An American in Ukraine: Reflections on the Anniversary of the Birth of Taras Shevchenko

Posted by: Pauletta Walsh, Assistant Information Officer, U.S. Embassy Kyiv

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Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017For the habitual voyager, arriving in a new country is the ultimate traveling experience.  The sights and smells, the vistas of fresh landscapes, the architecture, all officially announce an adventure has begun.  Diplomats may be some of the best explorers in history, from Ibn Battuta, to Machiavelli, and Benjamin Franklin.  They leave their homeland in the service of their leaders, and depart with a profound understanding of other citizens and cultures.

I arrived in Ukraine just in time for the New Year.  Bundled against the cold, I began my exploration of the city.  With encouragement from colleagues at U.S. Embassy Kyiv, I will blog about my discovery of Kyiv and Ukraine.

Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017
On March 9, Ukrainians celebrated the 203rd Anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko, the beloved poet, writer and civil activist who is often called the father of Ukrainian literature.  To mark the occasion, U.S. Embassy diplomats recorded some of Shevchenko’s verses. With an Embassy group that included Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and her mother, Miss Nadia, I toured the Shevchenko Museum to discover more.
Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017
The Taras Shevchenko Museum is located in Shevchenko’s beloved Kyiv in a mansion formerly owned by a wealthy sugar magnate.  This juxtaposition of housing the most comprehensive collection of artifacts, paintings and memorabilia from Shevchenko’s life, surrounded by such opulence is ironic and poignant.  For Ukrainians, Shevchenko is the premiere national hero.  Son of a serf, at once a novelist and a painter, a poet and a prisoner, Shevchenko was a celebrity and political figure, who finally returned home to the area near the town of Kaniv, to be buried after his death.  To a new generation of Ukrainians, those born after the Soviet era, raised with a unique identity, and who came of age in the era of EuroMaidan, Shevchenko’s dream of Ukrainian freedom resonates with renewed vigor.  The museum provides an opportunity for foreigners and natives alike to make his acquaintance and to draw lessons from his writings on the past and future of Ukraine.
Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017The museum is housed in one of the many beautiful buildings that grace the cobblestoned streets in the old city.  It opens on to a modern glass atrium, with ample room for a collection of modern art.  Progressing up the marble staircase to the second floor, I walked through room after room adorned with paintings, drawings, and books.  I learned of the Cossack history of Ukraine, and then was led step by step through the various stages of Shevchenko’s life.  Shevchenko’s life story is well known in Ukraine.  Born in 1814, Shevchenko grew up in poverty, was orphaned at the age of 11, and yet managed to acquire an education working as an apprentice to a teacher and deacon.  His early life was dictated by the whims of his masters, yet his time in Vilnius was productive in providing him with an artist’s training.  His subsequent travel with his master to the Russian capital of St. Petersburg changed his life.  Shevchenko was accepted to the Imperial Academy of Arts, and was able to study painting.  More importantly for the history of Ukrainian literature, he began to write poetry.  He also became acquainted with other Ukrainians diaspora artists, one who bought him his freedom in 1838.  In 1840, his first book of poetry, “Kobzar” was published.  This was the beginning of a new chapter, one that would bring him into conflict with the Russian Imperial family and others in the ruling class whose patronage he needed to survive.  Subsequently he penned poems in Ukrainian, where he was critical of the system of serfdom and of the regime of Tsar Nicholas I.  Shevchenko’s last prison sentence was serving six years at a penal colony in Novopetrovsk. On his release, he returned to St. Petersburg where he continued writing until his death at the age of 47 on March 10, 1861, seven days before the emancipation of the serfs.

Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017But what exactly did the Russian Empire fear?  I looked for those verses that resonated then as now, to understand the Ukrainian identity and their heart that longs for freedom.
When I am dead, bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper’s plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.

When from Ukraine the Dnieper bears
Into the deep blue sea
The blood of foes … then will I leave
These hills and fertile fields —
I’ll leave them all and fly away
To the abode of God,
And then I’ll pray …. But till that day
I nothing know of God.

Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants’ blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.

Taras Shevchenko
1845, Pereiaslav
Translated by John Weir 

Information about visiting the museum: website, FB, VK

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Creating a Better World by Practicing Multilateral Diplomacy

Posted by: N. Kumar Lakhavani, Information Management Specialist

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ModelUNI got excited when I saw an email from Peace Corps Director Dr. Doug Teschner inviting me to attend the Model United Nations (MUN) Camp managed, hosted, and taught by U.S. Peace Corps volunteers in Ukraine. I quickly made up my mind to take the weekend off and go to Odesa to attend and speak at the conference on my own dime and my own time. This was an opportunity of a lifetime to speak to the inspiring future leaders of Ukraine and also meet Peace Corps volunteers and camp counselors.

The MUN conference consisted of a week of activities that offered bright high school students a unique opportunity to learn about global issues, develop skills in negotiation and debate, and become friends with other remarkable individuals from all over Ukraine.

It was a quick trip! I booked a flight to Odesa for Saturday morning and a day train from Odesa returning back to Kyiv on Sunday. The Embassy’s Public Affairs Office pointed me in the right direction so I could prepare a message about diplomacy, volunteerism, and development of communication and negotiation skills. Knowing how much Peace Corps volunteers give up to serve overseas, I wanted to speak about the importance of volunteerism.

MUNdiscussion1I flew down to Odesa early Saturday morning and in less than two hours a taxi got me safely to the MUN Camp in Odesa Oblast. Sixty attendees, 20+ Peace Corps Volunteers, and 10+ camp counselors were in the middle of a meeting working hard to pass a MUN resolution. Participants were representing countries from Angola to Afghanistan, Cuba to Croatia, Panama to Pakistan. You could see all of the hard work and effort that was put into this camp by Peace Corps Volunteers like Lukas Henke, Natalie Gmitro and Julie Daniels.

MUN Camp participants had been at the event the entire preceding week starting at 7 AM and finishing as late as 10 PM every day. They discussed parliamentary procedures, meetings as nations, global issues, and had already taken votes on different resolutions. The camp included some fun evening events such as a talent show, “Activities from Around the World,” networking, and a bonfire.

MUN-Meetingconclusion1I was given the podium on Saturday to speak to the participants about “Diplomacy, Democracy, and the Value of Helping Others by Volunteering.” After my remarks, participants spent 45 minutes asking me questions. I was also invited to attend a training session about corruption later that day. At the session, participants discussed the definition of corruption, their thoughts about corruption in Ukraine, the causes of corruption, and shared ideas about how to eradicate corruption in their country. The campers took turns roleplaying to explore what corruption looked like and how individuals could work towards making Ukraine a corruption- free society. Georgia’s success in reducing corruption was cited by participants.

At the conclusion of the corruption session, I was given a thank you note signed by the participants sharing their appreciation for my travel all the way to the camp in Odesa Oblast to speak.

A Peace Corps Volunteer showed me the way to the marshrutka stop with my most prized possession that day in my hands. The two hour marshrutka ride back to Odesa was tough but reading the thank you note made me realize it was all worth it!

Reawakened to American Multiculturalism through the Eyes of a Ukrainian

Posted by: Tamara Sternberg-Greller, Consular Officer

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I never thought that cable TV installation would be so interesting. On Saturday, in the middle of a raging snowstorm, two representatives from a local service provider finally came over to hook up the cable they had been promising for the better part of a month. That stormy day, my husband and I had one of the most insightful conversations we have had in a long time with two mostly Russian speaking men (my husband and I are, in theory, new Ukrainian speakers). Continue reading “Reawakened to American Multiculturalism through the Eyes of a Ukrainian”

50 States in 50 Days: South Dakota – Great Faces, Great Places

Posted by: Samuel Gabel, Public Affairs Section Assistant

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Introduction

South Dakota is a land of natural beauty and diversity. The types of landscapes found here range from, rolling hills, oceans of waiving grass, and lakes that cover the eastern part of the state, to the alien beauty of the Badlands, to the majestic granite peaks and pine forests of the Black Hills. Here the Midwest meets the West. Here, one can find both fields filled with amber waves of grain, as well as cattle ranches and cowboys. This is the land where the proud and fierce Sioux tribes once roamed. It is also the setting for some of the most dramatic History of the Old West.

Mount Rushmore
Photo by Dean Franklin

My Experience Here

South Dakota is my home state. Here I have passed many memorable childhood summers, boating, hunting, fishing, walking through the tall prairie grass, driving old tractors and setting off fireworks on Independence Day. I like the sense of security that people have here, the friendliness found in the various small towns, the wide-open landscapes and the way the sky seems bigger and more beautiful here.

Rolling hills and wide open sky near Pierre

People and Cultures

My family, and a fair sized portion of the population, are ethnically German. However, probably the most distinctive ethnic group is the Sioux Nation (also known as the Lakota or Dakota). It is from these people that the state gets its name. South Dakota’s native tribes make up a relatively high portion of the population (even greater than in Oklahoma). Traditionally, the Sioux were a nomadic warrior people. Today, most live in several reservations scattered across the state. The Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center, near Chamberlain offers an opportunity to learn about the history and traditions of the Sioux. There are also a number of powwows (tribal gatherings generally involving dancers in costume) all across the state. A number of them welcome visitors (provided said visitors are respectful).

Continue reading “50 States in 50 Days: South Dakota – Great Faces, Great Places”

Biking to Work Around the World

Posted by: Llywelyn Graeme, Ambassador’s Executive Assistant

Wellington Harbour
Wellington Harbor

Beijing, China; Wellington, New Zealand; Washington, D.C.; Kyiv, Ukraine. Other than being national capitals, they are all cities where I biked to work every day. I’ve been an avid bicyclist since I was in junior high school, and have tried to keep up with it ever since. Admittedly, there were times when the pollution in Beijing, the 100 kilometer per hour winds in Wellington, the 38° heat in DC and the -30° cold in Kyiv have made it a challenge, but I try to ride every day. It has been a challenge at times, each city has its unique difficulties. Crowded, flat, hilly, many bike paths or none, it has always been better than driving. Quite apart from the sheer cost of a car (I’ve never owned one) there is fuel, repairs, insurance, maintenance and parking costs. And in some cities at certain times of day, a bicycle can go much faster than a car. In fact I can usually go the same speed as the tram on my street. Well, downhill at least.

So what do I ride? I have a classic American Schwinn mountain bicycle from the 80’s. It is solid steel and very ugly. Black with pink lettering. Originally I bought it used from my favorite bike shop (Bike Works in Wallingford, R.I.P) because it was the only one I could afford. I was just starting a new job and needed to get to work. I’ve had to fight several times with bike shops not to “upgrade,” they always seem to take it as a personal affront that my bike keeps going with minor repairs.  These days it is long out-of-fashion and parts are hard to come by. But I’ve ridden it for years and years now and it has never been stolen or even had a major breakdown. It may not be pretty or fashionable, but it’s tough as nails and doesn’t let me down. Well, not often, I had a blow out on Artem street last week. Now I just need to find a good bike shop in my latest home town, Kyiv.

Kyiv Bike Day 2012 is scheduled for May 26 and starts at 10 a.m. at Mykhaylivska sq. For more details: http://bikeday.org.ua/ua/