Thursday, July 14, 2011

Vasyl and Kosiv, Ukraine




Kosiv and Carpathian Mountains, at a
summer survival camp in far western Ukraine. Photos by my RM (regional manager) Vasyl.
Click on link for more photos.



Vasyl Stefurak, my Regional Manager at Peace Corps-Ukraine headquarters in Kyiv, recently sent his former charges, now mostly RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers), a photo album of a “Summer Survival Camp” in his hometown of Kosiv (that's Vasyl, jeans & tan jacket, in middle of the group). The camp was founded by PCVs about 10 years ago, Vasyl said, and now it is a much-anticipated annual event for PCVs and young people from all over Ukraine. Cross-cultural relations at their finest!

I'm glad he sent the album. Such magnificent photos of the Carpathian mountains (like our Appalachians, the Blue Ridge Mountains, or Australia's Blue Mountains), the hearty souls at the camp, fields of wildflowers, wonderful hiking trails, streams and waterfalls, re-enactments of traditional Ukrainian dress and music, intimate views of camp life. Wonderful memories of the Carpathians!

I didn't know Kosiv was Vasyl’s hometown. I knew he was talented, bi-lingual, studied and spent time in the US. I think he's a former English Lit professor. I’m not sure. We never got to know Vasyl as well as he got to know us.

PCVs get immersed in the places where they are. For me that was Starbobelsk, Ukraine, in far-eastern Lugansk oblast, near the Russian border.

So most of us didn’t think about PC-UA headquarters in faraway Kyiv. Oh sure, we went there every few months for one thing or another, like trainings or medical appointments. For me that involved a 21-hour train ride from the city of Lugansk, which was about 2 hours away from Starobelsk by bus or marshruka, sometimes less if you had a tail wind from Russia and
could ride roughshod over daunting potholes.

Going to Kyiv, in other words, was a hassle, although no matter where we were posted in Ukraine, we learned to accept it, even to like it. For me, it was an overnight train ride. I usually met interesting Ukrainians who were happy to try to communicate with an Amerikanka. I got to like the big city, too; even learned to read the signs and take the subway from one end to another. The worst trip was when I broke my upper arm near the shoulder and had to go to Kyiv with only a few aspirins between me, the tracks and the pain.

But the PC staff was super: the medical staff (PCMO), the folks who helped with grants and finances, the administrative staff, the language and cultural instructors (fantastic), the site managers, the Regional Managers. All dedicated, bi-linqual, amazingly tuned in to PC goals.

That was so of my regional manager Vasyl. He got to know all about me, but I knew only a little about him. Certainly Vasyl had no easy job herding PCVs across Lugansk and Khargiv oblasts. And sometimes we crumbled, mumbled and rumbled. But mostly we were a stalwart bunch, and Vasyl let us know we could handle whatever came our way. Even though he was from the West, I now know, he helped us acclimate to the East. Different languages, different traditions, different perspectives, one nation struggling to survive and achieve social harmony, economic justice and self-determination.

Vasyl was tough, and so were we. He loved Ukraine, and so did we. That’s another reason I was happy to get a photo album of Vasyl’s hometown of Kosiv. I’d been to Slavsky and the towns around and near it, and to some trans-Carpathian towns, as well as the wonderful city of Lviv, full of history, culture, magnificent architecture, churches and monuments. I went with dear friends Olga, Tonya and Julia. I will never forget that trip. Я никогда не забуду.

But I didn’t know this was Vasyl’s stomping grounds, and I didn’t get to Kosiv. I didn't know he was such a magnificent photographer either, which he tells me is a passion and hobby of his. Seeing Vasyl’s hometown makes me feel closer to him, closer to Kosiv and the west, and maybe closer to a return trip to Ukraine, too!
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