|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