In the past few weeks I’ve received the question, “So what exactly are you doing in Ukraine?” And it got me thinking, “what am I doing in Ukraine? My first four months in Ukraine were a massive game of trial and error and error and even more errors. I’ve let it discourage me at times, but it’s through those errors that I’ve learned to claim my difficulties.
Here are a few pictures of me pretending to know what I’m doing.
One of the most difficult challenges was really understanding where I am. Dnipro is an extremely modern city, especially for a city that used to be ‘closed’ due to its ties to nuclear weaponry. From cafes to work, I would hear English being spoken all the time. I thought Russian immersion would be simple — yet, beyond the grocery store and restaurants, I found myself speaking English. Within the classroom, my students were entranced, as was the whole world, with watching the American elections. Therefore, I discussed American politics. When home, I found myself needing to feel useful. This drove me to do remote work with organizations I knew from the United States.
It was a slow transition. It took months. It took humility. It took me admitting that I have no idea what I am doing here in Ukraine. But I finally started making friends, speaking Russian in public, researching and writing about Ukrainian politics, and most importantly volunteering across Ukraine.
Photo Credit: John Wendle / Aljazeera
The biggest adjustment I’ve made is understanding where I am in reference to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Yes, the illegal annexation of Crimea is often mentioned as is the war in the Donbass, but there is a major difference between mentioning and experiencing. The different NGOs I’ve volunteered with have really demonstrated those differences. But I think the biggest wake-up call came with the most recent violating of the Minsk Agreement‘s ceasefire. With the resurgence of fighting in Aviidka, a came a plethora of new questions.
“Are you safe?” Yes.
“How close is Dnipro to Aviidka?” 200 km.
“Do you have an exit strategy?” No. Should I?
“Well you know this is a chance for you to fight? lol” Excuse me?
This last one hits the hardest. It shows just how far removed the average American citizen is from conflict. How much of a joke many consider and see the problems of the world beyond the borders of America. They claim it’s dark humor. And yes, I’ll admit, America is experiencing a disturbing number of political problems right now. I’ve spent a great deal of these past few months trying to make sense of it, but I know for a fact that if Russia tried to annex Brighton Beach tomorrow (claiming it’s what the Russian speakers there want), the whole world would be forced to pay attention. Ukraine does not have that same privilege which is why I want to share their story here:
PhotoCredit: Brendan Hoffman, New York Times