The status has changed again. As of April 14, you may now call me an RPCV: “Returned Peace Corps Volunteer”. I feel like I’m cheating a bit, since I was only in Ukraine for five months. Do I even have the right to call myself “Returned”? Whatever. I’m now scrambling on summer job applications, wading through that horror that is Peace Corps medical AGAIN, and praying like hell that I can get a reassignment and be in a new country by October.
This forty-five day administrative hold has been something of a brutal breakup. I describe it as the classic rom-com situation: I’m in love, I know it’s gotta end, I should probably move my sorry blubbery self on, but I just can’t let go. I’m head over heels.
Inevitably, it’s the little things. Riding the mashrutka with lace curtains and tassels on the windows. Admiring fur coats. Nela, the girl who worked the fruit stand below my apartment. Tea time with the ladies at school, eating salo with dark bread and mustard. Apples from my host family’s tree. Chernihiv’s church domes, always shining. All those hours spent in Café Chashka. Babushkas’ headscarves, and the way they can sell literally anything on the street. Visiting my friend at the music school. Watching out my window at 10pm, as the buses come to take the coal miners to their late work shifts. Ukrainian parties, with vodka and cake and singing. Speaking Russian. Friday nights at Sveta’s. Varenyky, stray dogs, exquisite tapestries, smiles from coworkers, countless hugs from students.
Ukraine, you are an astounding country, and I love you. You are rough, sometimes brutal. Your winters are damn near unbearable. But somehow, you clawed your way under my skin. I think it’s your people that did it – their hospitality, their realism, their complex outlook on life. They may think they are simple and ordinary, but they are not. Ukrainians are remarkable individuals ten times stronger than any Peace Corps Volunteer privileged enough to live among them. And now, everything is changing.
I read news reports every day, quick one-page write-ups about the tension in Donetsk, Lugansk, and Kharkiv. Americans have no associations with these places, obviously, but it’s a punch in the gut every time I see Lugansk and think: that’s where I spent Christmas. Where we took a school trip to the symphony. Where we crammed into a one-room apartment for three days waiting for a plane to evacuate us to Washington D.C. Lugansk, with its new barricades and gunmen, is only forty minutes from home in Krasnodon.
Regardless of what is seen on the news today, please remember the current situation in Ukraine is not about geopolitics or diplomacy or Putin. This is about lives. These are people’s lives. They are living and working there, going to school, paying the heating bill, scraping together money to buy their kid a costume for the town play, and there’s talk of armies massing on the border just a few kilometers away. It feels so much different when it becomes personal. The emotions are made stronger, of course, by the fact that my time there ended so quickly and unexpectedly. Ukraine my dear, you have much to work through. The years ahead will be difficult, and you will need all the strength of your people. It’s right that I am not there. I have no place in what you are about to achieve. Maybe one day, when you’re ready, I’ll come back. Until then, Я люблю тебя. слава Україні.