30 Apr

May 9th: Celebrating Victory Day in Lutsk, Ukraine

In most of the former Soviet Union, May 9 still marks Victory Day, a holiday commemorating the capitulation of the Nazis to the Soviet Union in World War II.  Since the fall of the USSR, this holiday has been adapted to align symbolically with new national holidays in many of the former Soviet republics.  In Lutsk, a town of about 206,000* people in Volynska Oblast in western Ukraine, Victory Day both venerates the city’s triumph over the Fascist occupation in World War II and celebrates the country’s independent status. The following photos portray how a Ukrainian nationalist part of the country honors Victory Day.

*Population statistic taken from (http://www.lutsk.ua/english/modern_city.html)

These photos were taken by Derek Hom, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Lutsk, Ukraine, from 2007 to 2009.  He is currently a MA candidate at the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies in the Center for Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies.  Derek is studying Post-Soviet security affairs focusing on Ukrainian affairs and Black Sea Security.  This summer, Derek will study Russian language in Odessa, Ukraine, through a Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) award.

This photo journal is also featured in the Spring/Summer 2010 REECAS Newsletter published by the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies, Ellison Center for Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies (http://depts.washington.edu/jsishelp/ellison/)

26 Apr

24th Anniversary of Chornobyl Disaster April 26

On April 26, 1986 the city of Chornobyl, Ukraine was transformed.  Chornobyl became infamous as the most serious nuclear disaster in history.  Due to both mechanical and human errors in the an uncontrollable surge of energy occur when a test was run on one of the reactors and caused several eruptions which relased  radioactive material into the envrionment and created a radiation cloud that spread over a large part of Europe.

43 people died as a direct result of the disaster and hundreds of thousands more were exposed to unhealthy levels of radiation.  Thyroid cancer has become infinitely more prevalent in the area and much of the plant and animal populations in the immediate area were adversely affected.

Today the atmospheric radiation around the Chornobyl Site has returned to the levels before the meltdown. The site has also been the destination for eco-tours as well as general curiosity. It can be an expensive trip, but clearly an interesting and important historical event to explore.

Watch here to see what its like:


The environmental impact of the disaster remains and life of any form in the area will never be the same. Every year in Ukraine schools all over the country hold conferences to educate students on the tragic history of this nuclear facility.

For more information please visit:

U.N. Report

22 Apr

Varennyky! A Ukrainian Must

You might know them as pirogi, or dumplings, but I know these delicious bites as Varennyky! Varrenyky are a dish that any traveler in Ukraine needs to try. They are dumplings that are filled with a variety of things.  The most common fillings are potatoes, farmers cheese (similiar to cottage cheese), and meat, but it is not hard to find ones filled with mushrooms, cabbage, or fruit (usually served for dessert).

The Varennyky dough is cut into circles, filled, and then closed into a half-moon shape. Sometimes they are sauteed with salo (bacon bits) or with a mushroom sauce, and then served with sour cream.  If they are of the fruit variety they can be sprinkled with sugar. They are delicious!

To find the best Varrennyky I suggest you find your nearest babusya, but if you can’t make it to Ukraine today you can try making your own!

Heres a great recipe!  http://www.shesimmers.com/2010/04/best-vareniki-dough-recipe-from-valya.html

19 Apr

Welcome to Kiliya!

I arrived in the south of Odessa oblast,  the town of Kiliya,  in the late summer. The trees were vibrantly yellow; the sky brilliant blue…  the colors of the Ukrainian flag reflected in autumnal views. I strolled down tree-lined streets, and greeted new neighbors and town-mates. Here people saunter, smile, chat, push babies in strollers and make small shop purchases. Bushes and trees take over the sidewalks, and there are flowers in all the yards, gardens, and parks. This is a pleasant place to live.

My first impression of Kiliya was very positive, and has remained so through these past months of my life here. The town is comfortable in its own skin —usually quiet, relaxed,  easy to traverse.  As I got settled into my flat, found my way around the town’s shops and streets, and met new people, I was very favorable impressed with the friendliness of this town, and the willingness of people to help me learn about it. I visited the bazaar, the museum, the library, the remains of the old fortress and bell tower, and the churches. There have been visits to the neighboring towns of Vilkova and Izmail.  All of these sites have been interesting and pleasantly surprising: I had no idea of the historic nature of this region of the Danube, and the dramatic events of the past. There have been many struggles between countries and empires, yet people of a dozen or more ethnic groups live side by side here in what was once called  “Bessarabia”.  I have learned that Kiliya is on the list of the ten oldest towns in Ukraine…. 2700 years of history is claimed by this pleasant place, dating from the trade routes of the Greeks and Romans.

This place is ripe for more tourism, especially for those who want someplace out of the way, pleasant and relaxing, but interesting.  The town is about 200 km south of Odessa so it is a bit of a jaunt to get here – but once you are here, there is a feeling that I can only liken to an experience from my home in Hawaii. Of the millions who visit Maui, several a certain percentage of people will make a long, winding 3- or 4-hour drive to the tiny village of Hana in a remote corner of the island.  Sometimes it is the journey itself that attracts the visitor, or the novelty of the remote. And sometimes it is the quiet satisfaction and charm of Hana that captures their souls.    Perhaps Kiliya is Ukraine’s Hana. It takes a couple-few hours to get here, but the trip is well worth it!

Welcome, visitors: come and discover the charms of Kiliya, as I have!

Barbara Trecker, Peace Corps Volunteer, Ukraine

Kiliya Travel Brochure

9 Apr

Another Great Teaching Experience!

Recently an American teacher had an experience similar to my own in Ukraine.  He was utterly impressed by the language skills of his Ukrainian students and all the things Ukraine had to offer.  After his trip, he felt he had gained far more from the experience then he could give.

American Teacher Travels to Lutsk, Ukraine

7 Apr

Happy Easter!

This year the Orthodox and Catholic calendars actually coincided, so Easter in both the US and Ukraine was this past Sunday, April 5. Most often, though, the Ukrainian Orthodox Easter falls later in the year than the American holiday.

In Ukraine, Easter is the biggest holiday of the year, for many families. Easter is three days long in Ukraine, although the biggest day is still Easter Sunday. The holiday starts on Saturday night. Everyone attends Church for a candle-lit ceremony through the night. In addition, all the church-goers bring their Easter baskets to be blessed. Inside are all the painted eggs (pysanky), sausage, and Easter Paska break (like coffee cake). This way, when the fast is broken after the church ceremony all the food can be considered holy.

If you sleep at all on Easter it is only for a few hours. In the morning on Sunday, the real celebration begins. There is a huge feast including all the food that was blessed the night before as well as a little vodka, and then a lot more food! The celebrating can continue (as with most holidays in Ukraine) for hours!

Usually Ukrainians spend the first day of Easter with their families, and the second and third paying visits to friends.

Ukrainian Easter in the Kyiv Post

30 Mar

Flower Mart 2010: A Salute to Ukraine!

Come Join Travel To Ukraine at this year’s National Cathedral Flower Mart in Washington, D.C.  Experience Ukrainian Culture, Food, and explore Travel opportunities! MAY 7-8!

You may not know it, but flowers are very important in Ukraine.  When you give someone flowers be careful, numbers and flowers mean something specific!  Never give flowers in even numbers, this is bad luck!

Here are some of the most popular Flowers of Ukraine

For more about the Flower Mart visit




30 Mar

Yalta Conference Coming Up Summer 2011!!!

Energy Independence Globally

By Harry Stevens, RPCV Ukraine

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your” world.

In 50 years since the founding of the Peace Corps in 1961, economic globalization has become a fact of life.

In the next 50 years, a networked form of political globalization will emerge from the bottom-up, not top-down.

Two decades ago, Ukraine was the largest of the Soviet republics to become independent of Russia, even though it is still dependent on it for oil.

Before the turn of the next century, there is athreat of chaos if we are still dependent on nearly depleted fossil fuels. Threats of depleted fossil fuels causing economic chaos, of more wars being fought over oil, and/or of global warming causing catastrophic climate change – together or separately are calls to action.

Nuclear proliferation, fuel depletion chaos, climate change (or global warming), oil wars, and terrorism are uniting diverse nations in calls for political action, in Kyoto more than a decade ago, then in Copenhagen in late 2009, and potentially now in Yalta in 2011. The difference this time is that Yalta in 2011 is taking a bottom-up approach — thus addressing only the climate change threat, ignoring the other threats of fossil fuel depletion chaos, oil dependency wars, nuclear weapons proliferation, and network-based terrorism.

Adopt this 40-year-old slogan:

Think globally, act locally

Small hydro and geothermal as well as small wind and rooftop solar sources of renewable energy, in combination with energy storage batteries, some in the form of pluggable hybrid (electric + gasoline/diesel or other fuel) cars, now offer a total energy independent solution for everyone globally to consider.

This becomes what might be called a bottom-up solution to the combined threats of global warming or climate change, eventual fossil fuel depletion, more oil wars in the meantime, network-based rather than nation-based terrorism, and proliferation of nuclear weapons along with nuclear power plants.

About a decade ago, Peace Corps volunteers, led by Peter Foley and Sandra Tacina, proposed secondary projects focused first upon seminars for attracting foreign investment in the free-trade zones of the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine. The first of five seminars was held in a city having abandoned building a nuclear power plant that was discovered to be located on a geological fault that would likely cause a future earthquake.

Upon completion of those seminars, we joined forces with an NGO called Ecology and Peace to sponsor what we called a dialogue ballot in newspapers that attracted a dozen of the nearly 100 participants in a bottom-up Yalta conference focused on clean energy for Crimea. That clean energy conference included breakout groups on solar energy, wind energy and energy conservation.

Now, in 2011 celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, again from the bottom-up in this largest Peace Corps country, a combination of current Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and Returned PCVs (RPCVs) are organizing another Yalta conference” to help launch an energy corps to support achieving the goal of energy independence globally. Initially forming within AmeriCorps in the US, this needs to be multinational.

Recently, in late 2009 the U.S. Congress authorized the doubling of the Peace Corps back to its largest previous size.  Now, some of us who urged that doubling have turned our attention to this symbolic three-part effort:

GLOBAL DECLARATION OF ENERGY INDEPENDENTS: Harvest our own renewable energy (wind, solar, geothermal, small hydro) to achieve energy independence and participate in grow-your-own & buy-local efforts.

ENERGY CORPS: initially within US Peace Corps (EC/PC) and AmeriCorps to become multi-national, among the eight current nuclear powers (US, Russia, China, France, Great Britain, India, Pakistan and Israel) and others who may be represented within our bottom-up Yalta Conference in 2011, within reunions of various groups (celebrating Peace Corps at 50 years, the US Declaration of Independence at 235 years, etc.) to adopt a “Global Declaration of ENERGY IndependenTS”. This is being pursued by EC/PC in the form of secondary projects, such as when Ukrainians met with PCVs, RPCVs and experts from the State of Washington in 2001.

EARTH YEAR 2010: Let Thomas Jefferson’s first once-every-ten-years peaceful revolution begin beside his DC statue at the Cherry Blossom Festival in April 2010, led by visiting Ukrainians – Tanya, Olga & Misha* – from Yalta recruiting participants for a 2011 Yalta Conference & Reunions from among those they meet in DC and elsewhere face-to-face and via Skype connections on the 2nd Saturdays of the 1st month of each quarter.

Check out the Movement!: http://co.net, http://ukraina.ning.com, http://PeaceCorpsconnect.org http://www.facebook.com/

22 Mar

Hardworking and Ready for New Challenges

Jenny Heintz, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer 2007-2009

In the summer of ‘08 and ‘09 I had the pleasure of teaching at and directing environmentally focused summer camps in Western and Southern Ukraine, for students 14-20 years old.  During the 8-day camp sessions we shared about environmental issues, waste management and project planning.  The students would then decide on a project to implement in a nearby town.

I have never been so impressed by young people as I was at these camps.  Usually, at the beginning of camp the students would be unsure of ever seeing any actual outcome or improvement from a project that they themselves were in-charge of.  However, by mid-way through the camp they were the ones teaching me about enthusiasm and leadership.

This past summer we came across a situation at camp that had never arisen before: The mayor of the village where we wanted to do our clean-up project did NOT want us cleaning up the town. There were several moments of frustration and arguing between the counselors, at the end of which we decided to ask the kids what they thought we should do.

We were nervous. We thought the kids might just give up when they heard the town administration was against the idea of a community clean-up project.  We were wrong. Within three seconds of announcing the problem to the students, six of them had volunteered to go talk to the mayor themselves.

I walked with the self-chosen “delegation” of students the 3 miles to the town administration building and knocked on the mayor’s door. The students (all of them around the age of 16) shocked me with their poise. They would not and did not take no for an answer.

The next day we implemented the project as originally planned.  Just as we were heading out for our celebration hike and barbeque the mayor pulled-up to our campsite in his truck. He had come to personally thank the students for their hard work and for their achievement. He could not believe how much trash we had picked up and was thoroughly impressed.

Ukraine may have its problems and may have a long way too go. But with students like the ones I came across all that needs to be done and to show them they CAN do things and progress will not be far behind.

18 Mar

Celebrations of Summer!

Jenny Heintz, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer 2007-2009

Ivana Kupala, celebrated on July 6-7 in Ukraine, was originally a pagan festival and has now been adopted into the Christian Orthodox calendar. It is a summer festival that celebrates fertility and the hope for a good harvest.  The festival is celebrated the most in the Carpathian mountains with a large feast (often outdoors and over an open fire). On the day of Ivana Kupala each unmarried girl makes a head-wreath from wildflowers and wears it until the end of the night. At the end of the feast all the girls toss their wreaths into the river. Farther downstream the young men await the wreaths.  To whomever the wreath caught by a young man belongs is his true love.   Among other traditions is the fire-jumping ceremony. It is said that if a young girl and boy jump over the fire together without letting go of eachother’s hand their love will last forever.

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