March 2007-December 2009
Our Peace Corps adventure started in Philadelphia on March 25, 2007 when 73 of us arrived for staging. Staging involved preliminary training on Peace Corps rules and regulations (it’s the government, so yes there are many) and information on how and where we would go in Ukraine for PST (pre-service training). Of course we had no idea what we were in for, but that was part of the fun.
We arrived in Ukraine tired but well, and with only 1 missing suitcase. We left Philadelphia on a 747, so luggage was not a problem. However with a stopover in Frankfurt, we transferred to a much smaller plane for the flight to Kyiv. With 73 of us on the plane, all packed for two years, the plane was just too heavy to take off. So, they left at least 40 suitcases in Frankfurt. We were lucky we arrived with three out of four. Some people saw none of their bags for two or three days. Fortunately, eventually all suitcases arrived.
We spent the first three days at Prolisok, an old Russian sanatorium, now a Kyiv training center. We were not thrilled to find out that all of our future in-service trainings would take place at Prolisok (affectionately known to PCV’s as Prolisuck). Some of the rooms have been somewhat remodeled, so the trick will be to get to training early. It’s always first come first served, so the last ones to arrive get the worst rooms.
Finally after 3 days we were off to Chernihiv to meet our host family and see where we would spend the next three months training. When Tanya Mykailova, our Chernihiv host mom, saw all of our luggage she was ready to send us back. Fortunately she agreed to give us a try and we ended up being the best of friends. It was interesting at times with her limited English and our limited Russian, but she used our language manuals to study English while we studied Russian, and somehow we were always able to communicate. Before leaving the US we kidded about our motor home preparing us for Ukraine, little did we know how true it would be. The three of us lived in a small 2 room plus kitchen, walk-up, Soviet Bloc concrete apartment. It was very small, but very clean and cozy.
We knew that training would be tough, we just didn’t realize how tough! We had language class 4 hours each morning and technical training 4 hours each afternoon. Additionally we had a community project to complete. Then of course we needed to study in the evenings and on the weekends. They taught half of us Ukrainian and half of us Russian. We were pretty disappointed when we found out we would be learning Russian, but we got over it and did our best to learn it. They are both very difficult languages and it was slow going. Of course Ukrainian is the official country language and all street signs, store signs, train signs, etc. were in Ukrainian, so we learned some of both languages. Making our old brains learn a new language was tough.
Bumping butts with Babushkas is what we called our trolley rides. Everyone walked or took pubic transportation, and during commute hours the trolleys got very full, literally butt-to-butt. We took a trolley to and from language class, but walked everywhere else. It was a 7-minute walk to the trolley and 10-15 minutes to the center of town. All towns and cities have a central bazaar, and in the bazaar you can find anything you need. Food was very good and always eaten fresh, so we went to the market every couple of days. Since you carry anything you buy home on foot it usually means many small trips every couple of days. There are no mega runs to Costco in Ukraine.
Chernihiv, a city of 300,000 two hours north of Kyiv, was a beautiful, old city with many gold domed churches and big public parks and squares. We really loved living there, and by the time we left, were experts on the public transportation and could find and purchase anything we needed. Saying good-bye to Tanya was not easy. There were many tears and many promises to visit. Fortunately Sumy is only 5 hours by train, and since our training schedule did not leave a lot of time for sightseeing, we looked forward to going back.
Finally the end of training arrived! On Wednesday June 20, 2007 we were sworn in as official Peace Corps Volunteers. Tanya, came from Chernihiv and our business counterparts came from Sumy to celebrate with us. It was a formal affair with Ukrainian officials and the American Ambassador. Then on June 21st we departed for Sumy and our two years of service.
Sumy is in northeastern Ukraine, almost on the Russian border. It is a 5-hour train ride from Kyiv, is a city of 300,000 people, and was a nice place to live. We lived with a host family for two months, and they then became our landlords. We rented their old, but very nice apartment. Our Sumy host family was Victor, Olga and daughter Zhennia. They all spoke pretty good English and we became great friends. Like Tanya they took very good care of us and, like Tanya, Olga was a great cook. It was wonderful having our own apartment, but we missed coming home every day to dinner prepared and waiting for us!!
Home in Ukraine gives you a glimpse of our apartment and of our day-to-day life in Sumy, including a few pictures from when Rebecca’s father Harry, and son Carl came to visit. Picnicking is a Ukrainian pastime so you’ll see many picnics with our friends. There are also a few pictures from our various English youth camps, Camp Excite.
David and I both had mountain bikes and Bike Riding in Ukraine gives you a glimpse of the beautiful countryside we rode through.
1st Bell is the celebration of the first day of school. It happens at every school, in every city, all over Ukraine, and always on September 1. The last year students welcome in the first year students and the school and community welcome in all students beginning the new year. It was a great celebration and we enjoyed participating.This story is neither an official publication of the Peace Corps nor of the US Government. The content is ours personally and does not reflect any opinion or position of the US Government nor the Peace Corps. This information is meant for our friends and family alone and is not to be reprinted nor redistributed.