Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Peace Corps Evacuates Volunteers from Ukraine

New York TImes photo.
Dear friends:  The  US Peace Corps has evacuated all volunteers from Ukraine, citing the "volatile" and "unstable" situation. People who work at Peace Corps headquarters in Kiev and my manager Vasyl said the volunteers in Khargiv, Lugansk and Crimea oblasts, along the Russian border, were out first.  Now all 250 volunteers are  back in  the US, housed at a place outside of Washington, DC.  They are anxiously waiting to see if there are any changes for the better in the next 45 days, during which period they can be called back, or elect to end their service.  

"The next 45 days?" I queried my friend Barb, who served for two tours of duty (4 years) in Crimea and had just arrived in DC."That's a long time."  

"Yes, and especially in Crimea, and along the border," she said.  She was deeply worried, given the tortured history of the Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians, and Russia's closeness to Crimea, which houses its Naval fleet in Sevestopol.  This is where Yanukovich is hiding out, too, not surprisingly.  Violence  is not out of the question; not at all.      

I understand Barb's concerns.  I served in Starobelsk, Ukraine, in the far-east, near the Russian border. Also, it’s not easy getting out of these oblasts and up to Kiev. It took me two hours to get to Lugansk to catch an overnight train to Kiev, a 22-hours train ride. Some volunteers had even longer trips (we compared "hardships" but not often).   

Evacuating volunteers from any country is a sad move of last resort. It’s happened in various African countries, in Georgia, in South American countries, but seldom from Eastern Europe.  An evacuation order indicates how vulnerable, unpredictable, and dangerous the political situation has become.   

Barb indicated that most volunteers felt safe within their communities, but of course the Peace Corps' first concern is for the safety of all volunteers.  

A new government is forming.  But Russia's Putin is not going to accept such a revolutionary change without a fight. Russia has put its army on high alert. Crimea's pro-Russian majority of 58% are being whipped up to protest any changes. The borders are increasingly unsafe.  Violence hovers.  

What will happen?  Quo vadis Ukraine?  

It's my fervent hope that President Obama bends a bit on his "neutrality" position, and joins Germany and other EU nations in giving financial and other support. It's how Europe survived after World War II. Why not Ukraine?   It's the largest country in Europe. Its natural and human resources are enormous. It was once the breadbasket of Europe.  Its potential to become a great modern country, a shining star in Eastern Europe, is vast.  

We  have to do more than pray for Ukraine. We have to help; we have to lend a hand.    

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