“We will be flying on an old Soviet plane–which is an old Soviet bus, with wings.” These were the words whispered in my ear by Olah, my Ukrainian counterpart as I was participating in a civic education program in Kyiv and Lviv. Her description was spot on, and as we made the relatively short flight west, I couldn’t help but notice a disturbance a few rows back. After a few moments, I looked to see that a body was strapped to a seat and covered with a black cloth. About the same time, I glanced out the window and noticed that the whole earth seemed to be on fire. My experienced companions did not seem disturbed in the least, so I settled back, wondering what I had gotten myself into.
It turned out to be a life-long love affair with Ukraine and her people. This particular occurrence was in March of 2006, and the relationship continues to this day, though I have managed to add many more friends and acquaintances over the years and see much more of the country.
My very first experience with a Ukrainian occurred in early 2000. I was a young teacher, and I had volunteered to help host a delegation of educators from Russia and Ukraine. I hosted Andriy, a linguist from Zhytomyr, for three weeks at my home. I guess my interest and eagerness was evident, as I was chosen to make a reciprocal journey in the fall of 2001. The events of 9/11 changed those plans, however, and it would be 2006 before I had my chance to travel abroad. Until then, I had not been outside of North America, though I was a traveler and adventurer. By then I had fallen in with a different group, more inclined toward civic education. I had opened up my classroom to a delegation, and they mentioned they would like to welcome me to Ukraine. My blood was pumping, but it would be almost two years before I heard another word. The group was leaving just a few weeks after I connected with them again, but my school was cooperative, and soon I was traveling across the Atlantic.
The trip was amazing on so many levels, and I learned so much. In particular, I learned that working globally to improve the human experience was a calling for me. Upon my return, I would continue to look for ways to engage with similar programs and share my experiences. As with many things about which we become passionate, what started as a trickle became a torrent. Though it was two years before I traveled abroad again, this time to Morocco for another civic education program. I continued to host visitors every chance I had, and as it turned out, I often hosted Ukrainians.