Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ukrainian-Toledo Connections

Olga traveling (above); Luba with friends and flowers; Vera and Vova at a protest (left).

The Toledo-Ukraine connection continues. I love emailing my friends in Starobelsk, and hearing from them in return. We exchange news and photos. Now they are enjoying photos of my great-grandson Philip’s 4th birthday party. Facebook is also a good way to stay connected.

I don’t know what life will bring, if I will ever return to Starobelsk, whether friends from there will ever be able to visit me in the States. But I will always remember, and so will they.

The bonds are strong across time and place, language and culture. I’d Skype but my Russian is getting worse and worse the longer I don’t hear the language, or communicate. It’s frustrating; better to email. When I can get a translator to Skype with me, I’ll do it for sure.

Here, above, are a few photos of friend Olga who was with Vera, director of Victoria NGO, in Dnepropetrovsk, attending a training seminar and enjoying the city on the Dnieper river, its sights and sounds, its nature and culture. It was once a center of the Soviet Union's defense and space industries; it's now becoming a tourism destination, promoting its beautiful historic sites and churches, plus a great public transportation system.

The collage also shows Olga enjoying a concert with a traditional Ukrainian band, and it’s just like her to befriend them. She is a one-woman cross-cultural band herself! She led our great adventure to the Carpathian mountains, to Lviv and her friends Stefan and Bogdan, and later to Prague and the exquisite little towns around it.

Vera Flyat continues her human rights work and her commitment to social change from the bottom up (left, Vera in center, and friend Vovo Shecherchenko, lower left corner), at an anti-corruption protest. She is a dynamo. So is Vovo, head of the East Ukraine Center for Civil Initatives. They are Ukraine's future leaders. Они Украины будущие лидеры.

Back in Starobelsk (photos to right), Luba and Irina, and friends Tonya and Luda, get together often, enjoying meals and toasts using the Florida shot glasses I gave them. Those turned out to be the best souvenirs I brought with me to Ukraine, and I had to get refills a few times! Here's to Florida, to the Ukraine, to us!

Life is often hard for Luba and her friends, with businesses suffering, the economy broken, Sergei’s situation tragic, and Luba with a broken wrist on top of a broken heart. But these are resourceful women, incredibly hard workers, and they know how to have fun even in the worst of times. We share a love of flowers, so I am always happy to see roses from Luba’s garden. She’s having a rough time now, but I pray her cast will come off soon and that she will be working in her garden again, her refuge and solace.

Once a PCV always a PCV. The friendships we make are special and enduring. The ties that bind are strong. We leave a small legacy behind, but we receive so much more than we can ever give. PCVs are warriors for peace. We don't carry guns, but we advance the cause through cross-cultural understanding, grassroots work, and many personal friendships. These connections, the very essence of a PCV's work, lay the groundwork for peaceful relations and social change, one small step at a time.

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