Newsletter 2005
Remembering -- and Reliving -- Kiev
vDespite the fact that I came to the United States when I was only ten-years-old, I still harbored feelings of nostalgia for Kiev, the capital of Ukraine and the center of my universe. I yearned to see it again with the eyes of an adult and to revisit the sites I saw so clearly when I closed my eyes. However, I felt that I needed a greater purpose when I returned: I saw my opportunities in the United States as a way to give something back. I decided to spend five of my six weeks in Kiev volunteering for the Ukrainian office of SOS-Kinderdorf, an Austrian organization that helps orphans as well as children living in poverty.

I spent my days playing with kids from large, underprivileged families in a day camp atmosphere as well as running workshops on topics such as dental hygiene and being wary of strangers. For many kids, the day camp was their only opportunity to play with toys, many parents simply do not have the money to buy their children these simple childhood pleasures. I was honored to have the opportunity to distribute clothing and toys I had brought with me to these kids who so desperately need them. I especially remember a little boy who upon receiving a teddy bear looked at me in disbelief, his eyes full of joy and—showing me an unidentifiable one-eared ragged creature—said: “Look! Now I have two toys!”

After the workday ended, I spent hours rediscovering the city I love so dearly and continue to cherish in my heart. Eastern European art, literature, and architecture were mine to rediscover. It was alive and calling me. Being a native speaker helped me to fit in. Even though Ukrainian has been reinstated as the official language since the fall of the Soviet Union, most people still speak Russian as this is their first language. I made it a point to enjoy all facets of Kiev’s everyday life: visiting the house of the great writer Mikhail Bulgakov to buying a snack from the old women in the street who, it seems, look just as they did thirty years ago.

My six weeks in Kiev were unbelievable and did more to educate me on the country’s cultural, political, and social life than any textbook or television special could. I would highly recommend anyone who has an interest in Eastern European culture to discover Kiev for him or herself, as it is a city of indescribable beauty with great religious and literary importance, and the capital of a country that is currently rediscovering its heritage as well as charting its future.

--Olga Chernov ‘05