Greetings from Ukraine -
we hope you are all well. We are doing pretty good -
our hot water adventures continue, and from time to time we are
without hot water. But unfortunately this is getting to
be normal, so it doesn’t seem like the big deal it was at first.
We have decided that the only real cure for this may be spring,
when we won’t care if the showers are cold. We still have
some heat though, especially in the kitchen, so that part is
good. And we put one of our sleeping bags as an
additional cover on our bed, and even figured out how to keep it
from sliding off at night!
But we think we will quit
complaining so much about our hot water. We met two
Peace Corps volunteers, recently arrived, who have been assigned
to a “village” (population 25,000) about an hour south of here.
They have water (cold only) five hours a day (hour and a half in
the morning, two hours at noon, and hour and a half in the
evening). It is that way for the entire village.
They talked to a couple city officials about this, and the
officials told them that last year they had water all the time.
The city officials professed to have no idea of why the entire
village only has water 5 hours a day this year.
Don happened upon something we
didn’t expect a couple of weeks ago. He happened to
come home at noon for lunch, and noticed the lid to a pine
coffin propped up against our building. An older
lady who lived in one of the apartments above us had died, and
the family and friends had come to have her funeral.
After a while about 20 people came down out of her small
apartment, followed by 4 or 5 people carrying the bottom part of
the coffin, with her in it. They also brought down
two small stools, and set the coffin on the stools in the
backyard in the snow just beside our kitchen window, and had her
funeral. No priests or anyone at all official, just people
gathering together to say good-by. She was dressed very
nicely, with Orthodox scarves on her forehead and chest.
Then the friends and family each kissed her three times, at her
head, her chest and her feet, and then they carried her to a
“hearse” (an old vehicle, beaten up and at least 40 years old)
and off they went to the cemetery.
We met last week with a human
rights activist in Vinnytsia; he works for some part of a
United Nations refugee office, and we may go to work for him
part-time. He is a doctor, graduated from Vinnytsia
Medical University, and also studied in London, but along the
way also became interested in human rights. He then
went to law school, and now works with refugees from Somalia
that find themselves in Ukraine. The Somalians speak
English, so he thinks we would be a good fit to help.
He doesn’t help them with food and shelter – that is something
that an office in Kiev does, but what he does is help with the
application process and any other legal issues if any of them
want to stay in Ukraine. Most of them don’t – in
fact, most of them are quite surprised to find that they are in
Ukraine at all. Back in Somalia they would have paid
the smuggler whatever money they had to take them to Western
Europe – the smuggler gets them to Russia or Ukraine, tells them
that they are in Germany, and then leaves them to go back to
Somalia to bring out more refugees. The Somalians
for the most part cannot read or write, so they don’t know the
difference until they are told where they are by someone like
the human rights agency here. So once they find out
where they really are, then they have to find another smuggler
(we don’t help with that part) to get them farther on their way.
We turned in our resumes last week, and we have now been
approved by the United Nations to observe how the interviewing
is done and whatever other training they may think we need.
If they ever decide they want us to actually do something, then
we will need to get approval for that also. But one
step at a time. We will let you know.
We have also gotten to know a
young man from Bulgaria. Actually, sort of from Bulgaria.
In 1992 he and his family wanted to leave Bulgaria and go to
America, but America said no, so they decided to go to Canada.
But Canada said no. So they decided to get as close as
they could, and picked out Iceland as a destination, and the
dad went on ahead. Except that when the plane had a
stopover in Denmark he got off the plane and never got back on.
He applied for refugee status in Denmark and got it, and then
the rest of the family came. The family ended up staying
in Denmark until about 6 years ago when they moved to Sweden.
Our friend (named Todor) looks dark and very “Bulgarian”, so we
wonder what all the blond Swedes think. But he is here
working for a computer software company (the wife of his boss in
Sweden is from Vinnytsia), and has traveled around the world and
is very interesting to talk to.
Our offices are managing to stay
busy. My office (Karen’s) has no central heating, so
we have been making do with space heaters that you need to turn
off if you want to turn the hot water on for tea or else you
blow a fuse and lose everything, but they all just seem to take
it in stride and think it is normal. The current
project is trying to put together a training seminar for local
NGO’s and journalists to try and teach both sides how they could
work together better, and we are hoping that the US Embassy will
help us with the funding.. It could be a good project if
we can get this put together. We take it for
granted that people have some initiative and bring some
creativity to the table, but after 80 years of the Soviets
telling them what to do every hour of the day and who knows how
many years of the Tsar before that, initiative and creativity
are still relatively new concepts.
the same time I (this is Don now) am working rather frantically
to get a grant application finished that I have to submit with
all attachments by Friday. My organization wants to
increase foreigners in Vinnitsia because it helps the economy,
especially foreign students who come here to the medical and
technological universities, both of which have excellent
reputations and have attracted foreign students since at least
the 1930’s. So we’re trying to get funding for a
multi-language website and a series of seminars that would help
them to get adjusted to life in Ukraine and explain their rights
and how to get legal status if they decide they want to stay
here. This will also be directed at any of the refugees that
choose to stay. It does get interesting.
We seem to be having a milder
winter than those of you in Nebraska, Illinois and Wisconsin.
Snowed some more today but not any nasty wind so not bad at all.
Due to the lack of nasty winds like back home we’ve been able to
walk to work all week without any problems even though the temps
have been in the mid to high 20’s Fahrenheit and snow still on
the ground. Anyway, please take care and we do
enjoy hearing from you. All the best -
Don and Karen