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Courtesy Photo: An ancient tower in Kaminets Podilsky in Ukraine.

Our Ukraine, Part 3

We began this conversation in May with two American friends, Chris and Luz, who met in Ukraine while serving in the Peace Corps. They bonded when they learned that they both had grandparents and great-grandparents from Ukraine. They each worked in Ukraine after their Peace Corps service. Both are now in the US, having been evacuated from their overseas jobs because of Russia’s invasion in February 2022. In part one in June, they shared their experiences of living and working in Ukraine. In July’s segment the conversation turned to war. This is the conclusion of the series.

Ukraine the Beautiful

Chris: There are two things I want to express: I’m an American who lived in Ukraine for a short period of time. I’m tied to the community, and I dearly love it. I still consider it my home, but I also need to make it clear that I’m an interloper, I’m an outsider, I’m not Ukrainian. It’s really important to share that this is my perspective as an American. The Ukrainians –we need to listen to Ukrainians, they know what they need, they know what they want, they know their own culture and their history and how they want to save their country. It’s important to recognize that we need to listen to them a lot more than we do.

People want to know about the war, it’s kind of the new sexy thing now to know about Ukraine. I want to show people my Ukraine; yes, it’s bombed out now and we can’t turn away from the dead bodies in the street with their hands tied behind their backs. We cannot turn away from that, but that’s not Ukraine that’s what’s being done to Ukraine. The Ukraine I know where my friends are – it’s beautiful, it’s the Carpathian Mountains, it’s the river that runs through my village, it’s driving to these ancient historic sites outside of Kyiv and 1000-year-old churches.

Luz: There is this one lady, Marina, on the corner, who we would buy our vegetables from. On the first day of spring, she had a bouquet of basil that made my heart leap for joy. I tried to buy the whole bunch of basil, but she gave me a few springs and said they were a gift, and that I couldn’t have more. My dinner plans for pesto were dashed, but I asked her why I couldn’t buy more. Marina said that if I bought all the basil, I wouldn’t come back tomorrow, and she didn’t want to wait a few days to say hello to me again.
Wow, every single beautiful interaction and the generosity and kindness that people show you… and then all those pictures of soldiers rescuing cats and dogs and horses… and people who are being attacked by Orcs find moments of compassion.

I just don’t want to forget that it’s very hard for many people to have that compassion now. One of my goals in Peace Corps was to get the granny two houses down from me to smile. She still thought it was pretty stinking weird that there was this American woman living in the house by herself two houses away from her. She was pretty suspicious of me. After all, we were on opposite sides of the Cold War. My mission of getting her to smile was accomplished when my parents came to visit me.

My mom was talking to her, but my mom doesn’t speak Ukrainian and this lady doesn’t speak English so I’m doing a terrible translation. My mom wanted to know if the woman had beet greens. So, three months left in my service, and she’s smiled at me, success!

You know, those are the joyous things that are Ukraine to me. I want to remind people that it’s not this desolate place, with only these images of these falling down buildings; the buildings are falling down because they were attacked by Russia. So much has happened to them…

At the time of this interview, the atrocities shocked the world. As the news of Ukraine has slipped from the headlines, regrettably the humanitarian toll kept rising, the brutal attacks on civilians and violations by Russia have escalated. Global food insecurity is worsening and we fear much worse is yet to come. Please do not forget Ukraine.