Million Ukrainians are Protesting” also gives a relatively non-biased overview, complete with media, of the protests and the history behind them. Forbes published another great overview, “Why Ukraine Matters” (for a lot of reasons!), in neat sections.
  • “Ukraine’s Battle for Europe” focuses on the younger generation of Ukrainians leading the protests and how mass media has aided the movement. The writer of the piece, Oleh Kotsyuba, puts it well:

The protesters have at times called for resignations, impeachments and new elections. But what’s most striking is their association of Europe with a set of values that results in absence of corruption, a strong social safety net, an inclusive health-care system, fair wages, a stable currency and a responsible government that delivers reliable services and treats citizens with respect. For them, these were even more valuable than the tangible benefits of joining the E.U., like the right to work in other European countries and the prospect of big European investments in Ukraine.

What the European Union and other Western nations can do is to start looking into ways to make an “association agreement” with Ukraine less threatening to Russia. It’s worth exploring, for instance, whether Russia itself could be brought more closely into the European fold. Another possibility is to see how freer trade with Europe could be made compatible with Ukraine’s eastern trade ties. Once Ukraine is ready to start looking around, it should not again have to face a brutal either-or choice that Mr. Putin seems determined to impose.

Six months ago, a dozen Ukrainians would have been unlikely to rally for the pro-EU agreement. What changed? Certainly, Friday’s crackdown provided a spark.

For that, Yanukovich may have no one to blame but himself. The president’s own propaganda machine spent months touting the benefits of the EU agreement, raising the hopes of millions of Ukrainians who want to see their country as part of a European, not Russian, frontier. Whether Yanukovich intended to sign the accords or was negotiating with Putin all along is irrelevant now. Dashing the hopes of millions of people is a dangerous game.

[…] When fear of a strongman begins to melt, so does his power. Seeing hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets of Kiev may have emboldened members of the country’s elite to begin to move against the president. Ukraine’s rapacious [oligarchs] may—for the first time—have found common ground with their increasingly impoverished compatriots in getting rid of a tyrant.

  • Here’s an interesting angle: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s Kyiv Patriarchate, traditionally tied quite closely to the government, is actually supporting the pro-EU protestors. Read about it in “Kiev Protestors See Potent Ally Under a Spire.”
  • Masha Gessen, one of my favorite opinion writers for The New York Times who also happens to be Russian, wrote “A Whiter Shade of Envy” about how the Russian intelligentsia are amazed at — and admire — what the Ukrainians are doing and (hopefully) accomplishing. Gessen’s essays are always worth reading.
  • In “Amid Unrest, Ukrainian President Defends Choice on Accords,” you can read about the lame excuses (lies?) that Yanukovych made up about why he didn’t sign the EU association agreement.
  • “Crackdown in Kiev: Battle for Ukraine” in The Economist focuses on the violence that broke out last weekend, initiated by special riot police at the cowardly hours of early morning.
  • For fear of seeming totally biased in favor of Ukraine (which I am, but still), there was an op-ed published this week in the New York Times taking a more pro-Russia — or at least anti-EU — stance in terms of Ukraine’s position. The author or “How the E.U. Pushed Ukraine East” does make some interesting points about how Russia isn’t totally to blame in Yanukovych’s failure to sign the EU association agreement. Worth a read, if you’re interested in another perspective. Though I don’t agree with all of it, I do see the value of the claim that “Instead of adopting a strategy that would have allowed Ukraine to capitalize on its close cultural, religious and economic ties with Russia, and which could have also served to build deeper ties between Western Europe and Russia, from the outset European negotiators went out of their way to turn Union association into a loyalty test.” 

Things are happening fast and there are tons of news updates every day — way too many for me to follow them all, but I’m trying to stay as up-to-date as I can. Hopefully my overview will give you a better sense of what’s happening and spark your interest to pay more attention to Ukraine, now and in the future.

Kyiv, Ukraine

Here’s my newest piece for Two Hundred Word Travel on my favorite day in Kyiv.

Two Hundred Word Travel

Climb out of the Universytet Metro stop, gazing at the architecture while you ride endless escalators. When you get out of the building, turn right and enter the small Botanical Garden; stroll down the hill and back up again among the greenery. Back at the top of the hill, you should be on Taras Shevchenko Boulevard, almost directly opposite St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral, which you’ll recognize by its yellow color and starry domes. Go inside for a moment of quiet.

From the cathedral, turn left and walk downhill; you’ll eventually run into Bessarabs’ka Ploshcha with the redbrick building towering over the big intersection of Kyiv’s main streets. Cross the street via the underground mall and pop out next to the building; walk around the left side of it to find the entrance to the Bessarabs’kyy Rynok, one of Kyiv’s hidden treasures. Inside, gather picnic fare from…

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Peace Corps/Ukraine in status updates

One of my fellow Ukraine (now R)PCVs just posted a great piece on her great blog, borscht and babushkas. The post, “#pcukraine,” is a series of Facebook status updates from PCVs in Ukraine about the ridiculous/funny/amazing/weird experiences they have. Go read Kristen’s post, because the statuses there are extremely clever/witty/absurd.

I liked this idea but, rather than re-blogging others’ experiences, wanted to share some statuses of my own. I’m not a huge Facebook-poster to begin with, so my updates are not as detailed or witty as those in Kristen’s post, but they do show how little things make life good and I hope they give you a slightly different picture of my time in Ukraine than my blog posts. I may have finished my Peace Corps service 9 months ago — time flies — but it is still very much part of me and I think about it a lot. So while this post may seem “late,” it’s really interesting for me to look at after having been an RPCV for a while. Hope you enjoy it, too; this is a sampling of the best and most insightful statuses.

  • 2 Oct 2010: has survived Week 2 of PST. Teaching for the first time next week!
  • 10 Dec 2010: is sitting in her NEW apartment in her NEW town drinking a Starbucks Via & eating oatmeal while enjoying her counterparts WiFi. Life is good.
  • 15 Dec 2010: stove-top bread pudding = success!
    • Note: This is significant because I didn’t have a working oven in my apartment.
  • 5 Jan 2011: braved the pre-Christmas crowds at the bazaar and is now braving the 3*F temperature for a run.
  • 11 Jan 2011: survived her first day of teaching. 2nd Form: cutest kids EVER. 3rd Form: cute too, but ask a lot of questions in Ukrainian that I don’t always understand. 5th Form: nice class. 6th Form: smart, fun group. 11th Form: fun b/c they know enough English to have discussions.
  • 18 Jan 2011: felt like a mother hen this morning while leading the 2nd form up two flights of stairs to her classroom… “Come along, little chickies!”
  • 1 Feb 2011: talked about Romanticism in art with her 11th Form; sang “My Favorite Things” to her 3rd Form; got 3 boxes (spices, COFFEE, etc.); met nice women while running at the stadium who invited me in for tea & to return whenever I want.
  • 4 Mar 2011: It’s official…Women’s Day in Ukraine is AWESOME.
    • Need some details on Women’s Day? Read this.
  • 17 Mar 2011: “Mrs. Wilkins ironed her dog yesterday.” -written by one of my counterpart’s 4th-formers (one sentence was supposed to be “walk the dog” and the next “iron her clothes”).
  • 10 Apr 2011: made her first Ukrainian borshch today — success!
  • 4 May 2011: loves apple discounts from her favorite bazaar apple man, milk discounts from her favorite babusya, and free baby greens from one of her adult English club-goers.
  • 9 May 2011: tried to write a letter in cursive, but her brain/hand kept trying to form Ukrainian cursive letters instead of English ones!
  • 12 May 2011: Today was a good day. New running shoes & summer dresses arrived from home, & spent a wonderful time at the music school playing the clarinet & listening to live classical music for the first time in almost a year.
  • 17 May 2011: found a thermos in her apartment so now she can make French press coffee, drink some before she runs and keep the rest hot for after the run.
  • 18 May 2011: had an awesome time spontaneously playing an hour and a half of basketball w/ three 25-y/o guys from her English club.
  • 30 Aug 2011: just got foto-sessiaed up the wazoo in 100-year-old Ukrainian traditional dress…pics coming soon.
  • 22 Sep 2011: a good day: received some Italian coffee (not instant!) from Ukrainian friends, my counterpart is finally home with her beautiful baby, I got three letters, & I might be inheriting my landlady’s old washing machine!
  • 2 Oct 2011: CP’s baby’s baptism –> 8 hours of eating and drinking and dancing (and still going strong when I left)…welcome to Ukraine!
  • 4 Oct 2011: I now have a working washing machine in my apartment! Peace out, hand-washing (unless the machine breaks).
    • Note: the machine lasted until my very last week at site, when it decided to start making loud clunking noises; I hand-washed my last few loads of laundry.
  • 13 Oct 2011: A supermarket just opened in my town!
  • 21 Oct 2011: Three girls showed up to my sport club in 43F & rain. Here’s to triumphing over Ukrainian beliefs/superstitions of getting sick from rain & cold, one girl at a time!
  • 9 Nov 2011: found out today that I’ll be teaching English to my town’s police in preparation for Euro2012…starting tomorrow.
  • 17 Nov 2011: Today I bought sweet Ukrainian boots & навчилася вишивати!
  • 29 Nov 2011: HIV/AIDS-themed English club was a relative success…except one girl started crying. I’m hoping it was just because the activity was powerful and not because of some deeper reason.
  • 6 Dec 2011: winter, John Legend, Woody Allen, Jay-Z & Alicia Keys, Dave Brubeck, snowflakes. Just a normal day in English club.
  • 14 Dec 2011: Iryna gave me some cheese that her daughter sent from Germany. I ate a cube and it was like heaven in my mouth.
  • 30 Dec 2011: fully embraced Ukrainian circle dancing tonight & it made for an enjoyable time.
  • 5 Jan 2012: I love walking/wandering around Kyiv. Found a sweet supermarket and saw a totally new area of the city on the way to getting my teeth salt-blasted at the dentist.
  • 8 Jan 2012: L’viv: pampushky (edible and live), lots of walking, The Nutcracker for 30 UAH, kolyadky, mulled wine, chocolate/marzipan, vysokyy zamok, pretty churches, great company…AND homemade (Ukrainian-made!) PEANUT BUTTER at the Christmas market…hard to beat this life.
  • 21 Jan 2012: Нарешті, доїхала додому. Home sweet Sniatyn.
  • 29 Jan 2012: I may or may not have just sung & danced around my apartment after being told there’s no school tomorrow due to the cold…
  • 5 Mar 2012: Today the boys were pulled out of my 5th-form lesson so the girls proceeded to interview me about my life and family. Best two questions: “Ms. Tammela, do you have a man?” & “Do you have a baby?”
  • 13 Mar 2012: Amazing cultural exchange moment of the day (@ older pupils’ English club): telling/answering questions about the Peace Corps and being told many new things about Taras Shevchenko. PC Goals 2 & 3? CHECK.
  • 18 Apr 2012: Time for a(n anti-) plagiarism workshop with my 10th form…
  • 29 Apr 2012: In Ukraine the tar melts in the sun.
  • 10 May 2012: My 44-year-old school director died early this morning of a heart attack… A big loss to my school and the Sniatyn community.
  • 15 May 2012: had a wonderful spontaneous evening helping Iryna in her field…and scored some fresh eggs, mint, and rhubarb on the way home.
  • 21 May 2012: Spent a lovely day in Kolychivka, introducing my American parents to my Ukrainian ones and eating delicious, super-fresh homemade pork sausage. (Fresh as in the pig was alive two days ago…)
  • 29 Jun 2012: Today I climbed Mt. Hoverla (2061m) in near-perfect conditions and watched my counterpart’s cousin propose to his girlfriend at the top (she said yes, for the record). All in all, not a bad day.
  • 2 Aug 2012: I am so happy and grateful that, even though my school’s Director (who was most of the muscle behind my grant implementation) died in May, the town administration has upheld their end of the deal and provided the (now-multimedia) English classroom with new desks, chairs, and chalkboard.
  • 21 Sep 2012: Two years ago today I arrived in Ukraine. Seven weeks from today I leave.
  • 10 Oct 2012: After two years in Ukraine I finally see leeks being sold. I show them to Iryna at English club and tell her how excited I am to have found them. She says, “I have those in my garden and in my field!” Ukrained? But in the most wonderful way.
  • 31 Oct 2012: My 8A girls asked me today if they could have English club today at 4pm (they haven’t come all semester) — I said okay, and they surprised me with cookies and a lovely hour of round-table chatting about Halloween and the advantages of speaking UkrEnglish. Adults & older pupils followed that with a great last English club and such generous, heartfelt comments and gifts. Then I was informed that my 11A class will be trick-or-treating at my flat tonight…
  • 4 Nov 2012: Last night in my диван-bed…
  • 4 Nov 2012: Last run in Sniatyn…then packing, cleaning, and final goodbyes. I shall miss this little town and its inhabitants. On the train to Kyiv — one-way — tonight with K for our last few days in Ukraine.
  • 7 Nov 2012: Advanced-Mid Ukrainian YES.
  • 8 Nov 2012: Today I rang the COS bell — yes, there’s now a bell — and became an RPCV (though I haven’t “returned” quite yet). Thanks for an amazing two years, Ukraine.


News Roundup: Running, the Arts, (Sex) Education, & Comic Relief

I can hardly believe it’s been more than two months since my last news roundup. High time for an update. This roundup includes a variety of articles and blurbs that caught my eye over the past couple of months. Topics range from running to language/linguistics to sex education to gun control, obesity, and more. As always, I’ve categorized the articles as best as possible so you can troll for what interests you the most. Click the links to read the full articles, and feel free to leave a comment or email me ( with your thoughts on any of these.


  • I love running and do it willingly, but some days this is the only thing that gets me through: Runner’s World Motivational Poster #45.
  • Most runners, especially anyone who has ever run track, will appreciate this.
  • My Oberlin track coach preached (and still preaches) “PMA” to all his athletes. What’s PMA, you ask? That would be Positive Mental Attitude. In a nutshell, believe in yourself / be optimistic and good things will happen. I was skeptical for a time, but then started to mentally prepare myself for long marathon training runs by positive self-talking, telling myself the run would be fine, go well, I’d be strong and feel good. Guess what? It works! This Runner’s World article, “Train Your Brain to Run Your Best,” proves the point further and is worth a read for any athlete.

Language & Literature, Art & Music

    • Confession: I love opera. Okay, that’s not really a confession because I am not ashamed of it. True, my appreciation for opera didn’t come until college, but while at Oberlin I was able to see some amazing singers perform in a wide variety of operas and opera scenes. Oh, and I took a musicology class on Mozart’s last five operas. Yes, it was awesome. Anyway, if you are an opera lover or are just wondering what the heck all the fuss is about, check out this fun BuzzFeed article, “What Happened to Opera?” It’s fun and you can watch some videos of incredible singers.
    • Speaking of Oberlin, Amanda, a good friend of mine and fellow Obie, writes for Critics at Large and last month wrote a beautiful piece on Andy Warhol and her experiences of learning “from the artworks themselves” that began in the Allen Art Museum’s print room. Here’s an excerpt (though you should read the essay in its entirety, just to sink into Amanda’s outstanding prose):

“I learned quickly, but not from lectures or textbooks – I learned from the artworks themselves. Entire movements, periods and cultures – Japanese woodblock prints, the satiric eighteenth century engravings of Hogarth and Grandville, loose pages from medieval illuminated manuscripts – communicated themselves to me as archives without histories, until pulling prints became not unlike a daily descent into a dark, empty movie theater where all you could see were images, images, images flickering in the shadows and sublimely untethered from narrative.”

  • “Looking for Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin” is an interesting piece from the NY Times‘ Travel section; its timing was particularly good because I had just read Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, two fictional memoirs of sorts about the author / his protagonist’s years in Berlin in the early 1930s. (The second story is what Kander and Ebb based their musical Cabaret on.)
  • If you’re part of my generation, you probably speak with slashes, as in “I was thinking we could go to the movies slash do something else together this weekend.” “Slash: Not Just a Punctuation Mark Anymore” is a smartly-written piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education by a professor who asks her students to teach her two new slang words at the start of every class. She goes on to discuss the use of “slash” in spoken conversation. A fun piece worth the read.
  • Staying in linguistics territory, I read a great blog called The Inky Fool; this fool is Mark Forsyth, who has also written two books (The Etymologicon and The Horologicon), both of which I’ve read. This blog post, entitled “Plumbing with Aplomb,” is a particularly good example of Forsyth’s intelligent and witty discussions of linguistics.
  • This is just for fun: maps that show “the deepest linguistic conflicts in America.” The maps show how people in different regions of the States pronounce the same words, or the different words they use to mean the same thing. It’s pretty interesting; I (not surprisingly) found my hometown of Rochester, NY to be more midwest-leaning in some pronunciations and more New England-y in others. In terms of my own pronunciation, most of it matched that of other Rochesterians but some didn’t match how I speak. How do your pronunciation and vocabulary match up with your home region?

Children & Education 

  • NY Times “Sunday Dialogue” recently asked “What Makes a Good Teacher?” They present a letter to the editor to which readers are invited to respond. I even sent in a response for this one; though mine didn’t make it into print, it’s worth reading the original letter and its responses for all of the diverse ideas and thoughts people have about what makes a good teacher.
  • On a similar note, an opinion piece called “No Learning Without Feeling” argues against the US’s new Common Core State Standards and their (ridiculous) focus on standardized tests. The author makes a good point that this isn’t the way to get kids excited about learning and literature:

“The truth is that high-stakes standardized tests, in combination with the skills-based orientation of the Common Core State Standards, are de-emphasizing literature in the English classroom in favor of “agnostic texts” of the sort familiar from test preparation materials. These are neutral texts created to be “agnostic” with regard to student interest so that outside variables won’t interfere when teachers assess and analyze data related to verbal ability. In other words, they are texts no child would choose to read on her own.

  • NY Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow does an excellent job of providing his readers with shocking statistics about what is wrong with our (American) society. This piece, “The Kids Are (Not) All Right,” is no different, and props to Blow for alerting us so we can try to change them:

“…according to data released last month by the Children’s Defense Fund, each day in America:

2 mothers die in childbirth.

4 children are killed by abuse or neglect.

5 children or teens commit suicide.

7 children or teens are killed by firearms.

67 babies die before their first birthdays.

892 babies are born at low birth weight.

914 babies are born to teen mothers.

1,208 babies are born without health insurance.

1,825 children are confirmed as abused or neglected.

2,712 babies are born into poverty.

2,857 high school students drop out.”

  • The above piece is from April. Just last week, Blow wrote another op-ed, “These Children Are Our Future,” in which he gives us a “statistical portrait of the high school class of 2013” and what the class would look like if there were 100 students in it. It’s a really powerful set of statistics that everyone should be aware of. Blow notes that,

“We have not sufficiently prioritized some fundamental safety structures for children in this country — fighting child poverty; supporting all families (including single-parent ones) and their children through policies like paid family leave and early childhood education; insulating children from a culture soaked with violence; and educating children fully about sexuality and pregnancy, and allowing them open access to a full range of safe sex options (which would reduce our extraordinary rate of sexually transmitted disease, prevent more unintended pregnancies and reduce the number of abortions).”

Sex & Sex Education

  • Taking Blow’s last point above, about sex education, there have been a few well-written essays floating around about that. This NY Times “Room for Debate” collection asking, “At What Age Should Sex Education Begin?” is particularly worth reading. Many of the contributors made excellent arguments for why/how/when (at what ages) sex education should be taught, both at home and in schools. One such contributor wrote,

“Irrational fear – the cultural belief that teaching young people about sex will cause them to have sex – keeps administrators and educators from doing what they know is best: providing young people with developmentally appropriate, sequential and honest sex education. Never mind that 30 years of public health research clearly demonstrates that when young people receive such education, they are more likely to delay sexual initiation, and to use protection when they do eventually become sexually active, than those who receive no sex education or learn only about abstinence. Withholding information about sex and sexuality will not keep children safe; it will only keep them ignorant.”

  • There’s a new book out called What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by journalist Daniel Bergner. Salon recently published an interview with Bergner about the book, which made me really want to read it. The piece is aptly called “The truth about female desire: It’s base, animalistic and ravenous,” and I recommend that every woman and man read the article. Here’s a short excerpt to pique your interest: “One of the scientists, who was really influential in calling attention to the size, put it this way: the reason we’ve ignored this is because we’ve managed to convince ourselves that one gender is all about reproduction and the other is all about sex. That is, women are all about reproduction and men are all about sex. Again, a complete distortion.”

Gender, Culture, & Machismo

  • Having lived in London for about six months now, I have already noticed plenty of linguistic, cultural, and social differences between Americans and Brits. This “Short Cuts” essay from the London Review of Books seeks to explain some of these differences in a humorous way. The essay is worth a read for any American or Brit who has spent time in the other country. Here’s a sneak peek excerpt about something I have found to be absolutely true:

“In the English manner, he apologised several times that night for joining my friends and me at our table. An Englishman will apologise to you twice in the course of inviting you to dinner when you are friendless and desperate and couldn’t feel more grateful for the prospect of company. ‘No doubt,’ Eagleton writes, ‘the British will soon be apologising for being stabbed in the street.’ Americans apologise only when they’re overwhelmed by guilt and want very much to be forgiven.”

  • Moving from cultural differences to gender differences, this Science Daily paper entitled “Men Are from Mars Earth, Women Are from Venus Earth” explains how “From empathy and sexuality to science inclination and extroversion, statistical analysis of 122 different characteristics involving 13,301 individuals shows that men and women, by and large, do not fall into different groups. In other words, no matter how strange and inscrutable your partner may seem, their gender is probably only a small part of the problem.” My dad has also done some research and teaching in the area of sex/gender differences, so he brought this to my attention.
  • And now onto differences in sexuality, with this op-ed on “How Latin Culture Got More Gay.” The essay can best be summed up with this quotation: “These developments not only undermine stereotypes about machismo, but also the assumption that the prominence of Catholicism makes progressive change impossible. Same-sex marriage is legal in Belgium, Portugal and Spain, and Ireland recognizes civil unions. As the United States Supreme Court debates same-sex marriage, perhaps it should consider the precedent set by other nations of the Western Hemisphere.” Seriously. Get with the program, USA.

Obesity & Food

  • “Research: Childhood obesity is a product of environment” looks at three new studies that point to environment over genetics as a greater cause of obesity. In their words, “Childhood obesity is a disease of the environment. It’s a natural consequence of normal kids with normal genes being raised in unhealthy, abnormal environments.” Worth reading the entire article.
  • Perhaps even more worthy of your precious reading minutes is the essay, “Fat City — What can stop obesity?”  by physician Karen Hitchcock. The piece is subtitled “Why obesity is not your doctor’s problem” and goes on to explore social constructs and thought patterns contributing to the obesity epidemic, serious health problems caused by obesity, and much more. It is an emotionally powerful, excellently written piece that I cannot adequately summarize here, so I beg you to go read it yourself.
  • On a food-related note, Michael Pollan has a new book out, that Mark Bittman (one of my favorite food writers) discusses and excerpts in his Opinionator piece, “Pollan Cooks!” Among other things, Bittman quotes Pollan as saying, “Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.” I completely agree.


  • I always keep an eye out for Ukraine-related news, since I feel a tie to the country after spending 2+ years there in the Peace Corps. So you can imagine how happy I was that Ukraine recently held the first gay rights rally in Kyiv. Brave people, those 50 demonstrators; clearly still a long way to go toward tolerance and acceptance.
  • Another big issue that, like homosexuality, is highly stigmatized in Ukraine, is HIV/AIDS. This Ukrainian girl, featured in a BBC article entitled “Ukraine’s youngest HIV campaigner,” is a heroine for speaking out about her experience living as HIV-positive in Ukraine. This also helps explain why Peace Corps Volunteers’ work with PEPFAR and HIV/AIDS education continues to matter in Ukraine.

Miscellaneous US-Related

  • Every American should read “10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America.” I hazard to guess that Americans who have traveled a bit won’t be surprised by most of the statements made in the article, but it’s important for the less-well-traveled to read and understand the astute points the author makes.
  • And now onto gun control…a touchy subject, yes, but read Todd May’s Opinionator piece, “Is American Nonviolence Possible?” and that’ll give you some perspective on why the US needs serious gun control. I’ll start you off with this set of statistics:

“Clearly, we are a violent country.  Our murder rate is three to five times that of most other industrialized countries.  […]  Moreover, and more telling, our response to violence is typically more violence.  We display our might — or what is left of it — abroad in order to address perceived injustices or a threat to our interests.  We still have not rid ourselves of the death penalty, a fact that fills those in other countries with disbelief.  Many of us, in response to the mindless gun violence around us, prescribe more guns as the solution, as the Republicans sought to do during the gun debate.  And we torture people.  It is as though, in thinking that the world responds only to violence, we reveal ourselves rather than the world.

  • With the above in mind, read this excellent op-ed by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who herself was the target of gun violence a couple of years ago. In “A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip,” Giffords states about the Senate gun control votes, “I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.” Shameful.

Whew! That ought to keep you busy for a while. What have you been reading lately?

Sent Off in Style

**Warning: long post ahead. But if you read it to the end I promise it’ll be worth your time**

My two years in Ukraine have come to an end. You’ve read the final letters my 11th-form pupils wrote to me. My last week in Sniatyn was filled with notes, gifts, and wonderful sendings-off from friends, colleagues, and pupils.

Last Friday, Iryna (my Ukrainian “mom-friend”; she’s in her mid-50s) told me she’d be going on vacation the next day and so she wanted to meet me to say goodbye. She picked me up in the evening and took me to a cafe, where we enjoyed a light meal of cheese, coffee, and apple tart along with nice conversation. It was really lovely and thoughtful of Iryna to do this for me, and she gave me with some leeks and apples from her garden along with this note (original grammar/syntax preserved):

Dear Tammela! Probably I’m not very good your student but I would say some important words in English. I hope our meeting in this big world was interesting and pleasure for both of us. It seems we are too different conserning our age, origin, place of living and I really wonder we are very close about our sight on moral and soul points of life. // And it’s very cool!!! // You became a piece of happy in my life. Thanks for these moments. Thanks you and U.S. for all good deals! // Sometime I’ll be glad receive little note from you. I’ll be waiting… Iryna

My 8A pupils have not come to English club all semester — it has been hard to find a time when the majority of them could come, so I’d resigned myself to just seeing them during lessons. But on Wednesday at school, some of the girls asked if we could have English club that afternoon. “What time?” I asked. They proposed 4pm, which was perfect, an hour before my adult/older pupils’ club. So I showed up and seven of my girls were there, armed with OJ, cookies, and M&Ms, which they professionally portioned out after they pushed two desks together with chairs around them so we could sit in a circle. “Let’s talk about Halloween!” Olha said. So we started with that and progressed into topics such as the practicality of UkrEnglish, pets, siblings, and more. It was a joyful, relaxing hour. Nastia, Nastia, Marta, Marta, Olha, Inna, and Roxolana are some of the pupils who have most brightened my work at school. Smart, intelligent, funny, creative young ladies with excellent English.

Some of my awesome 8A girls, from L: (me), Marta I., Nastia D., Inna, Marta O., Olha, Nastia P., Roxolana

After my 8th formers left, the adults and older kids came in for the last English club. This English club group has been one of the highlights of my time in Sniatyn. It has been wonderful to get to know some of my pupils better and in a different context than English lessons. Some of them have become more like friends than pupils — at least we have a slightly more relaxed relationship than I do with most of my other pupils. And it’s been great to have met such an interesting cross-section of the Sniatyn community in the adults who have attended my club: they said on Wednesday that they wouldn’t have met each other if it hadn’t been for English club. They are all different ages and professions: dentist, epidemiologist, history teacher, piano teacher, gas company worker…It’s so cool that English club brought us all together.

Anyway, we talked about Halloween for a bit and then as we wound down I asked them what some of their favorite memories were from English clubs and got a slew of answers: writing dialogues and stories, playing fun speaking games, competitions, music, films… Andriy astutely pointed out that the second year of English club was more interesting than the first; I agreed. At the beginning I didn’t have any idea of what to do, plus the group had a lot of people come and go. Once a consistent core group formed and I started to get my bearing as a teacher and get to know the attendees, things went more smoothly as I could tailor activities to the group members’ interests and abilities. At the end of English club, I thanked everyone and was then bombarded with gifts:

Gifts from English clubbers

The gifts included two nice notes from my 10th form pupil, Christina, and my 11th form pupil, Oleh. Here’s what they wrote:

Dear Ms. Tammela! Thank you for your being in Snyatyn. Thank’s for English clubs, Sport clubs, for lessons, for preparation for FLEX. Thank you for all! // It was so interesting to communicate with you. You studied me many different and important things. You gave me many beautiful lessons which I will never forget! // This book is about plants and animals in Snyatyn’s region. They all are belong to Red Book of World. // I wish you great health, happiness, many pleasant emotions and positive feelings! You are so beautiful person! Don’t forget me! Christina K. // P.S. I hope we will see in the future!

Dear Tammela // Thank you for your dedication, kindnes and skils // I enjoyed all time wich we spended together // Oleh S.

On the way out of school after English club, I spotted this “information bulletin” made by my 11A class:

My 11A class made a great Halloween-y poster/”information bulletin” that hangs in the entrance to school. You may notice that I’m on the poster, too…

…because they put a lovely “good luck” poem on the poster for me!

The goodbyes continued on Thursday when I had my last lesson with my 4b class — they have also been a favorite class of mine and it has been fun to co-teach them with my colleague, Natalia. I said “good morning” to the class and then Roman came up and opened the sides of the chalkboard, revealing an adorable message (in English!) saying goodbye to me and telling me to return. Then multiple kids came up to me with flowers and gifts and gave little speeches, wishing me well and telling me not to leave (or at least to come back and visit). I received a big doll in Ukrainian national dress and Alina told me (in Ukrainian), “when you come back to visit you must be wearing a costume like this!” A few of them gave me cards, two of which I quote here: 1) “We will Miss you at Miss Temella. Come more” — short and sweet! 2) “Miss Tem!!! Thank you for evereting you do for us. With you was very interesting. I wish you a good travel at home. Taras Beltsyk Form 4-B — I’m pretty sure Taras has a parent who knows at least a little English. If not, I’m even more impressed. Love them.

My awesome 4b pupils sending me off in style (check out the message on the board behind us)

I was prepared for something from the teachers during Friday’s morning faculty meeting. Our school director, Viktoria Liubomyrivna, presented me with flowers and a podyaka (thank-you certificate…Ukrainians love these) and I gave a little thank-you speech as well. Nadia Mykhailivna, widow of our late/former director, gave me a beautiful, real pysanka (painted egg) and rushnyk (embroidered towel) that she and Viktor Mykolaiovych had bought at last spring’s school yarmarok (market) — “na pam’yat’,” she said. “For the memory”).

Me and Nadia Mykhailivna, math/IT teacher and widow of our late school director

More gifts and a “podyaka” from the teachers

My last lesson on Friday was with Nadia Mykhailivna’s class, the 10th form, a hilarious and energetic group of kids. They also presented me with well-wishes and some nice gifts. Poor Katya almost broke down and had to restart her heartfelt word a few times, causing me to tear up as well!

Katya, 10th form, has become like a friend

Even more gifts! How will I get all of these home?

After school, the English teachers (minus two) and I went to the restaurant where we always celebrate after the First and Last Bell ceremonies: Vechirnyy Sniatyn. We shared a few hours of tasty food and conversation; as Diana Dmetrivna said, we have been not only colleagues but have also become friends. These are the people who have made my time in Sniatyn so worthwhile.

Colleagues, from L: Yulia (& sleeping Sophia), Natalia, me, Halyna Nestrivna, Halya, Diana Dmetrivna

We had short lessons on Saturday to make up for Monday’s day off after the Ukrainian parliamentary elections. My 11th form invited me to a concert they organized as a farewell for me! It deserved its own blog post so click here to see photos and videos of my talented pupils.

With school farewells finished, that left Sunday and Monday to say goodbye to Halya and her family as well as Natalia and co. at her shop. I spent a relaxed couple of hours at Halya’s place on Sunday evening, sharing a light meal and champagne with lemon (have you ever had that? It’s actually pretty tasty) with Halya, Oksana (her mom), Yuliana (her aunt/my landlady), Pavlo (Halya’s cousin), Sasha (Halya’s husband), and Mark (their 14-month-old son). Conversation is always interesting with them, and the food is always good. I’ll miss chatting with them in the back yard and celebrating holidays with them.

Yuliana, Mark, Oksana, Halya & me

“Good Bye, Temila”

Also, there was a nice article written about me in the newspaper Sniatyns’ka Vezha (“Sniatyn tower”) this weekend. Tanya, the Sniatyn journalist who wrote an article about me about a week after I arrived in Sniatyn, interviewed me again last week to compose a final piece; I tried to use it to say thank you and goodbye to all the people in Sniatyn who have touched my life. (There are a few wrong facts but overall it’s a nice article.)

Monday morning I got up early in order to have one last run on my favorite road. My early wake-up was rewarded by a gorgeous sunrise as I started my run — I took my camera along to get some final shots of Sniatyn:

Sunrise over the Sniatyn “ratusha” (clock tower). I’ll miss hearing the bells chime every quarter-hour

I love this town

After running (and showering), I headed to Natalia’s shop one last time to have coffee and conversation with Natalia, Ilona, Petro, and Nina. I gave them a bunch of extra things I didn’t need, and they liked the photo albums I’d made for them.

Petro, Ilona, me, Natalia, Nina (no we didn’t plan to stand in order of height)

So that’s it. Someone from Halya’s family will drive me to the train station in a few hours and tonight I’ll be on my way to Kyiv for three more days in Ukraine. If all goes as planned, on Friday I’ll become a Returned PCV (RPCV). Hard to believe and quite bittersweet — I couldn’t have asked for a better service.

N.B.: Click HERE to see more photos of the classes and teachers and English clubbers I’ve worked with for two years. And click HERE to see my “scenic Ukraine” album — the best photos I’ve taken of Ukrainian landscapes and more.

Race Recap: Kyiv Half Marathon 2012

If you know me at all, you that I’m an avid runner and enjoy racing now and again. This past weekend — Sunday, 16 September 2012, to be exact — I ran the Kyiv Half Marathon. Read on for my narrative recap of the race…

I didn’t anticipate a PR due to inconsistent training / not enough runs under 9:00/mile pace. Nevertheless, I psyched myself up in the few days before the race, putting on a PMA (that’s “positive mental attitude,” as my college track coach would tell us), and decided just to run and see what would happen. I had goals of 26:00 for the 5K and 52:00 for the 10K. My general goal was to be under 1:55:00 (but around 1:50:00 would be nice). I knew the course would be tough — hilly — but the weather was supposed to be perfect.

Course and elevation map for the race — check out the gradual, rolling hills

Long story short, I actually met all of my goals. The weather was gorgeous — about 60F and sunny — and I felt good after walking to the start and jogging around a little. I found my friend and fellow PCV, Andrew, at the start — this is the third race we’ve run together since being in Ukraine — and off we went.

The first 5K were mostly downhill with some cobblestones at the beginning — oh, Europe — down Volodymyrs’ka from St. Michael’s Cathedral. My (Ukrainian) friend and fellow runner, Ruslan, passed me early on as he led the 1:40:00 pace group. I was right at 26:00 for the 5K — “just maintain,” I thought. I’ve never been a mantra person, but one just came to me and I often returned to it throughout the race: I am well-fueled, I am strong, I am fit. Around 5K, we started a gradual ascent that lasted for the next 4K or so. The 1:50:00 pace group caught me at one point and an older man in yellow yelled some encouragement to me in Russian (he’ll return later on).

We turned around just past 8K and I caught and ran alongside a tall girl in bright blue running gear — she definitely helped keep me going for a couple kilometers. I was a spot-on 52:00 at the 10K, then dropped blue girl when she paused at the next water stop. Uphill again as we ran back toward the city center and turned right on Saksahans’koho. I’d be happy if I could hit 1:18:00 at 15K, so I surged on, taking a bit of fuel (in the form of Honey Stinger gummies — they’re delicious). I was happy to turn onto Saksahans’koho to get out of the direct sunlight. My watch read 1:17:00 at the 15K marker — with burning hamstrings by this point, I had a feeling the 15K sign had been placed too early.

“6K to go,” I told myself, and my mantra popped back into my head. We turned onto Chervonoarmiyis’ka, up a hill that Kim and I ran/jogged/walked up way too many times during last September’s Kyiv Marathon. We’d turn onto Khreshchatyk soon, run all the way down and then turn back either just before or just after 18K — I couldn’t remember.

The turnarounds were nice because we could see the people ahead of us running back toward us on the other side of the road. Down Khreshchatyk, I counted PCVs (whom I knew — maybe there were others I didn’t recognize) in front of me: Brian, then Ellis, then Andrew, Ali, and John. The older man in yellow, who had been with the 1:50:00 pace group, passed and yelled to me, “Ми вас підтримуємо!” (we support you!). Maybe he liked my crazy pink and black running capris?

Finally, I reached the turnaround: 3-4K to go. All uphill. (Balls.) Back up Khreshchatyk, then left up a steep section, right past the bright red and tangerine Kyiv National University buildings, all the way up cobblestoned Volodymyrs’ka back to St. Michael’s. Did I mention it was uphill? 20K came when I hoped it had already passed. My watch read 1:46:00 or so — no PR today, but I tried to get my aching hips and hamstrings into another gear to finish strongly. Past St. Sophia’s Cathedral and I began to kick as well as I could. Passed a couple of people on the homestretch to finish in 1:51:23 (my watch time — the official clock read 35 seconds but they were hand-timing and I had started my watch right when I crossed through the start). Finished — finally!

I glimpsed Ruslan and we congratulated each other — he’d brought his pace group in at around 1:38:00. The older man in yellow found me to offer his congratulations — he asked me where I was from and when I said the States he complimented my Ukrainian and said he’d thought I was Ukrainian (while running); I understood that he’d been excited to cheer me on because not so many young Ukrainian women are such “спортсменка” (sportsmenka — sportswoman). (Though I saw some of the lead women going past early in the race and they were great runners.) After chatting with a few PCVs, John and I headed back to the hostel, beat.

Post-Race Reflections: With a cold and the hilly course, I honestly don’t think I could’ve pushed much harder/run much faster. I was four minutes off my PR but satisfied with my performance — my body certainly feels like it ran hard for 13.1 miles. I’ll take it easy for the next couple weeks and then decide when and where my next race will be…

I should mention that there was a fantastic turnout of PCVs running both the 5K and half marathon on Sunday — not to mention the ones who just showed up to cheer us all on!


The Parents Visit Ukraine

After hearing about and learning about my first 20 months in Ukraine via Skype, photos, and blog posts, my parents finally got the real-life experience when they visited me in Ukraine for two weeks at the end of May. Here’s a blow-by-blow of Dianne and Terry’s visit:

Days 1-2: Kyiv. D&T arrived on Saturday afternoon. After picking them up at the airport, we settled into Hotel Ibis and then I walked them down to Khreshchatyk for a tasty Indian dinner and stroll along the closed-for-pedestrians-on-weekends street. The next morning we ventured out to Kyiv’s big Botanical Garden. We spent a lovely couple of hours strolling among the just-past-peak lilacs and getting slightly lost in the forest and meadows.

Day 3: Visit to the Host Family in Kolychivka. My parents got the full taste of Ukrainian village life and hospitality when we visited my host family in the village where I trained almost two years ago. Anya, Serhiy, Dianne, & Terry all seemed to get along well and we were lucky enough to arrive just three days after Anya & Serhiy’s pig had been killed. Fresh pork and sausage for all!

Day 4: Kyiv. Back in the city for one more day, we hit up all the churches (St. Sophia’s, St. Michael’s, St. Volodymyr’s, glimpsed St. Andrew’s) and checked out the Pinchuk Art Center, which had a great Anish Kapoor exhibition. An easy overnight train ride — except for the fact that I was sick with a fever and chills — with a whole kupe to ourselves, got us to Sniatyn before 9am on Wednesday morning.

Days 5-12: Sniatyn, Kosiv, Chernivtsi, & the Carpathians. As soon as we arrived in Sniatyn, I thrust my parents into school life. The first day, they accompanied me to school and chatted with my 5th, 8th, and 7th formers as well as my adult English club. D&T were great sports about it (thanks again, guys!) and everyone really seemed to enjoy talking to them. They covered such topics as hobbies, favorite animals, traveling, wearing seat-belts, and even recycling and the environment.

On Friday, my parents accompanied me to the Last Bell ceremony at school — where many words were said about my late school director — and then to lunch with my English-teacher colleagues Diana Dmytrivna, Natalia Mykhailivna, and Yulia Vasylivna. Michelle and Janira arrived on Friday afternoon to meet my parents and hang out for a little while. Michelle stayed overnight because early on Saturday morning we went to the Kosiv Bazaar, which has the best selection (and prices) of traditional Ukrainian crafts: woodworking, embroidered towels & blouses, dolls, whistles, ceramics, maces…

On Sunday we met my friends in Chernivtsi for lunch and a bit of a stroll around the beautiful center of the city. Upon arriving back in Sniatyn, we immediately met up with Natalia, Petro, and Vika to ascend the clock tower (ratusha). The evening was pretty clear so I got some great pictures of Sniatyn from above. On our way down, the man who let us up — who also happens to be the man who is responsible for the clock’s functioning — opened up the clock box and explained how all the mechanics work. We even got to see it strike 7pm.

The next couple of days were quiet and relaxed, with walks around Sniatyn, another English club, and a wonderful shashlik dinner with Halya and her family (my wonderful counterpart/neighbors). D&T even got to experience the unpredictability of Ukrainian life when the entire town’s gas went out for a day!

Wednesday was a full day, as we’d arranged to go on an excursion to the Carpathian Mountains, guided by Mykola from Kolomiya. He was fantastic, and led us on the “Graffiti Stone” hike — complete with a thunderstorm that caused us to walk/run down a shortcut and hide out in a partially-built house until the rain slackened. After the hike, we stopped to see three master crafts(wo)men on the way home. The master weaver in Yavoriv does everything from start to finish: shearing the sheep, washing and brushing the wool, winding it into yarn, weaving the blankets, washing and brushing them. We saw a 5th-generation master ceramicist in Kosiv, who makes and paints all her ceramics in Hutsul style and colors (green, yellow, brown). Lastly, still in Kosiv, we stopped at the house of a master woodcarver; he doesn’t sell his best work because he says they’re like his children. So they hang on one wall of his living room like a small museum — really amazing work. He also collects pysanky (painted eggs).

Day 13: 18-hour train ride to Odesa.

Days 14-15: Odesa. D&T’s last day and a half in Ukraine were spent in Odesa, a city I’d not yet visited. The center is beautiful, especially the architecture. We walked around a lot, hitting the Potemkin Stairs, an art museum, the pedestrian street (Deribasivs’ka), and even catching part of an outdoor performance of Aida in front of the gorgeous Opera & Ballet Theatre after a delicious Georgian food dinner. Part of Saturday was spent sitting outside under an umbrella at a cafe while rain poured down.

Saturday morning we went for a walk before I dropped Dianne and Terry off at the airport. I spent Saturday evening wandering around a bit and enjoying some quiet time before I flew to Germany for a wonderful week with my wonderful boyfriend in Muenster.

Some photos from the parents’ visit:

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