The news wasn’t totally unexpected, but it was discomforting. Everything had been falling into place nicely on this end but falling apart on the other. The sale of the house was moving along and the closing was going to fall pretty close to the expected March 24 departure date. The storage unit was starting to get filled with the things I wanted to keep and have in my life when I return from the Peace Corps. Boxes were getting loaded with books that will be given away and plans were being made for a house sale to unload all the rest. My quality time with the dog was becoming more heartfelt and poignant now that we’re closer to saying goodbye. I had stocked up on warm clothes to protect me from the cold Ukrainian winters and was buying those things I knew would be hard to come by there: Sensodyne, vitamin D, an adaptor plug. By now I was fairly comfortable with the Cyrillic alphabet and borshch.
The Peace Corps evacuated its volunteers from Ukraine even before the Ukrainian President went into hiding and his abuses of power were shared on YouTube. The news hit the press with a stinging reverberation on social media. I spent one entire afternoon on Facebook, which to me is akin to spending an eternity in hell.
Immediately one person posted a confirmation from someone at headquarters that our training was cancelled. Another person posted her discussion with someone else minutes earlier in Washington who told her things weren’t decided yet. A third person wrote that those volunteers just evacuated would be going back to Ukraine to finish their service in a few weeks and we would definitely be following them. We would be needed now more than ever. But over the course of an afternoon and evening things settled down and we all eventually received phone calls from the Peace Corps. Our plans for service in Ukraine were cancelled; one month to the day of our departure.
The whole thing started back in November. Ukraine needed money to stay afloat. Its President had a choice; one hand outstretched to the European Union to the West, the other to Russia in the East. He looked to the East and divided the country. Protesters of many stripes descended on Kyiv to publicly voice their opposition. The government and its supporters voiced their opposition to the opposition and things escalated. After several months of rising tensions the standoff turned violent and people on both sides were killed. Agreements were made and truces were hastily put into place. But in the cold Ukrainian winter, truths and truces are easily shattered. Russia has a firm hand on its borderland and former soviet state. Money, power, natural resources, past loyalties, threats, and an ominous presence rise with the morning sun from the East. The mother bear sits poised.
This is not the first time Russia and I and the Peace Corps have had this dance. In 1977 I was in college and lived and worked in southern Chile for a semester. It was there I became acquainted with the Peace Corps and its volunteers and I observed first hand President Kennedy’s principles in action. Helping others in some exotic locale, including a desolate Patagonia, held an appeal.
Following college in 1978 I sent out the requisite resumes seeking employment. The Peace Corps application was added to that pile and I was promptly accepted. They wanted me to build houses in Afghanistan. Deployment doesn’t happen overnight and I knew it was going to be a long wait. I needed money, so I took the first job offer that came along putting my Peace Corps plans on hold. Russia invaded Afghanistan in December of ’79. That would have disrupted my Peace Corps plans anyway.
Thirty five years later both Russia and I sat poised to help out Ukraine, although our motives couldn’t be more different. I won’t be going to Ukraine but sadly Russia has.
Serving in the Peace Corps is all about patience, flexibility, and dealing with frustration. I still need to do what is needed to sell my house and all that. I am stalling in turning over the dog to his new family. The Peace Corps is hurriedly offering new assignments to our group of Ukraine volunteers. I wait with composure for my new assignment, whenever or wherever that may be. And I go back to my mantra: It’ll all work out.