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Ukraine

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    The work isn't done yet with Ukraine and returning Volunteers to service. see more

    Hopeful work, as Volunteers return to serve alongside communities overseas. And crucial work to ensure Ukraine survives.

     

    By Steven Boyd Saum

    Illustration by Anna Ivanenko

     

    For so much of the Peace Corps community, the months since March have been brimming with optimism, bringing news of Volunteers returning to service in countries and communities across the globe. In Africa, they’ve returned to countries including Zambia and Madagascar, Ghana and The Gambia, Senegal and Sierra Leone. They have returned to the Eastern Caribbean and the Dominican Republic. In Latin America, Volunteers have been welcomed in countries including Paraguay and Peru, Colombia and Costa Rica, Ecuador and Belize. In Asia, Volunteers have returned to the Kyrgyz Republic. In Europe, they’re back in Kosovo. The litany runs to some two dozen countries, and invitations are out for Volunteers to return to twice as many — as well as to launch a new program in Viet Nam.

    At the same time, legislation has now been introduced in the Senate as well as the House to reauthorize the Peace Corps — and bring the most sweeping legislative reforms in a generation. That’s thanks in no small part to tremendous efforts by the Peace Corps community. All of those who took part in the Peace Corps Connect to the Future town halls and summit in 2020 played a role. Those who helped shape the community-driven report created a road map for the agency, executive branch, Congress, and the Peace Corps community. I know first-hand how hard colleagues worked as part of those efforts, some of us putting in 80- to 100-hour weeks for months on end to carry this effort forward; we understood that there would be a narrow window in Washington for these reforms to come to fruition in legislation. 

    That work isn’t done yet. (A familiar refrain, that. It comes with the territory for an institution charged with the mission of building peace and friendship.)  

    As Volunteers begin serving alongside communities once more, Europe is in the midst of its most horrific land war since 1945. The genocidal campaign launched by Russia against Ukraine continues to unfurl new atrocities day by day: In July, rockets fired on civilian infrastructure in Vinnytsia in central Ukraine — far from any front line — killed two dozen, including a young girl with Down’s syndrome. Grisly stories, photos, and videos of torture and mutilation of Ukrainian captives draw cheers from those backing the invaders.

     

    Lies and disinformation, false accusations meant to obfuscate the truth and distract from misdeeds. As if we needed to say it, when it comes to countering those, the work isn’t done yet.

     

    After apparently staging a mass execution of Ukrainian POWs in Olenivka, Russian disinfo serves up the claim that Ukrainian troops targeted their own. Olenivka lies just southwest of the city of Donets’k. Recall that not far to the northeast of Donets’k is where a Russian Buk missile downed the flight MH-17 in 2014, and the torrent of untruths about what had happened began.

    Lies and disinformation, false accusations meant to obfuscate the truth and distract from misdeeds. As if we needed to say it, when it comes to countering those, the work isn’t done yet.

     

    One of the cities under Russian occupation since the beginning of the war is Kherson, a port city in the south, not far from Crimea. In the wake of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine—which showed starkly the power of a democratic uprising as an existential threat to autocracy—I served as an observer in Kherson for the presidential election. When a polling place closes, the doors are supposed to be locked; no one is supposed to come or go until the counting is complete, the ballots wrapped up, and election protocols and ballots have been taken to the district electoral commission. It’s a good idea to come prepared with food and water to get you through a long night. The evening of that election, at the central grocery store in Kherson, just off Freedom Square, I stocked up: piroshki stuffed with cabbage and meat, along with smoked cheese, water, and some chocolate. The woman behind me was buying buckwheat, wrapped up in a clear plastic bag from the bulk foods section. She pointed at the credentials I wore on a lanyard. 

    “You’re an observer, yes?”

     

    "The young people of Ukraine are smart and they deserve a chance. We need to bring an end to all this —”

     

    I nodded.

    “Thank you for being here,” she said. “We’ve been living under bandits for twenty years. They’ve all been bandits. Putin, too. He’s a bandit. It’s like slavery. The young people of Ukraine are smart and they deserve a chance. We need to bring an end to all of this—”

    She waved her hands in the air over her head: the flutter and turmoil.

    Railway Station: “In recent months, we have said goodbye and hello so many times,” writes illustrator Anna Ivanenko. “I don’t know how many more hugs there will be during this war, but I hope most of them will be greetings.” Illustration by Anna Ivanenko

     

    I have thought of her often in recent months. Then, as now — and there, as well as here — one election does not make a democracy. Instead, though, what we have now is a politics of grievance in Russia that has fueled a war of aggression and lies. And the turmoil includes forced deportation of children and planned sham referenda in an attempt to expropriate yet more land and people from Ukraine.

    When it comes to stopping that, the work isn’t done yet.

     

    This essay appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine.

     


    Steven Boyd Saum is editor of WorldView and director of strategic communications for National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Ukraine 1994–96.

     August 29, 2022
    • See 2 more comments...
    • Steven Saum Also in this edition, in the essay "What We Mean by Friendship" David Jarmul looks at how, with the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Friends of Moldova has stepped in to provide crucial... see more Also in this edition, in the essay "What We Mean by Friendship" David Jarmul looks at how, with the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Friends of Moldova has stepped in to provide crucial support to thousands of refugees. www.peacecorpsconnect.org/articl...

      1 year ago
    • Steven Saum "Ukraine Stories" is a platform for citizen journalists, volunteers, and those working to deepen understanding of the war and efforts to help refugees. Read more about it in this story by Clary... see more "Ukraine Stories" is a platform for citizen journalists, volunteers, and those working to deepen understanding of the war and efforts to help refugees. Read more about it in this story by Clary Estes.
      www.peacecorpsconnect.org/articl...
      1 year ago
    • Steven Saum Earlier this summer, I hosted a conversation for The Commonwealth Club of California on assisting refugees from and inside Ukraine. Listen here:... see more Earlier this summer, I hosted a conversation for The Commonwealth Club of California on assisting refugees from and inside Ukraine. Listen here:
      www.commonwealthclub.org/events/...
      1 year ago
  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    Where I lived and taught — and people cared about me, and I about them. Then the war came. see more

    A place where I lived and taught — with colleagues and students and a family, people who cared about me and I about them. Then the war came.

     

    By Sonia Scherr

     

    Ten days before Russia launched its full-scale war in Ukraine, I awoke to a Facebook message wishing me a happy Valentine’s Day. It was from Liuda Skorlupina, a friend and former colleague in Bucha, near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Later that day, we met over Skype; it was night in Ukraine and she was in her home office, a room that had become familiar from our regular online conversations over the previous two years.

    Despite the sometimes glitchy connection, I could hear the cheerful lilt in Liuda’s voice, and we talked easily. She asked about the job I’d begun a few months earlier at a small public school in rural Vermont. I updated her on the virtual meetings I’d been having with a group of ninth graders at Bucha School No. 5, where I had taught English as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer. She suggested setting up a Zoom meeting to bring together teenagers at School No. 5, where she still worked as an English teacher, and their American peers at my school.

    The meeting couldn’t happen right away, however. School No. 5 had moved to remote instruction for a couple of weeks because of a surge in COVID-19 cases. The school year had been wearing at times, and I thought of the teachers at my Vermont school who also felt depleted as they navigated changing pandemic protocols and waves of student absences.

    Liuda didn’t mention the possibility of a Russian invasion. I hesitated to bring it up; the Ukrainian president had criticized U.S. officials for provoking panic with their insistence that Russia planned to attack. Finally, toward the end of the conversation, I asked how she was feeling about the security situation in Ukraine. She said she believed it would be all right. She spoke with conviction, and I was reassured.


    Red Line to Marshrutka 381

    I first heard of Bucha in the summer of 2019. I had been serving as a Response Volunteer for nearly a year, teaching English in a much larger city in central Ukraine. I was ready for a change, and Peace Corps staff told me the prospective Volunteer who had been assigned to School No. 5 was unable to serve in Ukraine. Would I like to visit Bucha to see if it would be a good fit?

    On July 10, I took the Kyiv metro to the end of the red line, then boarded the No. 381 marshrutka (minibus) bound for Bucha. I looked out the window as a commercial strip gave way to pine forest, anxious about whether I’d feel comfortable in this new place. Twenty-five minutes later, I got off in front of the Novus, a supermarket in Bucha’s center. Liuda, who had short blond hair and a warm smile, met me at the stop along with Anya Maymeskul, also an English teacher at School No. 5. Together we crossed the busy intersection to the school, set back from Vokzalna Street on a campus that resembled a park in its profusion of trees and flowering plants: pines and oaks, guelder rose, marigolds and chrysanthemums, rowan whose bright red berries would ripen in September. 

    I was served tea and sweets and given a tour of the school. I learned it specialized in foreign language instruction and enrolled about 1,000 elementary and high school students. It was one of several schools in Bucha, a growing suburb of almost 40,000 residents. 

    Later, we walked several blocks north, to the 100-acre city park, the pride of Bucha. It featured wide lit paths for walkers and bicyclists; a long narrow canal speckled with lily pads; sculptures both elegant and whimsical; gardens that formed intricate geometric patterns; and less-traveled trails through the woods. From a promenade in the heart of the park, we looked out over a lake, tinged silver in the afternoon light. The anxiety I’d felt earlier was gone.

    In August, a week before the start of school, I moved to Bucha.

     

    First bell: Students at Bucha School No. 5 begin the school year in a happier time. The words above the entrance read “Memories of school days gather friends together.” Photo by Volodymyr Titov. See more of his work at @highstandpoint

      

    I WAS WECLOMED BY MY HOST FAMILY: Natasha, a chemistry teacher at School No. 5; her husband, Vadim; and their two teenage children. They lived in a house Natasha’s husband had built, in a neighborhood of large, contemporary homes. They had a German Shepherd named Dana that was fiercely attached to her caretakers, who came to include me. She protected us from anyone she deemed a potential intruder by barking loudly and sprinting back and forth on the lawn.

    Natasha, whose dark hair framed her face, moved with calm, purposeful energy. When she wasn’t teaching, she often worked in the family’s garden, which took up most of their spacious backyard, and in the kitchen she called her studio. I loved her holubtsi (cabbage rolls), cherry vareniki (dumplings), cheese pancakes called syrniki, and potato pancakes stuffed with meat.

    From my host family’s house, it was a brisk 20-minute walk to school. Each morning I turned left and passed St. Andrew’s Church, a white edifice whose grounds covered a square city block. The church helped orient me during my first weeks in Bucha; its gold domes were beacons guiding me back to my street.

    On my walk home, I was sometimes joined by a seventh grader who lived in the same direction, and she would give me an impromptu Ukrainian lesson inspired by what we passed on our way: buildings, vehicles, plantings, other pedestrians. Briefly these everyday things became new again as I said their names in an unfamiliar language. For instance, the three-syllable Ukrainian word for tree, derevo, evoked for me a tree’s branching complexity, unlike the stolid rootedness brought to mind by the English word. 

    A few times a week I took a detour after school to the market near the train station, which I preferred to Bucha’s modern grocery stores. I never knew exactly what I would find in the stalls that filled a paved lot as well as an enclosed pavilion and two covered passageways. I sought out raspberries when in season, walnuts, sunflower oil, milk in repurposed plastic bottles, and soft crumbly farmer’s cheese I liked to eat with jam or honey. A woman would cut a slab of this cheese from a much larger white block, weigh and wrap it, then calculate what I owed on a notepad.

    Part of Bucha’s appeal was its proximity to Kyiv, to which many of its residents commuted for work, and on weekends I often took the marshrutka into the capital. One warm late summer night, not long after my arrival in Bucha, I was returning from Kyiv later than expected and missed a call from Natasha as I tried to keep my balance in the aisle of a packed marshrutka. Right away I received a text from her. “Hello,” she wrote, and I knew that Natasha, who did not speak English, was checking to make sure I was okay.

    I told her I was. “I’m almost home,” I typed.

    While Kyiv was vast and exciting, Bucha was home, I realized — a place where there were people who cared about me, and I about them.

     

     

    “Pray for Ukraine.”

    And then, unexpectedly, I had to leave. In March 2020, the pandemic led the Peace Corps to suspend all its Volunteer activities worldwide. I had 48 hours to pack and get to the airport. There was no time to say goodbye in person to most of the people I had become close to during my months of service.

    On the plane back to Washington, D.C., I declined to join other Volunteers in ringing a bell that was passed from seat to seat. It was intended to substitute for the bell each Volunteer has traditionally rung at the Peace Corps Ukraine office to mark their close of service. But why ring anything when I’d return as soon as I could? I never thought months would turn into years without the Peace Corps resuming its overseas programs. Yet amid the losses and uncertainty of the pandemic, I maintained a connection with Bucha, one that increasingly provided solace and purpose.

    In spring 2020, Liuda and I collaborated across time zones to finish a collection of student creative writing and artwork we had begun shortly before the evacuation of Volunteers. The project took on greater importance for me: During a period when the pandemic had quite literally forced us apart, it felt like stories had the potential to bring us together.We also partnered with an American middle school teacher to set up a weekly exchange between his virtual classroom in Maine and some of the students I had taught in Bucha. Each week, participants responded to a prompt we gave them by making a short video and sharing it with the group. The exchange, which we began in April 2020 and continued through the next school year, allowed me to get to know my students more deeply as I learned about their joys, struggles, concerns, and hopes.

    At the beginning of the 2021–22 school year, Liuda and I decided that real-time meetings would be most helpful for the Ukrainian students. During these monthly sessions, the children in their Zoom squares commanded all my attention, and I was aware of being fully engaged in the present, temporarily freed from regrets or worries. By this year’s Martin Luther King Day, when we met to talk about the song “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” and its association with the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, I had worked with several of the students for two and a half years, first in person and then remotely.

    From the time I left Ukraine, I also kept in touch with friends there. Because my level of Ukrainian was fairly basic, Natasha and I communicated mainly through photos. As the weeks and months passed, I saw my former neighborhood transformed by a late March snowfall; Natasha and her daughter (with help from Dana, the dog) raking leaves in the spring sunshine; microgreens growing in plastic trays inside her home; a family of swans on the lake in Bucha City Park; watermelons ripening in her greenhouse; her children paddling down the river on a hot summer day; and closeups of flowers blooming in her garden. So many varieties that I did not know all their names. Looking at her photos, I pictured a time when I would return to Bucha. 

     

    WHEN THE RUSSIAN ONSLAUGHT BEGAN, I felt disbelief that this could happen to a place I knew. On February 24, the first day of full-scale invasion, I sent messages via Facebook and Skype to everyone I had remained in contact with there.

    “Pray for Ukraine,” Liuda wrote back. She reported that the Russian military was trying to seize an airport in the neighboring town of Hostomel. “It is really dangerous here in Bucha. Russians were bombarding Hostomel airport all day. It was a nightmare.”

    Anya, her colleague whom I had first met when I visited Bucha, thanked me for my words of support as she took shelter from the intense shelling. “We are in the basement right now!!! God is with us!!!”

    I tried to imagine what it was like but could not. Bucha had always felt safe. The only exception was when I went jogging in the park one evening and heard thunder, and looked up to see pulses of lightning. Even then I had made it home before the rain.

     

    Liuda sent me a video showing buildings on fire, car windows shattered, a man slumped in the street while someone tried to wipe blood from his face. “Sonia,” she wrote, “this is Bucha today.”

     

    The next day, Liuda sent me a video showing buildings on fire, car windows shattered, a man slumped in the street while someone tried to wipe blood from his face. “Sonia,” she wrote, “this is Bucha today.”

    Feeling helpless, I wrote again on February 28 after reading reports of heavy fighting in Bucha. Liuda sent photos showing the devastation; I squinted at them, trying to recognize the streets filled with rubble and burned-out tanks, the destroyed homes. Liuda had seen a dead body in the street. “That was a real shock,” she wrote.

    On the same day, Anya told me she wished she could bring food and clothes for Ukrainian soldiers. “I would like to do much more for my country and my army…. but I have to stay in the flat because my children don’t let me go… (the) younger (one) begins to panic if I leave them…”

    Meanwhile, Natasha had left Bucha with her children and was staying with her mother in a village 110 miles from Kyiv. Her husband was fighting in the war. “Yes, Bucha was defeated, but we are a hardworking people, and we will definitely rebuild the city, the country,” she wrote in Ukrainian. Then her message shifted to the present: “There are shells on our street. My students and their parents are all hiding in basements. This is horror!”

    The Russians withdrew from Bucha at the end of February after experiencing heavy losses, then returned in early March. News of a death appeared in my Facebook feed: Serhei Krochak, the husband of one of the English teachers at my school, died on March 4, ten days before his 45th birthday. Liuda would tell me he was shot by Russian soldiers when he went out to try to get food. He was found lying on the road.

    On March 6, I sent messages to Liuda and Anya, who I knew were still in the city. This time, there was no answer—and the icon next to my messages indicated they hadn’t been received. On Liuda’s Facebook page, several people had posted asking if anyone had heard from her. 

     

    "Yes, Bucha was defeated, but we are a hardworking people, and we will definitely rebuild the city, the country,” she wrote in Ukrainian. Then her message shifted to the present: “There are shells on our street. My students and their parents are all hiding in basements. This is horror!” 

     

    In the days that followed, I scoured the Internet and social media for news about Bucha. Finally, on March 10, I received a response from Anya, now in Kyiv and planning her onward journey. It was the second time she had been displaced, the first being eight years ago when fighting flared between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in the country’s east. “I couldn’t answer before — we didn’t have electricity,” she wrote. “We have been evacuated from Bucha… We have left our home… again… as it was in 2014.”

    Soon I reconnected with Liuda as well. She was staying with her parents in a town in western Ukraine, along with the four members of her sister’s family. The first time we tried to Skype, air raid sirens started going off and she had to postpone our meeting. When we talked the next day, she described grim conditions during her final days in Bucha, with no electricity and difficulty obtaining food and water. Without gas for the stove, cooking had to be done outside over an open fire.

    She and her then 10-year-old son, Zhenia, had fled Bucha in a small SUV with eight people and two cats. They had little time to prepare and were compelled to leave behind their own pets: a dog and two kittens. On their way out of town, they were stopped at three checkpoints manned by heavily armed Russian soldiers; each time, Liuda and the others in the Jeep Patriot raised their hands to indicate they were civilians. It was so packed inside the vehicle that one little boy had to sit in the cargo area at the very rear of the hatchback, and they worried that the soldiers would open the door and think they were trying to hide him. After boarding a train headed west, Liuda felt safe at last. But she was very worried about her 78-year-old mother-in-law and 82-year-old father-in-law, still in the besieged city of Mariupol. It had been eight days since there had been any word from them.

     

     

    Gilt domes in Bucha: Church of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called and All Saints. Its grounds became site of a mass grave for Ukrainians killed by Russian invaders. Photo by Simone Barbieri / Alamy

     


    Everything turns away

    Bucha was liberated by Ukrainian troops on March 31. In the days afterward, the atrocities Russian soldiers had committed there began to emerge. People had been executed on their streets, in their yards, inside their homes. Some had been tortured and raped. The church I had passed daily was the site of a mass grave where people were searching for their loved ones. Looking at the photos made me dizzy with shock and grief.

    Yet I did not think about Bucha all the time. There were minutes, even hours, when I was preoccupied by tasks at work, and the horror of what had happened would recede. I felt grateful for these times, yet also guilty. Ten days after the war began, The New York Times published an essay on W.H. Auden’s 1940 poem “Musée des Beaux Arts.” The poem’s second stanza is about a Bruegel painting that shows Icarus falling into the sea as a ploughman continues his plowing:

    everything turns away
    Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
    Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
    But for him it was not an important failure

    I found myself feeling more forgiving of the ploughman, whom I had judged for seeming to ignore the suffering nearby. Perhaps the painting didn’t show everything. Perhaps there were times he had witnessed disaster and had not turned away.

    As I tried to keep in touch with friends in Ukraine, I struggled to find new ways to express my concern. I reached for phrases from previous messages and hoped no one would find them less sincere for having been used again: I am keeping you in my heart… I think about you every day… I am heartbroken... To the students I had worked with, I always added another one: I miss you…

    One of them wrote back to me shortly before the liberation of Bucha. She was in western Ukraine with her family, volunteering at a church, helping others displaced by the war. She was worried about her grandparents and her dog, who were still in Bucha, though she believed they would be OK.

    I didn’t hear from any others.

     

    Don’t look away: Anna and Vladyslav, students at School No. 5, were both killed when Russian forces invaded Bucha. Photos courtesy Bucha School No. 5

     

    On April 20, School No. 5 announced on its Facebook page that two students, eighth grader Anna Mishchenko and seventh grader Vladyslav Magdik, had been killed in early March while trying to flee the city with family members. Beneath the announcement was a school photo of Anna and another of Vladyslav, seated at a desk in a sunlit room, chin resting on his hand, smiling.

    For a few months I had worked weekly with Anna’s English class. As I looked at drawings Anna had made, now posted online, it pained me that I had known her only as a somewhat distracted English student, and not as the gifted artist she was. I had worked for many months in the eighth-grade classroom of Vladyslav’s older sister, who was injured in the attack that killed her brother. She also participated in the first round of the virtual exchange between School No. 5 and the middle school in Maine. I recalled how she always sent a cheery response to my emails reminding students to submit their weekly video. In my memory she had the same bright smile as her brother. 

    Amid the terrible news, I felt comforted each time I was able to communicate with Ukrainian friends. Together with her sons, Anya had traveled to Poland, Germany, France and then Britain, where they were staying. “We have everything that is necessary for a good life really,” she wrote. “The only problem — I don’t know what to do then … and we miss our home. But, in general, everything is good.”

    In mid-May, Liuda Skyped with me once more, this time from her home in Bucha, to which she had returned the day after Orthodox Easter. Though the streets had been cleared of rubble, it felt unfamiliar. “Everything was really quiet,” she said. “I was afraid of the silence.” Officials were still identifying the dead, more than 400 so far. Sometimes she would hear loud explosions as sappers defused mines left behind from the fighting; residents had been warned against going into the forest, where unexploded mines remained.

    Liuda’s mother-in-law was with her in Bucha, after managing to escape Mariupol. Her father-in-law had died during the occupation of the city, and his wife had to leave his body behind in their flat. The building later burned.

    Even as she grieved the deaths of people she had known in Bucha and elsewhere, Liuda cherished being with her colleagues again. “We were crying and hugging each other,” she said. “We became closer in some way.” Of the 100 faculty and staff at School No. 5, about 30 had returned (by late June that had increased to half). Liuda also had begun meeting remotely with a few students from each of her classes, more to provide opportunities for interaction than formal lessons. The first time she met with one group, she was so glad to see them that she forgot a parent’s request to record the session.

    The plan is for in-person classes to resume in the fall. A hole in the school’s roof, the result of shelling, was repaired. As they did every spring, educators gathered for a workday in the school’s gardens, raking, digging, and planting. On the school’s Facebook page there were photos not only of the gardens but also of classrooms; one of them showed Liuda standing at her desk, watering a plant.

    Yet by late June, driven by uncertainty about the war’s trajectory, Liuda had decided to leave once more with her son. This time she planned to go abroad, for at least a year. Her husband would remain in Ukraine. (The Ukrainian government has prohibited most men ages 18–60 from leaving the country.)

    Natasha and her daughter spent the spring in Germany. She was grateful they hadn’t lost any close relatives. “It’s impossible to believe all that Bucha went through,” she wrote in late April. “The mind cannot perceive it.”

    I wrote to Natasha that seeing all the spring flowers in Vermont, especially the daffodils and tulips, reminded me of her garden and the beauty of Bucha. “Yes,” she replied, “the daffodils are really blooming right now.” She sent a picture of Dana rolling on their lawn, near a bed of yellow and white daffodils. Their son had returned to their house in Bucha, which hadn’t been damaged in the fighting, and was tending the flowers. “Dana sunbathes and is happy to be back home, because wherever you are, home is best.”

    At the end of May, Natasha also returned to Bucha. Her daughter, who wanted to finish her final year of high school with friends and classmates, followed a few weeks later. Natasha told me she was spending a lot of time at home and in her garden. The roses were blooming there in shades of red and pink, and she sent me pictures.

     

    Though streets had been cleared of rubble, it felt unfamiliar. “Everything was really quiet,” Liuda said. “I was afraid of the silence.” Officials were still identifying the dead, more than 400 so far. Sometimes she would hear loud explosions as sappers defused mines left behind from the fighting; residents had been warned against going into the forest, where unexploded mines remained.

     

    AS A RESULT OF THE WAR, my own sense of what it would mean to return to Bucha has changed. I’ve realized the city was always present for me in the lasting friendships that formed there, and especially in my ongoing connection with students from School No. 5. I’ve felt their absence strongly since February, along with worry about their well-being. I think, for me, a return to Bucha would happen through a return to my work with them, wherever it could take place.

    I’m not sure when that will be. The war has shifted to the east, but in summer 2022 it continues unabated. For the first time, the school year has finished without any word from my students.

    Faced with this silence, I borrow strength and hope from Liuda, Anya, Natasha, and others I have kept in touch with these past several months. I trust there is a place beyond the silence, and that someday we will reach it.

    For now, I send my students a message every month, using phrases that are no less true for their repetition:

    I miss you…
    I am keeping you in my heart…
    I think about you every day.

     

    IN JULY, I RECEIVED A RESPONSE from one of my students, a rising high school sophomore named Vlada. “Thank you for worrying about all of us!” she wrote. She reported that she had left Ukraine in March and had been staying in Sweden since then. “My family is safe here and we are getting a lot of support and help!

    “I really hope all this will be over soon and we will meet again.

    “I miss you too...”

     

    This essay appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 print edition of WorldView magazine. Story updated September 9, 2022.



    Sonia Scherr served as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Ukraine 2018–20. She works at a public school in central Vermont.

     

     August 25, 2022
    • See 1 more comment...
    • Steven Saum Also in this edition, in the essay "What We Mean by Friendship," David Jarmul looks at how, with the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Friends of Moldova has stepped in to provide... see more Also in this edition, in the essay "What We Mean by Friendship," David Jarmul looks at how, with the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Friends of Moldova has stepped in to provide crucial support to thousands of refugees. www.peacecorpsconnect.org/articl...
      1 year ago
    • Steven Saum "Ukraine Stories" is a platform for citizen journalists, volunteers, and those working to deepen understanding of the war and efforts to help refugees. Read more about it in this story by Clary... see more "Ukraine Stories" is a platform for citizen journalists, volunteers, and those working to deepen understanding of the war and efforts to help refugees. Read more about it in this story by Clary Estes.
      www.peacecorpsconnect.org/articl...
      1 year ago
    • Steven Saum As I write in my essay for this edition of WorldView, this is a time of unfinished business for the Peace Corps community: hopeful work, as Volunteers return to serve alongside communities... see more As I write in my essay for this edition of WorldView, this is a time of unfinished business for the Peace Corps community: hopeful work, as Volunteers return to serve alongside communities overseas. And crucial work to ensure Ukraine survives. www.peacecorpsconnect.org/articl...
      1 year ago
  • Tiffany James posted an article
    Updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country and around the world see more

    News and updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country, around the world, and spanning generations of returned Volunteers and staff.

     

    By Peter V. Deekle (Iran 1968–70)

     

    Gloria Blackwell (pictured), who served as a Volunteer in Cameroon 1986–88, was recently named CEO of the American Association of University Women — a nonprofit organization advancing equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, and research. In April, Colombia bestowed citizenship upon Maureen Orth (Colombia 1964–66) in recognition of her lifetime of work supporting education in the country. Writer Michael Meyer (China 1995–97) recently published Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet, which explores Franklin’s deathbed wager of 2,000 pounds to Boston and Philadelphia with the expectation that the investments be lent out over the following two centuries to tradesmen to jump-start their careers. Plus we share news about fellowships, a new documentary, and poetry in translation from Ukrainian.

    Have news to share with the Peace Corps community? Let us know.

     

    BELIZE

    Eric Scherer (1975–76) was appointed as state executive director for the USDA Rhode Island Farm Service Agency (FSA) by the Biden Administration in late April. He previously worked as a USDA technical service provider and USDA certified conservation planner, providing technical consulting work for the public and private sector on natural resource issues. Prior to his work as a technical consultant, he served as the executive director of the Southern Rhode Island Conservation District, where he provided program leadership for the conservation district programs that focused on conserving and protecting natural resources. Scherer brings to his new role 37 years of federal service experience, including work for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in six states in various positions. As state executive director, he will oversee the delivery of FSA programs to agricultural producers in Rhode Island.

     

     

    CAMEROON

    Gloria Blackwell (1986–88) was named chief executive officer of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) last October. She is also AAUW’s main representative to the United Nations. For nearly two decades, Blackwell managed AAUW’s highly esteemed fellowships and grants program — awarding more than $70 million in funding to women scholars and programs in the U.S. and abroad. Before she joined AAUW in 2004, Blackwell’s extensive experience in fellowship and grant management expanded during her time with Institute of International Education as the director of Africa education programs. While in that position, she oversaw girl’s education programs in Africa and mid-career fellowships for global professionals. In addition to serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon, she served as a Peace Corps staff member in Washington, D.C.

     
     

     

    CHINA

    The latest book from Michael Meyer (1995–97) is Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet (Mariner Books), which explores Franklin’s deathbed wager of 2,000 pounds to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia with the expectation that the investments be lent out over the following two centuries to tradesmen to jump-start their careers. In an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, Meyer shared his own surprise at discovering the story behind this wager. “I didn't know that his will was essentially another chapter of his life,” he said, “that he used his will to settle scores with family, with enemies, and he used his will to pass on his legacy and his values and to place a large bet on the survival of the working class in the United States.” Meyer was among the first Peace Corps Volunteers who served in China. Since serving there, he has written three reported books set in China, starting with The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed. His writing has earned him a Whiting Writers’ Award for nonfiction, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Lowell Thomas Award for Best Travel Book from the Society of American Travel Writers. Meyer’s stories have appeared in various publications, including The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Time, the Los Angeles Times, and the Paris Review. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Taiwan in 2021.

     

     

    COLOMBIA

    On April 27, Maureen Orth (1964–66) was honored in a ceremony in which she was sworn in as a citizen of Colombia — in recognition of her lifetime of service to the people of Colombia. That all began with serving in the Peace Corps. By video conference, President of Colombia Iván Duque Márquez administered the oath of citizenship to Orth during an elegant ceremony hosted by Colombian Ambassador to the U.S. Juan Carlos Pinzón at his residence. In 2005, at the request of the Secretary of Education of Medellin who asked her to empower the children in her school to become competitive in the 21st century, Orth founded the Marina Orth Foundation. It has since grown to include 21 public and charter schools offering computers for every child K-5, STEM, English, and leadership training, including robotics and coding. In 2015, then-Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos awarded her the Cruz de San Carlos, Colombia’s highest civilian award for service to the country. She also was awarded the McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian of the Year Award from Refugees International.

     

    Elyse Magen (2018–20) assumed a new position in April as program associate for the Udall Foundation — an independent executive branch agency providing programs to promote leadership, education, collaboration, and conflict resolution in the areas of environment, public lands, and natural resources. Magen brings to her new role diverse experience addressing economic, social, and environmental issues by working with diverse communities in the United States and Latin America. While earning her bachelor’s in economics and environmental studies at Tulane University, Magen worked as a peer health educator at the university’s wellness center, and she served as an environmental economics intern at the U.S. Embassy in Ecuador during the summer of 2017. In 2020, Magen was evacuated from her Peace Corps service as a community economic development analyst in Colombia due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Refusing to let that be the end of her Volunteer story, she obtained an NPCA Community Fund grant to complete one of her unfinished secondary projects with “Chicas de Transformación,” a womens’ chocolate cooperative in Santa Marta, Colombia. With the support of a NPCA community fund grant, Magen helped the collective build a new workspace and purchase machinery that would allow the cooperative to start selling a new line of chocolate products they were unable to produce before, increasing their profit margins.

     

     

    GUINEA

    Jessica Pickering (2019–20) is a 2022 Templeton Fellow within the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Africa Program. In May 2022, she graduated from Tulane University with a master’s degree in homeland security and a certificate in intelligence. From the University of Washington in Seattle, she received her bachelor’s in international affairs, focusing on foreign policy, diplomacy, peace, and security. Her research interests include international security, foreign policy, and the effects of gender equity, climate change, and governance on policy and stability in West Africa.
     

     

     

     

    MOROCCO

    Mathew Crichton (2016–17) is now a senior consultant at Deloitte, advising government and public sector clients through critical and complex issues. From 2018–22, Crichton served as an IT and Training Specialist with the Peace Corps Agency and president of its employee union.

     

     

     

     

     

    MOZAMBIQUE

    Charles Vorkas (2002–04) is a faculty member at Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine. With a diverse background in research and international patient care, Vorkas is leading efforts in his newly-established lab to better understand disease resistance. It was while serving as a Volunteer in Mozambique that he witnessed the effects of infectious diseases and was often in contact with individuals who were suffering from diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis. “It definitely confirmed that this was a major global health problem that I would like to help to address in my career,” Vorkas said.

     

     

     

      

    ROMANIA

    Matt Sarnecki (2004–06), a journalist, producer and film director at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, had a world premiere in May at Hot Docs 2022 in the International Spectrum Section of his documentary film, “The Killing of a Journalist.” It tells the story of a young investigative journalist, Ján Kuciak, and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, who were brutally murdered in their home in Slovakia in February 2018. Their deaths inspired the biggest protests in Slovakia since the fall of communism. The story took an unexpected turn when a source leaked the secret murder case file to the murdered journalist’s colleagues. It included the computers and encrypted communications of the assassination’s alleged mastermind, a businessman closely connected to the country’s ruling party. Trawling these encrypted messages, journalists discovered that their country had been captured by corrupt oligarchs, judges, and law enforcement officials.

     

     

     

    UKRAINE

    Ali Kinsella (2008–11), together with Dzvinia Orlowsky, is the translator of the poetry collection Eccentric Days of Hope and Sorrow (Lost Horse Press, 2021) by Ukrainian writer Natalka Bilotserkivets. Eccentric Days of Hope and Sorrow brings together selected works written over the last four decades. Having established an English language following largely on the merits of a single poem, Bilotserkivets’s larger body of work continues to be relatively unknown. Natalka Bilotserkivets was an active participant in Ukraine’s Renaissance of the late-Soviet and early independence period. Ali Kinsella has been translating from Ukrainian for eight years. Her published works include essays, poetry, monographs, and subtitles to various films. She holds an M.A. from Columbia University, where she wrote a thesis on the intersection of feminism and nationalism in small states. She lived in Ukraine for nearly five years. She is currently in Chicago, where she also sometimes works as a baker. The collection is shortlisted for the 2022 Griffin Poetry Prize.

     

     

    PEACE CORPS STAFF

    Kechi Achebe, who directs Office of Global Health and HIV for the Peace Corps, was recently among those honored as part of a special event recognizing leaders in the Nigerian Diaspora in the United States. Themed “The Pride of Our Ancestry; The Strength of Our Diaspora,” the event was hosted by the Nigerian Physicians Advocacy Group and Constituency for Africa and included special guest Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director-general at the World Trade Organization. “There is no greater blessing than to be honored by your own community,” Achebe said. “I stand on the shoulders of women and other global health leaders who started the fight for global health equity for all, especially for disadvantaged communities all over the world.” Achebe has served in her role with the Peace Corps since December 2020. She previously led leadership posts with Africare and Save the Children.

     

     

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Two returned Volunteers who served in Ukraine now play key roles as journalists there. see more

    Two returned Volunteers who served in Ukraine now play key roles as journalists reporting on that country.

     

    By NPCA Staff

     

    Sabra Ayres (Ukraine 1995–97) was named chief correspondent for Ukraine at the Associated Press (AP) in September. She manages and coordinates AP’s coverage of Ukraine, including text, photography, and video storytelling. Ayres has nearly two decades of reporting that covered U.S. state and national politics, international relations, and developing democracies—with bylines from Ukraine, Russia, Afghanistan, Europe, and India.

     

    Christopher Miller (Ukraine 2010–12) has joined the Financial Times as Ukraine correspondent. He has previously covered Ukraine for Politico, BuzzFeed News, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. As a Volunteer, Miller served in the city of Bakhmut, which has been devastated by a months-long Russian offensive.


    This updated appears in the Winter 2023 edition of WorldView magazine.

     January 25, 2023
  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Parting advice from a writer and friend see more

    Parting advice from a writer and friend

     

    By Steven Boyd Saum

     

    Almost three decades ago, before I left California to begin serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine, my friend Clark Blaise passed along the phone number for a fellow writer he knew in Kyiv. Yaroslav Stelmakh was the first Ukrainian to receive a fellowship to attend the International Writing Program at Iowa — a program that Clark directed and, since 1967, has connected well-established writers from around the globe.

    Yaroslav StelmakhSlava Stelmakh (that's him on the left) was primarily a playwright — and staking out what was newly possible to say and do on the page, stage, and screen following the end of the Soviet regime. That included humor and delight and exploring the boundaries of genre; he wrote the first Ukrainian rock opera, about a comical Napoleon-like figure. He also was heir to a writerly name; his father, Mykhailo Stelmakh, was a well-known writer of novels, poetry, and drama.

    The first time I spoke to Slava, I had only been in Ukraine a couple weeks; I was staying with a family on the western outskirts of Kyiv. My host mother, Halia, was positively giddy when Slava called and arranged to pick me up the next morning. For breakfast Slava cooked potatoes and onions and eggs — call it a temporary bachelor’s frittata — and, because a director friend from Kharkiv had just arrived by overnight train, Slava opened a bottle of homemade horilka. It was the beginning of a friendship that has carried on across the years. But it’s one that has had to be nurtured solely by the spirit of Slava for a long time; Slava was killed in a car crash in 2001. Yet he remains someone who exerts a gravitational pull for me and others — writers, singers, educators, and friends who animate the intellectual and cultural life of Ukraine, who sustain an awareness of the past and how it shapes what is possible now and in the future. Then, as now, the Holodomor looms large — that artificial famine in the 1930s, inflicted as an act of genocide.

    Once more hunger is a weapon. And day after day, Russian missiles strike apartment buildings and hospitals and other civilian infrastructure. For the people of Ukraine it is literally a battle of darkness and light. For all of us, a reminder: Now is not the time to turn away. It’s a time to raise our voices and lift a hand, however we can.

     

    “Now is not the time to turn away. It’s a time to raise our voices and lift a hand, however we can.”

     

    In September, when Congressman John Garamendi spoke in the House of Representatives of the need to pass the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act, he drew attention to the thousands of Peace Corps Volunteers who had served in Ukraine. It was to drive home the fact that this very personal grassroots work, over decades together in communities, takes on a significance rarely apparent in the moment.Cover of WorldView magazine with JFK

    As it happens, the House vote came just days after the special 60th anniversary edition of WorldView picked up top honors at the FOLIO Magazine Awards. Garamendi’s staff worked with colleagues here at NPCA to make sure copies of that edition were placed where representatives wouldn’t miss them—a physical reminder of the legacy of this global Peace Corps endeavor launched by President Kennedy, and of a responsibility we owe to things larger than ourselves.

    Also as it happens, I spent a couple days with Clark Blaise in New York around that awards gala. Clark was a gracious host, as always. (It was also a special time for Clark, now 83 years old: He was celebrating the soon-to-be publication of This Time, That Place, a new volume of his selected stories, with a foreword by Margaret Atwood.) We shared stories of Slava Stelmakh, of course — and of threads woven through lives and across continents and decades. When I headed out the door to catch my plane, Clark’s parting words of fatherly advice were: “Be good, be kind, and be lucky.”

    One could do worse than take that to heart. Though the last one is tricky, isn’t it? Which puts an even greater imperative on the first two — traits too often in short supply.

    As we’ve noted time and again, the past several years have been unprecedented in so many ways. For the Peace Corps community: global evacuation. Reimagining, reshaping, and retooling the Peace Corps. And Volunteers returning to service. Here at NPCA, we were fortunate to have Glenn Blumhorst leading during a critical time — harnessing community efforts with a sense of shared responsibility and possibility. For example, leading the steering committee on the “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report was Joel Rubin — who had served in the Obama administration, and later came on board at NPCA to serve as vice president for global policy and public affairs. It’s been a privilege to shoulder this common load.

    As I step down from leading work on WorldView, I’m grateful for the talent and imagination by all who have contributed to the print and digital magazine. Special thanks to art director extraordinaire Pamela Fogg, whose first edition grappled with the evacuation of Volunteers — and has brought intelligence and vibrance to the magazine. Readers are lucky Pam came on board. And staying.

     


    Steven Boyd Saum served as editor of WorldView and director of strategic communications for NPCA. He was a Volunteer in Ukraine 1994–96.

     February 01, 2023
  • Steven Saum posted an article
    The importance of mass demonstrations against the repressive clerical regime see more

    The mass demonstrations against the repressive clerical regime in Iran are arguably the greatest threat the Iranian government has faced in 43 years.

     

    From an essay by Paul Barker

    Editor of the Peace Corps Iran Association Advocacy Bulletin

     

    Perhaps because they are leaderless, the mass demonstrations against the repressive clerical regime in Iran are arguably the greatest threat the Iranian government has faced in 43 years. The risks that students, musicians, journalists, academics, athletes, and ethnic minorities shoulder to speak and act out against the government continue to be met with violent repression, judicial as well as extra-judicial killings, and mass imprisonment. The music of the protest is as haunting as it is beautiful. The silence of the Iran Melli soccer team while the Iranian national anthem was played in Qatar at the World Cup was a loud statement, as were the words of Iranian soccer stars in support of the anti-government protests.

     

    In London, protestors against the clerical regime in Iran in 2022

    Speak out: Protestors in London honor Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, who died in police custody in Tehran. She had been detained by Iran’s morality police for wearing a hijab headscarf in an “improper” way. Protests are taking place in Iran and the access to the internet and social media is now being restricted. Photo by Stephen Chung/Alamy

     

    This is an important time for non-Iranian Americans to speak up for diplomacy and in defense of Iranian American journalists and scholars. Many who support the current
    leaderless protests want to refer to this uprising as a revolution. This is particularly appealing to those wishing to see a free, democratic, much more secular Iran which fully respects and defends the human rights of women, girls, and other oppressed people in the country.

    Iranians inside Iran should decide the future of Iran. Western governments should take stands and steps against the clerical regime’s supply of missiles, drones, and technical assistance to Russia to use in its war against Ukraine. The regime’s violent crackdown on protesters inside Iran should be denounced. At the same time, we need to ensure that doors remain open for eventual diplomacy with Iran on nuclear issues.

     

    Paul Barker served as a Volunteer and staff in Iran and Bahrain 1971–76. Read more at peacecorpsiran.org.


    This story appears in the Winter 2023 edition of WorldView magazine.

     January 28, 2023
  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Honoring three groups working to help the people of Ukraine see more

    Honoring three groups working to help the people of Ukraine

     

    By NPCA Staff

     

    The 2022 Loret Miller Ruppe Award for Outstanding Community Service honors three groups that have worked together to support the people of Ukraine since the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022. The RPCV Alliance for Ukraine, the Friends of Moldova, and Partnering for Peace have aided refugees and those in harm’s way. The award was presented at the Peace Corps Connect Conference in September 2022.

     Named for the widely admired tenth director of the Peace Corps, the annual Ruppe Award is presented by NPCA to outstanding affiliate groups for projects that promote the Third Goal of Peace Corps — “strengthen Americans’ understanding about the world and its peoples” — or continue to serve host countries, build group spirit and cooperation, and promote service. Here’s what these groups have to say about the work they’re doing.

     

     

    RPCV Alliance for Ukraine

    We are here to continue and strengthen service at a time of overwhelming need. In February 2022, Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale assault on Ukraine, a country of more than 40 million people and a second home to more than 3,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Many of our friends and family members fled. Others are fighting to defend their communities, and some are no longer with us. Everyone who served in Ukraine knows somebody affected by the war. One in three people have fled; 7 million are displaced internally, 5 million are scattered around the globe.

    When the invasion started, Ukraine RPCVs rapidly mobilized to assist our Ukrainian friends, family members, colleagues and communities. We are raising awareness, sending money and supplies, engaging mass media, and directly assisting with transportation, housing, and money. The Alliance has delivered $280,000 worth of trauma first aid supplies. Our new Peremoha grant program, funded by sales of our Ukrainian cookbook, is delivering $40,000 to local humanitarian aid projects. We’ve started the Uniting for Ukraine sponsorship initiative, connecting Ukrainians with sponsors so that they can find refuge in the United States. Every day, Ukraine RPCVs are connecting on a grassroots level to distribute needed resources and information. While the initial wave of global attention seems to have crested, we’re in this for the long haul.

         —Cortney Copeland (Ukraine 2017–19) President, RPCV Alliance for Ukraine

     

     girl and woman in refugee center in Moldova

         In a time of need: assisting refugees from Ukraine at a center on Moldova. Photo courtesy Friends of Moldova

     

    Friends of Moldova

    Since Russia invaded Ukraine, over half a million refugees have crossed into neighboring Moldova. Friends of Moldova was founded to support Moldovan civil and youth activists. When the war in Ukraine began, however, some of us dropped everything to travel to Moldova and coordinate direct assistance to refugees, together with our local partners. Others in the U.S. have raised funds and spoken out. Friends of Moldova has raised more than $680,000—one of the largest relief efforts ever undertaken by a group of returned Volunteers. Carol Spahn, then CEO of the Peace Corps, flew to Moldova to help serve meals at the Friends of Moldova’s first center for refugee assistance. Moldova’s president, Maia Sandu, visited as well. Our distribution centers have provided free food, clothing, and sanitary items to tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees and assisted other relief efforts.

    We’ve been excited to team with Rotary International to obtain new funding. Rotary clubs from Oklahoma City to Raleigh, North Carolina, have worked with RPCVs and the Friends of Moldova to secure disaster response grants.

         —Piper Rasmussen (Moldova 2019–20) Member, Fundraising Committee, Friends of Moldova

     

     

    Partnering for Peace: Friends of Peace Corps and Rotary International

    In 2014, Peace Corps director Carrie Hessler-Radelet and Rotary General Secretary John Hewko signed a memorandum of understanding to promote their shared mission of service and sustainable community development. The MOU was signed as I began my service in Peace Corps Georgia. Partnering for Peace is a nonprofit built to support the Rotary-Peace Corps relationship through awareness, education, and outreach. It has supported projects stocking library shelves in PCV villages; administered health screenings; provided micro loans; organized sanitation, water, and hygiene projects; and undertaken vocational training and conflict resolution programs aligned with Peace Corps’ Third Goal.

    The war in Ukraine has brought Rotary and RPCVs together to aid Ukrainian citizens and refugees. Members have supported funding and assisted on-the-ground coordinating with RPCVs. Fundraisers, donations, grants, and local support are now the norm. I was recently asked to assist Rotarians in Paris who needed people to unload emergency supplies from Spain to Moldova; Friends of Moldova could assist with that. There is so much we can do together. Partnering for Peace is honored to play just a small part in connecting the Rotary community with these passionate NPCA affiliate groups. We have facilitated two $25,000 grants to a refugee camp in Moldova and a hospital in Donbas, both funded by Rotary and spearheaded by RPCVs.

         —Kim Dixon (Georgia 2014–16) President, Partnering for Peace


    WATCH: Video remarks from the winners of the 2022 Loret Miller Ruppe Award

     

    This story appears in the Winter 2023 edition of WorldView magazine.

     February 16, 2023
  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    A platform for citizen journalists, volunteers, and those working to help see more

    A platform for citizen journalists, volunteers, and those working to deepen understanding of the war and efforts to help refugees.

     

    By Clary Estes

    Photo by Clary Estes

     

     

    The Ukraine Stories newsletter started modestly. In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, so many Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who had served throughout Central and Eastern Europe asked the same question: “What can I do?” For the Ukraine Stories crew, the answer was simple: Tell true stories. Yet this simple answer opened up a complex world of reporting, testimonials, and on the ground volunteering. Since the project’s inception, Ukraine Stories has sought to explain the conflict on a deeper level for those who might not have a background in Eastern Europe policy, history, or current events. We are doing this through deep dives on the region’s history and key figures. We are telling the stories of volunteers who have been working to assist with the refugee crisis. We have given a platform for citizen journalists inside Ukraine to tell their stories. And we have worked on the ground ourselves to help with refugee crisis. 

    The Ukraine Stories platform also works to realize the Peace Corps’ mission: to promote peace and international solidarity, and pursue solutions to what is one of the world’s most overwhelming problems. We have teamed up with a number of other international partners and RPCV groups to tell stories and show the world what solutions are available in the face of war. Our partnership with the RPCV Alliance for Ukraine and the Friends of Moldova, among others, has been paramount and will continue to be the main focus of our storytelling and reporting.

     

    Food and shelter: Vitalie, right, opened the summer camp he owns in northern Moldova to refugees from Ukraine. Then he slaughtered his one dairy cow to feed them. 
    Photo by Clary Estes

     

    Holy Cow: A Case Study in Caring

    When the Friends of Moldova told us the story of the man who killed his dairy cow to feed scores of refugees in his care, we couldn’t believe it. So we went to meet him ourselves and learn exactly what had happened.

    Vitalie bought the summer camp on a hill above the northern city of Bălți in 2019. Dumbrava Albă, as the camp was called, opened at a tough time. Not a year into its operation it had to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the worst of the pandemic seemed behind us in early 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. Yet Vitalie found solutions amid hardship; he saw an opportunity to do some good in the face of war. He took in about 100 Ukrainian refugees. 

    “The first days were tough,” Vitalie says. “There had been no water connection or heating for two years because I had it shut down due to the pandemic. It took me two to three days to get everything turned on.” He also had nothing to feed the refugees. “So I killed my dairy cow, just to make sure everyone was taken care of,” he says. “In normal times, I have enough to feed myself: chickens, milk from the cow, things like that. But we had about 100 people here in the first days and I needed to take care of them.” 

    For many Moldovan families, cows are not only a source of dairy products for day-to-day consumption, but they can also be a source of income. Families sell milk, cheese, and butter at the local piaţă, or open-air markets. For these families, a cow is worth far more alive than dead.

    It wasn’t long before the Friends of Moldova, who were also working in Bălți to set up a distribution center, heard Vitalie’s story. They were able to secure funds to buy a new cow. Within 48 hours, they delivered it to Dumbrava Albă. Vitalie was surprised and deeply grateful. 

     

     

    Sertse in Ukrainian, heart in English. Anya and her daughter fled Mariupol. Seen here: an Easter celebration at the Balti Distribution Center in Moldova, where Anya volunteers. 
    Photo by Clary Estes

     

    Citizen Journalism: One of Thousands

    As a cornerstone of the project, Ukraine Stories is providing Ukrainians who are experiencing the war a platform to tell their stories in their own words. One story, from the southeastern corner of Ukraine, was told by Anya, a mother of two daughters: of their harrowing escape from the besieged city of Mariupol.

    War ... We used to hear about war on the news. It was something that happened far away in some foreign country. It was something we were sorry to hear about, but it only seemed like a sad movie. I now understand all of that pain that used to be so far away. War is not just terrible photos of destroyed houses. It’s a profound loss of human life.

    On the morning of February 24th, we heard explosions. Our city has been under attack since 2014, but on the morning of the 24th, I decided not to risk the life of my children and leave. I thought then that it would only be for a couple of weeks, but as it has turned out, we are leaving forever.

    Before they fled Mariupol, besieged by Russian forces, Anya recounted how she tried to bring some semblance of joy to her children on a special day.

    It was my eldest daughter’s ninth birthday, so I ran to the store for sour cream to make a cake. I heard machine-gun fire on my neighbors’ street and more powerful explosions somewhere in the distance. I don’t know why it didn’t scare me at that moment. I was somehow more worried about making a cake for my daughter. I’m a mother, after all. 

    At five in the morning on her birthday, my children woke up to an explosion nearby. All the glass in the house shattered. A piece of plaster from the ceiling fell right onto the bed where my children were sleeping. They were frightened to tears, but miraculously unharmed. We went down to the basement. I even managed to take some of the cake with me. So we celebrated my eldest daughter’s birthday there. 

    A few days later it became too unbearable to remain. The explosions were constant. My children learned to distinguish what was an explosion and what wasn’t by the vibration of the earth.

     

    A few days later it became too unbearable to remain. The explosions were constant. My children learned to distinguish what was an explosion and what wasn’t by the vibration of the earth.

     

    Anya and her daughters spent weeks making their way to Moldova — dodging air raids, tanks, and gunfire. But reaching Moldova did not bring an end to her worries.

    During our first week in Moldova, I couldn’t eat. I was ashamed to eat while not knowing whether or not my mother had anything to eat in Mariupol … I dreamt of her every night. I dreamed of her because I couldn’t write to her. I dreamt of her because I couldn’t speak to her. 

    All day, every day, I was on my phone looking for my mother, my grandmother, my friends, my godparents, acquaintances, like a robot ... 

    Over time, I found news on the internet about who was alive and who was not. It was on a group chat that I found a photo of an old woman whose eyes I recognized. It was my mother!!! Aged and exhausted, but alive!!! 

    Anya is now volunteering at the Bălți Distribution Center and, like so many others, rebuilding the life she lost in the wake of the invasion.  

     

     

    Deep Dive: Understanding the Invasion

    Ukraine Stories would not be possible without Val Stutz, who served as a Volunteer in Moldova 2015–17 and is a 2022–23 Fulbright Fellow in Moldova. He has also worked extensively throughout Ukraine. His “Deep Dive” series has helped readers understand the conflict in Ukraine on a geopolitical and historical level. He has discussed the significance of the southeastern region of Ukraine and Putin’s aspirations to recreate the imperial Novorossiya of Catherine the Great, with territory stretching across Ukraine. He has given background on people like Russian general Aleksandr Dvornikov — who became known as “the Butcher of Syria” — and Dzhokhar Musayevich Dudayev — a key figure in Chechnya’s independence movement — and he has traced how their military and political careers are connected to the current brutal invasion. He has also sought to explain the challenges that refugee students in Moldova face as they navigate another year of online learning or adapt to the educational norms of another country. 

     

     

    More Work to Do

    The Ukraine Stories team includes contributors from around the globe: people from Asia, the Americas, and across Europe. Some have served in the Peace Corps, some have not. And our team has continued to expand. While the Russian war against Ukraine shows no sign of ending soon, we are committed to working in whatever ways we can help those in harm’s way — and continue getting stories out of Ukraine and the surrounding region. Whether it is a deep dive or a profile of a person that helps readers understand this horror on a fundamentally human level — or it is shining a spotlight on an organization helping solve the conflict, or a testimonial from someone living through the conflict, we at Ukraine Stories will keep writing, building connections, and seeking to sustain the Peace Corps ideal of international peace.

    Read more: ukrainestories.substack.com 

     

    This story appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine


    Clary Estes is a writer, editor, and photographer. She served as a Volunteer in Moldova 2015–17 and as a Response Volunteer in Georgia in 2019.

     August 23, 2022
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    • Steven Saum Raisa Alstodt and Natalia Joseph help lead the RPCV Alliance for Ukraine. In "Everything Will Be Ukraine!" they note that more than 3,400 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Ukraine. And they... see more Raisa Alstodt and Natalia Joseph help lead the RPCV Alliance for Ukraine. In "Everything Will Be Ukraine!" they note that more than 3,400 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Ukraine. And they offer a few ways they have sought to help the communities they served as Russian rockets fly and bombs fall across the country. www.peacecorpsconnect.org/articl...
      1 year ago
    • Steven Saum Also in this edition, in the essay "What We Mean by Friendship" David Jarmul looks at how, with the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Friends of Moldova has stepped in to provide crucial... see more Also in this edition, in the essay "What We Mean by Friendship" David Jarmul looks at how, with the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Friends of Moldova has stepped in to provide crucial support to thousands of refugees. www.peacecorpsconnect.org/articl...
      1 year ago
    • Steven Saum As I write in my essay for this edition of WorldView, this is a time of unfinished business for the Peace Corps community: hopeful work, as Volunteers return to serve alongside communities... see more As I write in my essay for this edition of WorldView, this is a time of unfinished business for the Peace Corps community: hopeful work, as Volunteers return to serve alongside communities overseas. And crucial work to ensure Ukraine survives. www.peacecorpsconnect.org/articl...
      1 year ago
  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    The Friends of Moldova is currently spending $20,000 weekly to provide for Ukrainian families. see more

    With the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Friends of Moldova has stepped in to provide crucial support to thousands of refugees.

     

    by David Jarmul

    Logo by Friends of Moldova 

     

    Until this past February, Friends of Moldova was like many “Friends of” groups within the Peace Corps community: a loose organization of returned Volunteers sharing news and supporting small grant programs in the country where they served. Then Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and everything changed.

    As millions of Ukrainians fled the fighting, nearly half a million refugees came to Moldova — a small, crescent-shaped country with a population of about 3 million, bordered by Ukraine on the east and Romania on the west. Formerly occupied by the Soviet regime, Moldova itself has dealt with the reality of a breakaway enclave backed by Russian forces since the 1990s.

    Within a matter of weeks of Russia’s invasion, most of the refugees who had crossed into Moldova had moved on—but more than 90,000 remained. They needed food, shelter, clothing, and more. And they needed support immediately. The Friends of Moldova raced to help. They supported the work of RPCV David Smith, who still lives in Moldova’s capital, Chişinău, and his local partner to convert their American-style barbecue restaurant, Smokehouse, into a refugee assistance center. Within days, Ukrainians lined up daily to receive free supplies.

     

    Food distribution center in Balti

    Food and shelter: In the city of Bălți, Friends of Moldova responded quickly to help Ukrainian refugees in need. Photo courtesy Friends of Moldova

     

    Local Peace Corps staff and others volunteered at the center. Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn, who has since been nominated to serve as agency director, flew there from Washington, D.C., to help prepare meals. President of Moldova Maia Sandu and others also came to show their support. The PBS NewsHour and others covered this critical work. During its six weeks of operation, the center served 38,198 Ukrainians, including 7,847 individual or family walk-ins. During its last day alone it served 1,863 people. 

    Friends of Moldova also provided flexible funding to help Moldova for Peace, a national organization based in Chişinău, get its own operations off the ground. It assisted 175 community centers, nonprofit organizations, and shelters across the country. Funds enabled a team of volunteers to transport hundreds of Ukrainians daily from freezing conditions at the southern border to shelters around the country.

    As other organizations ramped up their work in Chişinău, Friends of Moldova pivoted to open a new assistance center and programs in northern Moldova. The group’s president, RPCV Bartosz Gawarecki, left his business in Michigan to oversee the effort there. Other RPCVs joined him. Friends of Moldova members across the United States assisted as well, drawing attention to Moldova’s situation and raising more than $700,000 — an extraordinary outpouring of support. All team members with Friends of Moldova worked for free, serving the country they came to love as Peace Corps Volunteers. 

    The Friends of Moldova is currently spending $20,000 weekly to provide food and hygiene products to Ukrainian families and individuals across northern Moldova. Since the war began, it has assisted nearly 60,000 refugees. It cannot sustain this life-saving work without more support from fellow RPCVs and others—so it welcomes your support in this crucial work. 

    Learn more and donate to the Friends of Moldova on social media and at thefriendsofmoldova.com

     

     

    This story appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine.


     David Jarmul served in Moldova 2016–18 with his wife, Champa, whom he met during his initial Peace Corps service in Nepal, where he served 1977–79. 

     August 23, 2022
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    • Steven Saum Raisa Alstodt and Natalia Joseph help lead the RPCV Alliance for Ukraine. In "Everything Will Be Ukraine!" they note that more than 3,400 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Ukraine. And they... see more Raisa Alstodt and Natalia Joseph help lead the RPCV Alliance for Ukraine. In "Everything Will Be Ukraine!" they note that more than 3,400 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Ukraine. And they offer a few ways they have sought to help the communities they served as Russian rockets fly and bombs fall across the country. www.peacecorpsconnect.org/articl...
      1 year ago
    • Steven Saum "Ukraine Stories" is a platform for citizen journalists, volunteers, and those working to deepen understanding of the war and efforts to help refugees. Read more about it in this story by Clary... see more "Ukraine Stories" is a platform for citizen journalists, volunteers, and those working to deepen understanding of the war and efforts to help refugees. Read more about it in this story by Clary Estes.
      www.peacecorpsconnect.org/articl...
      1 year ago
    • Steven Saum As I write in my essay for this edition of WorldView, this is a time of unfinished business for the Peace Corps community: hopeful work, as Volunteers return to serve alongside communities... see more As I write in my essay for this edition of WorldView, this is a time of unfinished business for the Peace Corps community: hopeful work, as Volunteers return to serve alongside communities overseas. And crucial work to ensure Ukraine survives. www.peacecorpsconnect.org/articl...
      1 year ago
  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Here’s how some of the thousands of Volunteers who have served in Ukraine are trying to help. see more

    More than 3,400 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Ukraine. Here are a few ways they have sought to help the communities they served as Russian rockets fly and bombs fall across the country.

    Logo by The RPCV Alliance for Ukraine

     

    By Raisa Alstodt and Natalia Joseph

     

    On February 24, 2022, Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale military assault by Russian forces on Ukraine, including attacks on civilians that have continued against communities across the country. Many of our friends and host family members have fled; many others are staying and fighting to defend their communities. The RPCV Alliance for Ukraine, founded by those of us who have served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Ukraine, rapidly mobilized to assist our Ukrainian friends, family members, colleagues, and communities. We have been advocating, sending donations of money and supplies, engaging mass media, contacting Congress, and directly assisting friends in need of transportation, housing, and money to survive.

    One of the critical projects has been the Individual First Aid Kit campaign. Since the beginning of the invasion, our team of RPCVs and Ukrainian partners has delivered more than 4,000 high-grade Individual First Aid Kits to areas within Ukraine where these kits are desperately needed. This effort has continued to grow, and to date we have raised over $160,000 to support it.

    To bolster fundraising efforts, we also published Babusya’s Kitchen, a cookbook originally created by Volunteers for fellow Volunteers, bringing together traditional Ukrainian recipes and, in its title, paying tribute to the babusi or grandmothers of Ukraine. Money raised from book sales is being used to fund our Peremoha (“victory”) mini-grants for humanitarian aid in Ukraine. Thanks to support from Page Street Publishing and Versa Press, the cookbook is available in a print edition, and copies are available for purchase through our website.

    Photo courtesy RPCV Alliance for Ukraine

     

    In partnership with Welcome.US and Community Sponsorship Hub, for the government’s Uniting for Ukraine program we are bringing together committed and capable hosts in the U.S. with Ukrainian refugees in need. We launched a sponsor matching initiative to help people apply; and we’re educating potential sponsors and informing about sponsor circles where numerous people can support refugees together. As we write this, we have helped some dozen Ukrainian families find U.S. sponsors who can partner in providing housing, basic needs, and personal assistance with navigating life in the U.S. More matches are in the pipeline.

    Along with these formal projects, we’ve been collaborating via Facebook to provide Ukraine RPCV crisis response focused on helping Ukrainians evacuate — and ensuring refugees the support they need. One way to provide moral support, in Ukrainian, is with the phrase “Vse bude Ukraina” — Everything will be Ukraine! 

    Learn more and get involved via social media and at allianceforukraine.org

     

    This story appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine.

     


     

    Raisa Alstodt served as a Volunteer in the Cherkasy Oblast in Ukraine 2019–20 and serves as NPCA liaison for the RPCV Alliance for Ukraine.

    Natalia Joseph served as a Volunteer in Mohyliv, Podilkskyi, Ukraine 2019–20 and serves as secretary for the RPCV Alliance for Ukraine.
     

     August 23, 2022
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    • Steven Saum "Ukraine Stories" is a platform for citizen journalists, volunteers, and those working to deepen understanding of the war and efforts to help refugees. Read more about it in this story by Clary... see more "Ukraine Stories" is a platform for citizen journalists, volunteers, and those working to deepen understanding of the war and efforts to help refugees. Read more about it in this story by Clary Estes.
      www.peacecorpsconnect.org/articl...
      1 year ago
    • Steven Saum Also in this edition, in the essay "What We Mean by Friendship" David Jarmul looks at how, with the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Friends of Moldova has stepped in to provide crucial... see more Also in this edition, in the essay "What We Mean by Friendship" David Jarmul looks at how, with the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Friends of Moldova has stepped in to provide crucial support to thousands of refugees. www.peacecorpsconnect.org/articl...
      1 year ago
    • Steven Saum As I write in my essay for this edition of WorldView, this is a time of unfinished business for the Peace Corps community: hopeful work, as Volunteers return to serve alongside communities... see more As I write in my essay for this edition of WorldView, this is a time of unfinished business for the Peace Corps community: hopeful work, as Volunteers return to serve alongside communities overseas. And crucial work to ensure Ukraine survives. www.peacecorpsconnect.org/articl...
      1 year ago
  • Tiffany James posted an article
    Updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country and around the world see more

    News and updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country, around the world, and spanning generations of returned Volunteers and staff.

     

    By Peter V. Deekle (Iran 1968–70)

     

    Maggie Eckerson (pictured, Belize 2019–20), was awarded two United States Presidential Volunteer Service Awards and the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her service in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorpsSabra Ayres (Ukraine 1995–97) was named Chief Correspondent for Ukraine at The Associated Press (AP), leveraging nearly two decades of reporting that covered U.S. state and national politics, international relations, and developing democracies. Bridget Mulkerin (Senegal 2018–20) became the California Cone Corps Manager at American Forests, a nationwide nonprofit committed to protecting and restoring healthy forest ecosystems. We share news about more awards, a newly published memoir, and new roles in USAID El Salvador, universities, and advocacy nonprofits.

    Have news to share with the Peace Corps community? Let us know.
     


    BELIZE

    In August, Maggie Eckerson (2019–20) was awarded two United States Presidential Volunteer Service Awards and the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award because of her service in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. Eckerson was serving with the Peace Corps in Belize but had to leave when all Volunteers were brought home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She began serving with AmeriCorps in summer 2020, working in the National Civilian Community Corps program and then Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). For the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award, one must contribute more than 4,000 hours of service in their lifetime. Eckerson was able to achieve this goal through her work in the AmeriCorps in her Independent Service Projects and the year she spent working with The Catholic University of America during her second year with the AmeriCorps. During her time with the Catholic University of America, Eckerson led a program mentoring middle school students to prepare them for college.

     

     

     

    ECUADOR

    Chris Cushing (1981–84) was appointed the Mission Director to USAID El Salvador in August, overseeing bilateral and regional programs in Central America and Mexico. For nearly a decade, Cushing has served in several leadership roles within USAID, such as Mission Director in Ecuador as well as the Barbados-based USAID Eastern and Southern Caribbean Mission before assuming the same role at USAID Haiti from February 2020 to May 2022. Weeks after being sworn into his role in Haiti, Cushing rolled up his sleeves to work with the people of Haiti through the COVID pandemic shutdown, a president assassination, and a devastating earthquake that killed over 2,000 people. During the earthquake in 2021, Cushing coordinated the dispatch of search and rescue teams to communities in southern Haiti at the epicenter of the earthquake. “El Salvador, as we know, has its own significant challenges: a lack of economic opportunity coupled with significant violent crime, including some of the highest rates of femicide in the world,” said USAID Administrator Samantha Power during Cushing’s swearing-in ceremony in August. “[Cushing] has quite the task ahead of him, but I know he is up for it. His caring spirit and caretaker mindset bring reassurance and solace to those around him.”

     

     

    JORDAN

    Maryam Saifee (2000–02) became a Council on Foreign Relations life member in June. The Council on Foreign Relations is a prestigious membership, including over 5,000 prominent leaders in the foreign policy arena. For more than a decade, Saifee has worked with the U.S. Department of State. She is currently serving as a senior advisor in the Secretary’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Prior to embarking on her career within the U.S. Foreign Service, Saifee was a consultant for the Ford Foundation, designing outreach and recruitment strategy for senior staff in Ford’s human rights, asset-building, and reproductive rights portfolios. After completing her Peace Corps service in Jordan, she served with AmeriCorps and supported South Asian survivors of domestic violence. In 2016, Saifee published an opinion piece in The Guardian sharing her personal story as a survivor of female genital cutting.

     

     

     

    KENYA

    Josh Josa (2010–12) was honored with the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, an honor reserved for the most innovative and exceptional federal workers. As a member of the Deaf community and a first-generation Hungarian-American, Josa’s commitment to equity and inclusion in education is fueled by his first-hand experience with the stigma, barriers, and lack of resources students with disabilities face in school. While working as an inclusive education specialist at the U.S. Agency for International Development, Josa has sought to design and implement programs delivering quality, equitable, and inclusive education to all children and youth. He has worked tirelessly to advance educational inclusivity for students with disabilities, whether it be in Morocco, Kenya, or the United States.

     

     

     

    LESOTHO

    Quintella Cobb (2019–20) took on a new role as Wellness Educator at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, beginning in September. She had been serving as a health promotion specialist at Tulane University. With the Peace Corps, Cobb served as an HIV/AIDS and Adolescent Health Volunteer. In March 2020, she and all other Volunteers were brought home because of COVID-19. 

     

     

     

     

     

      

    MAURITANIA

    Katie Baird (1984–87) published a new memoir, Growing Mangos in the Desert, chronicling her Peace Corps service in a Mauritanian village during a catastrophic drought and the relationships and change she nurtured over the four decades that followed. Baird is a professor of economics at the University of Washington in Tacoma. With expertise in public economics and public policy, Baird worked for policy organizations in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge, Massachusetts, before embarking on her career in academia. For three years, she was a public affairs columnist for The News Tribune in Tacoma.

     

     

     

     

     

    SENEGAL

    Bridget Mulkerin (2018–20) became the California Cone Corps Manager at American Forests, a nationwide nonprofit committed to protecting and restoring healthy forest ecosystems. Mulkerin’s responsibilities will involve building capacity of cone collection and creating resilient forests across California. Mulkerin served in Peace Corps Senegal, focusing on agroforestry. Her Peace Corps service fueled her interest in pursuing a master’s in international environmental policy from Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. “From a young age, I enjoyed exploring the woods behind my childhood home,” says Mulkerin when discussing why she is grateful for her job at American Forests. “As I got older, I appreciated the opportunities I had to travel and explore forests all over the world. Further understanding forest ecosystems and the services they provide for all life; I have been driven to protect them.”

     

     

     

    TANZANIA

    Amy Runyon Harms (1997–2000) has been appointed Senior Vice President of Operations and Strategy at Inseparable — an advocacy nonprofit championing for mental health policies that help the U.S. heal and thrive. Harms brings to the role over 20 years of direct service, foundation, and advocacy experience, including directorial positions at The Gill Foundation, ProgressNow Colorado, and Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM). During her time with PPRM, Harms served as director of political outreach and focused on electing political supporters of pro-family planning policies, comprehensive sex education, and full access to women’s reproductive health care.

     

     

     

    Mario Lopez-Rodriguez (2019–20) is completing a master’s in public health at Emory University. With the Peace Corps, he served as a community health extension officer in the village of Kidogozero. “My service as a Peace Corps volunteer helped define my passion for global health,” he said in a recent interview. “It allowed me the opportunity to learn, live and work with a community that I wouldn’t have interacted with otherwise. It also taught me the importance of cultural humility and putting effort into learning about the communities I seek to serve.” Born in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas in 1993, Lopez-Rodriguez emigrated to Tennessee with his family in 2000. He completed a bachelor’s in nursing at the University of Memphis.

     

     

     

     

    UKRAINE

    Sabra Ayres (1995–97) was named Chief Correspondent for Ukraine at The Associated Press (AP) last month. In this new role, Ayres will manage and coordinate AP’s all-format coverage of Ukraine, including text, photography, and video storytelling. Ayres has nearly two decades of reporting that covered U.S. state and national politics, international relations, and developing democracies — with bylines from Ukraine, Russia, Afghanistan, Europe and India. Ayres was the 2016 recipient of the Front Page Marie Colvin Award for Best Foreign Correspondence for her coverage of Ukraine and Europe’s migrant crisis. She also taught journalism at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul and worked as a visiting professor at the India Institute of Journalism and New Media in Bangalore.

     October 05, 2022
  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    Madeleine Albright was the first woman to serve as secretary of state of the United States. see more

    In her childhood, her family fled tyranny — twice. She went on to become the first woman to serve as secretary of state of the United States. 

     

    By Steven Boyd Saum 

     

    Photo courtesy Madeleine Albright

     

    Madeleine Albright was the first woman to serve as secretary of state of the United States. Appointed by President Bill Clinton in January 1997, she had just served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She brought experience as a professor and a mother, she noted — both of which she said helped her speak plainly. 

    Before that first year as SECSTATE was complete, she had sworn in 32 Peace Corps Volunteers in Zimbabwe, during a seven-nation tour of Africa. A few months later she was in Kyiv, Ukraine, where I had established an office to direct academic exchanges for the U.S. Embassy. Speaking to Ukrainian exchange alumni, Peace Corps Volunteers, and others, she spoke of the danger of resignation and apathy in democracy. “The political choices you make will make a difference in your lives,” she counseled.

    It so happened that this conversation took place almost exactly 50 years after a communist coup in her native Czechoslovakia. Cast forward three decades, and amid a time democratic institutions were being undermined here, she would publish a book for U.S. audiences, Fascism: A Warning

    She was personally acquainted with the dangers of authoritarianism. Daughter of Czech diplomat Josef Korbel, she was born Marie Jana Korbelová in 1937. She and her family fled Czechoslovakia in response to the Nazi invasion when little Madlenka was not yet two years old. After the 1948 Communist coup, the family took refuge abroad once more. Her parents also kept a secret from their daughter, one that she didn’t learn until many decades later: She was raised Roman Catholic, but her parents had converted from Judaism after the Nazi takeover. Family members — including three of her grandparents — perished in Auschwitz and other camps. She understood personally the importance of not giving even casual anti-Semitism a pass, even amid policy disagreements with Israel.

    As secretary of state, she often spoke of the U.S. as “the indispensable nation.” She became a U.S. citizen at the age of 20 and lauded the generosity of the country — and its responsibilities. She was a staunch advocate for NATO and, as many in the Peace Corps community remember, contributed to the anthology The Great Adventure. For many years she was on the faculty at Georgetown University and taught students the foreign policy toolbox. She died in March at age 84 — one month after she published a piece titled “Putin is Making a Historic Mistake.” 
     

     

    This remembrance appears in the Spring-Summer edition of WorldView magazine.

     


    Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView.

     August 21, 2022
  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    Finding Refuge by Victorya Rouse brings together real-life immigration stories by young people. see more

    Finding Refuge

    REAL-LIFE IMMIGRATION STORIES FROM YOUNG PEOPLE

    By Victorya Rouse

    Zest Books

     

    Reviewed by Nathalie Vadnais

     

    In the Newcomers Center at Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington, Victorya Rouse teaches immigrants from all over the world how to speak English. It’s work she has done for three decades, after she served as an education Volunteer with the Peace Corps in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) 1981–84. For Finding Refuge, she has put together firsthand accounts of kids’ and teenagers’ experiences — some recounted many years later — to help young readers understand war, conflict, and what it means to be a refugee.

    Many young refugees contributed memories of their lives before, during, and after evacuation of their home often due to political tension or aggressive conflict. Among the contributors: Fedja Zahirovic, who fled war in Bosnia in the 1990s; and Abdulrazik Mohamed, who fled the civil war in Sudan and, after years in refugee camps, arrived in Spokane in 2012. Other contributors were refugees from Libya and Syria, Iraq and Mexico, Moldova and Ukraine.

    “The experiences that brought them here,” Rouse writes, “to my classroom—reflect the ongoing realities faced by refugees around the world.”

     

    EXCERPT:

    Fedja from Bosnia and Herzegovina, entered the U.S. in 1995

    We were only able to bring clothes, some family photos, and documents — and I brought a few cassettes with my favorite music. My mom kept telling me to leave things. “We are only taking our clothes and toiletries.” It was like going on vacation, only this time I was bringing a lot more clothes. I couldn’t bring my guitar, piano, or record collection. My bike had already been stolen. I was leaving my few remaining friends and all of my family. My grandmother was staying behind to keep the apartment from being taken away by the refugees and to keep our cabin from being seized by the military. I felt like I would never get to see any of it again. I was right.

     

    My grandmother was staying behind to keep the apartment from being taken away by the refugees and to keep our cabin from being seized by the military. I felt like I would never get to see any of it again. I was right.

     

    Epilogue: Life was difficult for a long time, but my life is good now, and I try to give back and to help people whenever I can. My mother and grandmother live in Portland, near enough that I can see them often. I am married now. My wife has her degree in early childhood education. I do in-home care for people with developmental disabilities as I near completion of my B.A. in musicology and ethnomusicology. My dream is to get an M.A. in music education and to start my own music program for children who are immigrants, who are high risk, or who have learning disabilities—in other words, those who often don’t have the access or privilege to enroll in regular music programs. 

     

     

    EXCERPT:

    Trang from Viet Nam, entered the U.S. in 1975

    On the ship, women and children were being sent to the upper deck, and the men to the lower deck. Somehow, on that huge ship, we all found each other. It was a miracle: The whole family — all ten of us children and both parents — made it onto that ship. So few families made it out together.

    People were crowded together like sardines. We couldn’t even lie down. We didn’t have room to move. The ship took us to the Philippines, but on the way, we ran out of food and water. I was so hungry and thirsty. Someone told us to tap sea water on our lips. We couldn’t drink the sea water, but we could make our lips damp.

     

    “On the ship, women and children were being sent to the upper deck, and the men to the lower deck. Somehow, on that huge ship, we all found each other. It was a miracle: The whole family — all ten of us children and both parents — made it onto that ship.”

     

    In the Philippines, we were given military C-rations. I had peanut butter for the first time. Peanut butter and crackers were so good. There was cheese too. It was so good to eat again. There we were transferred to an even bigger ship and taken to Guam. There were not enough toilets on the ship, so they built an outhouse over the rail. It was so scary to look down and see the ocean!

     

    Epilogue: What I would like people to know about refugees is how grateful we are to have the chance to have a life. The English language is hard. It is not easy to come to a new country and learn a whole new language and way of life, but we are grateful for what we have been given, for the help we have received.

    My husband and I have a comfortable life. We have the basics, everything we really need. We are grateful for our lives here in the United States, for having a roof over our heads, food to eat, and children we are proud of. That is what a successful life is to me. Our children have grown up healthy and happy, with good careers. Now my dream is to retire healthy so I can spend time with our grandchildren.

     

    This review appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine.


    Nathalie Vadnais is an intern with WorldView. She is completing a degree in international studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

     August 19, 2022
  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    Eccentric Days Of Hope And Sorrow — translated by Ali Kinsella and Dzvinia Orlowsky see more

    Eccentric Days Of Hope And Sorrow

    By Natalka Bilotserkivets

    Translated from the Ukrainian by Ali Kinsella and Dzvinia Orlowsky

    Lost Horse Press

     

    Reviewed by Steven Boyd Saum

     

    Prologue to this collection spanning four decades is the poem “ДІТИ,” or “Children.” It’s a word that readers have seen in photos from Ukraine scores of times since February. Usually it is rendered in Russian, for the benefit of the invaders. Spray-painted on gates to a yard in a village house. In pen on a sign taped to the inside window of a car fleeing rocket fire and shelling. Spelled out in enormous letters at the drama theatre in Mariupol, big enough to be seen from the air, and offered as a plea to Russian forces to show mercy to those sheltering inside.

    Which is not to say that this 2021 book of selected poems by Natalka Bilotserkivets is about war. Not explicitly. But it is to say that it is now impossible to read her lyrical works without having them refracted through the lens of an imperial aggressor who wants to erase Ukrainian identity from the face of the earth. Which is also to say how important this collection is now — through its intimate moments as well as in the places where it bears witness to epic events. It arrives as part of the contemporary Ukrainian poetry series published by Lost Horse Press. 

    It is also to say, as translator Ali Kinsella does in the introduction, that even when Bilotserkivets wrote verse decades ago retelling a fairy tale, as in “The Lame Duckling,” there’s a lesson for a nation finding its place in the world:

    Fly alone. Don’t trust even those
    happy flocks, proud and young,
    that once abandoned you.

    Bilotserkivets has been grouped with Ukrainian poets known as the Visimdesiatnyky, or “eightiers.” Born in 1953, she published her first collection, Ballad of the Unconquerables (Balada pro neskorenykh), in 1976, while still a student at Kyiv University. So while she didn’t exactly come of age as a poet in the 1980s, she was part of an “in-between group whose first work came out in the seventies, but who were able to reinvent themselves for the post-Brezhnev era and respond to the zeitgeist,” Kinsella writes. Indeed, it was Bilotserkivets’ 1989 collection November (Lystopad) that earned her wide recognition in Ukraine — in no small part thanks to her poem “We’ll Not Die in Paris.” The fact that L’viv-based rock group Mertviy Piven’ (Dead Rooster) set the lines to music found her wider audiences still.

    we’ll not die in Paris I know now for sure
    but in a sweat and tear-stained provincial bed
    no one will serve us our cognac

    Five sections compose the book, with poems in Ukrainian and facing English translation. Each section, Dzvinia Orlowsky writes in her translator’s note, “reflects some aspect of Natalka’s spiritual and emotional journey from despair and a sense of foreboding to acceptance and self-transcendence.” There are also moments of bearing witness — as in “May,” Bilotserkivets’ long poem about the Chornobyl’ disaster of 1986. In 2022, as Russian troops captured and then retreated from that very atomic plant — and as the invaders turn Europe’s largest nuclear plant, in Zaporizhzhia, into an atomic hostage, this is a poem that bears revisiting:

    Yes, we survived that spring,
                                                     until recently, weak
    school children appeared, milk damp on their lips,
    poets who no longer hurt —
    We, passive, inert, and others put out the fire,
    the reactor’s red heat;
    we in our white robes holding dosimeters,
    in police epaulets, in military uniforms,
    young pregnant women and girls
    with children unborn
    victims and rescuers,
    in the hot heart of Europe. 

     

    IT WAS SERVING AS A PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER IN UKRAINE 2008–11 that co-translator Ali Kinsella learned Ukrainian; altogether she lived there some five years. Now back in Chicago, for the past eight years she has been translating and publishing essays, poetry, and monographs. With Ostap Kin she translated Vasyl Lozynsky’s chapbook The Maidan After Hours (2017). She won the 2019 Kovaliv Fund Prize for her translation of Taras Prokhasko’s Anna’s Other Days. She also serves as associate director for translation for the Tompkins Agency for Ukrainian Literature in Translation. 

    Her colleague in the translation is Pushcart prize poet, translator, and a founding editor of Four Way Books, Dzvinia Orlowsky, author of six poetry collections published by Carnegie Mellon University Press, including Bad Harvest, a 2019 Massachusetts Book Awards “Must Read” in Poetry. Her translation from the Ukrainian of Alexander Dovzhenko’s novella, The Enchanted Desna, was published by House Between Water Press in 2006, and in 2014, Dialogos published Jeff Friedman’s and her co-translation of Memorials: A Selection by Polish poet Mieczslaw Jastrun for which she and Friedman were awarded a 2016 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellowship.

    Earlier this year, Eccentric Days was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize, for which hundreds of collections were considered. As for the collection’s title, it comes from a line in “Children.” Bilotserkivets’ narrator is addressing about-to-be teenagers on the night when the new millennium dawns. These young people have no time for parents — after all, they are “old, / some over forty.” In this moment, Bilotserkivets’ narrator remembers a time before — her own compatriots’ youth:

            Sometimes someone
    remembers what we wore and drank
    and listened to in cramped cafes
    in times of languor — in eccentric days
    of beauty, hope, worry and sorrow.

     


     

    FIRE

    Natalka Bilotserkivets

     

    This red fire of dry stalks —
    and what dry stalks
    and sweet crackling of first rains! —
    of fallen leaves that fell for a long time,
    warm with currant smoke, or maybe raspberry,
    the gentle crunch of branches cut from bushes

    slowly unfolded. The ashy edges grew,
    and the broken toy the child carried over
    and laid at the foot of perhaps its first temple
    only smoked through the varnish
    of its dirty, wooden side.

    O, red fire with the blue, violet eye!
    Noon, and then, at once, an evening village —
    a child who’s grabbed onto its mother,
    dark groves far beyond the river.

    Suddenly and everywhere — here
    on the quiet, sleepy street, in the dark
    groves far beyond the river,
    fires blaze up in rays of evening sun
    and the smoke of sweet leaves
    spread its arms to us.

    And when the evening oval faces lit up,
    cleansed with sparkling grain and strange delight,
    we tossed the child in the air, kissed
    and twirled with it — and laughed
    as if we, too, were children.

    You will never die — in your little blue coat;
    your thin lips will never break,
    just as this fall evening will never disappear,
    this fire that dances and flies into the air.

    Can we not rejoice in the happy rhythm
    that fills the universe and our hearts?
    Can we not catch the divine light
    wiping tears, like years, from our faces?

     

    From Eccentric Days of Hope and Sorrow, by Natalka Bilotserkivets, translated from the Ukrainian by Ali Kinsella and Dzvinia Orlowsky (Lost Horse Press, 2021). Reprinted with permission from Lost Horse Press.

     


    Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView magazine. This article and poem appear in the Spring/Summer 2022 edition.

     August 24, 2022
  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country and around the world see more

    News and updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country, around the world, and spanning generations of returned Volunteers and staff.

     

    By Peter V. Deekle (Iran 1968–70)

     

    Jamie Hopkins, who served as a Volunteer in Ukraine 1996–98, leads the Eagan Community Foundation in Minnesota and spearheaded a three-day film festival in support of Ukraine in April and May. Krista Kinnard (Ecuador 2010–21) has been named a 2022 finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, for her work spearheading new, efficiency-boosting and cost effective technologies for the Department of Labor (DOL). Rob Schmitz (China 1996–98) had a stint as guest host of NPR’s All Things Considered radio show. Tommy Vinh Bui (Kazakhstan 2011) was nominated as Local Hero of the Week for his good deeds and unwavering commitment to serving his Los Angeles community during the COVID-19 pandemic. We share news about more awards, medals, and director roles.

    Have news to share with the Peace Corps community? Let us know.

     

    CHINA

    Rob Schmitz (1996–98) became a guest host of NPR’s All Things Considered radio show in late April. As NPR’s Central Europe Correspondent, Schmitz covers the human stories of a vast region, such as Germany’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic, rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic. Before reporting on Europe, Schmitz worked as a foreign correspondent covering China and its economic rise and increasing global influence for a decade. He also authored the award-winning book Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road which profiles the lives of individuals residing along a single street in the heart of Shanghai. During his first week as guest host, Schmitz talked with a Shanghai resident who discussed her experience with Shanghai’s zero-COVID strategy and the recent pandemic restrictions. Listen here.

     

     

    COSTA RICA

    Lane Bunkers (1989–91) took on responsibilities as of Peace Corps Country Director of Costa Rica in March. Bunkers steps into this new position a year before Peace Corps Costa Rica’s 60th anniversary and amidst the first wave of Volunteers returning to service overseas. In his director’s welcome, Bunkers wrote, “In Costa Rica, the pandemic impacted the social, economic, and political environment, as it did throughout the world. The country’s recovery will take time, and Peace Corps is well-positioned to support the communities where our Volunteers serve.” He brings an extensive career in leadership and international development, including three years serving as Peace Corps program and training officer in Romania and in the Eastern Caribbean. Prior to his new role, Bunkers worked for Catholic Relief Services for more than two decades. While there he oversaw a $25 million annual budget invested in initiatives ranging from water and food aid for drought-stricken regions to improving educational outcomes for malnourished children.

     

      

    ECUADOR

    Krista Kinnard (2010–2012) was named a 2022 finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, for her work spearheading new, efficiency-boosting and cost effective technologies for the Department of Labor (DOL). Since starting her role as DOL’s chief of emerging technologies in 2021, Kinnard has focused on ways to use artificial intelligence, automation, and machine learning to reduce the time employees spend on repetitive tasks. She also collaborated with the department to establish a technology incubator, inviting DOL staff to propose ideas that could benefit agencies and the public. Before working at DOL, Kinnard was the director of the U.S. General Service Administration’s Artificial Intelligence Center of Excellence. Her data-driven expertise sharpened during her Peace Corps service where she was able to apply her quantitative skills to real-world problems. Afterward, she pursued a master’s in data analytics and public policy before building AI and machine learning tools for federal clients as a data scientist at IBM.

       

     

    GUYANA

    Nadine RogersDr. Nadine Rogers, who serves as country director for Peace Corps Guyana, is a 2022 recipient of the Global Achievement Award from the Johns Hopkins University Alumni Association. “This well-deserved and extraordinary accomplishment highlights her incredible contributions in the international arena," says Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn. Dr. Rogers has almost 30 years of experience in management, health policy implementation, science administration, and education and communications across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. She has previously served as a foreign service officer at the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator under the U.S. State Department, and for 10 years she worked at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, handling scientific review of multi-million dollar research grant applications focused on HIV/AIDS prevention and services in populations at risk-for or addicted to drugs, both domestically and internationally. She has served the U.S. government across the globe, including in Vietnam, Cambodia, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa, Zambia, and in the Caribbean.

       

     

    KAZAKHSTAN

    Tommy Vinh Bui (2011) was nominated as Local Hero of the Week in April for his good deeds and unwavering commitment to serving his community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bui was working as a Los Angeles Teen and Adult Services Librarian when the pandemic shut down libraries. With a love for his community and a penchant for service, he sprang into action seeking ways to help such as donating blood to the Red Cross to help with the blood shortage; delivering convalescent plasma to hospitals around and outside of Los Angeles; assisting Project Roomkey — an initiative started by the California Department of Social Services, providing shelter for unhoused people recovering from or exposed to COVID-19 — in its efforts to help vulnerable people get off the streets and find resources. As part of the last cohort to serve in Kazakhstan, Bui’s Peace Corps service began in March 2011. He served as a community development and education Volunteer until he was evacuated in November of that same year and credits his experience as a major contributor to his personal and professional growth.
     

     

    KENYA

    Josh Josa (2010–12) is a 2022 finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, an honor reserved for the most innovative and exceptional federal workers. As a member of the Deaf community and a first-generation Hungarian-American, Josa’s commitment to equity and inclusion in education is fueled by his first-hand experience with the stigma, barriers, and lack of resources students with disabilities face in school. While working as an inclusive education specialist at the U.S. Agency for International Development, Josa has sought to design and implement programs delivering quality, equitable, and inclusive education to all children and youth. He has worked tirelessly to advance educational inclusivity for students with disabilities, whether it be in Morocco, Kenya, or the United States.

     

     

     

    LESOTHO

    Travis Wohlrab (2013–15) received the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal for developing a livestream production capability and supporting agency communications programs. This medal recognizes those who significantly improve NASA’s day-to-day operations. Wohlrab is the engagement officer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, where he has worked since the end of his Peace Corps service. During the onset of COVID-19, Wohlrab used his video production expertise to produce livestream events — such as Town Halls and public outreach events — which were crucial to helping the center continue to disseminate information and operate as it had before the pandemic.

     

     

     

    NEPAL

    Lowell Hurst (1976–78) received the 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award, along with his wife Wendy, from the Pajaro Valley Chamber Of Commerce and Agriculture. Hurst has dedicated his life to education, public service, and volunteerism starting with his Peace Corps service — followed by the more than three decades he spent teaching science and horticulture at Watsonville High School. In 1989, he was elected to the Watsonville City Council, served on the body for three stints over three decades, and served three mayoral terms, retiring from the political arena after his final term.

     

     

     

     

    NICARAGUA

    Heather Laird was appointed the new medical director of Volunteers in Medicine Clinic of the Cascades (VIM) in April. She first got involved with VIM by serving as a volunteer nurse practitioner in 2013, while working at her full-time job in telemedicine. Laird shifted away from telemedicine to work with patients in person at Mosaic Medical — a community-founded health center focused on making high-quality healthcare available to Central Oregonians, regardless of life circumstances. Inspired by her Peace Corps experience, which allowed her to learn technical skills that would help her community, Laird pursued a master’s in environmental and occupational health sciences at University of Washington before attending University of California, San Francisco, and obtaining a degree to become an adult nurse practitioner. “I am looking forward to harnessing my experience and education to help the underserved in Central Oregon through my role at Volunteers in Medicine,” Laird said.

     

     

    UKRAINE

    Jamie HopkinsIn April and May, Jamie Hopkins (1996–98), who serves as executive director of the Eagan Community Foundation, spearheaded the Twin Cities Ukrainian Film Series. “It’s important for me to tell people about Ukraine,” Hopkins said. “I’ve been trying to do that for 25 years, and for the first time people are really anxious to learn.” Together with the Emagine Theaters, the foundation put on a three-day film fundraiser to benefit a variety of needs in Ukraine, including funding for filmmakers documenting the current war and community foundations in the areas hardest hit. “I want to make sure that opportunity exists today to do that (make Ukrainian films) in the future,” Hopkins said. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, Hopkins served as a teacher trainer in the town of Ukrainka in the Kyiv Region — something she describes as “most rewarding experience of my life.” Hopkins has served as the Eagan Community Foundation’s executive director since 2016. She originally joined the foundation as a board member in 2013.