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Different than we imagined: what do Americans think about Ukraine

In their quest to achieve Western values, Ukrainians often underestimate their value and do not notice their own advantages. However, it is worth remembering how sincere and hospitable Ukraine is, and how strong and talented its people are. This is convinced by three Americans who, having no Ukrainian roots, say that they have fallen in love with Ukraine and even consider it their second homeland.

Photo: Shutterstock

“Once I was messing around and listening to the music of Gogol Bordello - and a soloist from Ukraine, from near Kiev. I thought: this is how people are born in Ukraine who make interesting music, ”- this is how the American Robin Rohrbuck from Virginia got acquainted with Ukraine.

“And I started looking at information about Ukraine and realized that this is a much more interesting country than I, an American woman who grew up during the Cold War, could imagine. We grew up with the idea that post-Soviet countries are a sad, depressive place, but Ukraine is a color, and light, and life, and art. "

Robin first went to Ukraine in 2012 as a tourist and says that she met wonderful people there and fell in love with the country.

“A group of young people in Kiev invited us to their district Borshchagovka ... and they were all so friendly, and funny, and smart, and ambitious. And talking with them, we were able to understand what it is like to be an intelligent young man in Ukraine under the rule of Yanukovych. Later, when I thought about it, I was so angry that these incredible young people would never have the same opportunities as their peers in the West. "

During the Revolution of Dignity, she closely followed the events and remotely helped the Euromaidanists - she edited the news of the English press center. And since the war in Donbass began, she joined the group of the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States, sent medical aid to the military.

“My friend's father was the chief physician, I think, of the 30th separate mechanized brigade. And we managed to find certain things together, such as stretchers and dressings, - she recalls. “I used my contacts here to help them get the medical supplies they needed at the front.”

Robin returned to Ukraine four months after the events on the Maidan: “It was very emotional to see with my own eyes what I watched from the computer screen ... I felt that the wounds were very fresh. Every time I discussed this with someone, we cried. There were so many tears. ”

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In her subsequent travels, she saw how the country and the people were changing: “I was able to see a big concert by Okean Elzy at the Olympic Stadium, where there were 70 people, and it was such an honor to be at that stadium, everyone seemed to have experienced a catharsis”.

Robin says: Ukrainians must remember to value themselves and their people.

“I admire the Ukrainians so much and what they were able to do during the Euromaidan. There is so much power there, terrible things happened, but they did not retreat and could still joke about it. It seems to me that civil society has become much bolder, not only in terms of political reforms, but also in building the country in which they want to live, ”says Robin.

“I know that loving Ukraine is not easy. But damn it is a beautiful country and the people are wonderful! When I look at Ukraine, I see talent, warmth, resources, creativity. Know your value because it is enormous and you deserve to be much more visible in the world than you are now. The world needs Ukraine to be bigger, more visible, ”says Robin.

"Every time I go to Ukraine, as I return home"

“At first it was very difficult, because I did not know anything, I didn’t know Ukrainian, but over time, communicating with Ukrainians, I learned it,” recalls Ellis Tran, a former Peace Corps volunteer, of her experience in Ukraine.

He was born and raised in California. After graduation, he decided to take part in the Peace Corps volunteer program - and he was assigned to the Transcarpathian village of Yasinya, where he taught English to local schoolchildren.

“After completing the program, I wanted to stay in Ukraine and decided to go to Lvov. And there I rented an apartment and taught English, ”says Ellis.

At this time, he met his future wife.

“We were together in Ukraine for a year, but I lived in Lvov, and she lived in Kiev. We met every weekend, traveled by train, - recalls Ellis. - It was difficult at first, especially in the reserved seat. I saw a lot, heard a lot, smelled a lot. It was fun, to be honest, and when it was time to go home a year later I asked her if they would like to come with me. ”

Ellis has Chinese roots and this has caused a lot of surprise in Ukraine. “They asked me: where are you from? I said: from the USA. They said: no, where are you really from? But I understand this, many people, especially in the villages, have never communicated with foreigners. Unfortunately, there were also problems when some guys clung to my future wife and me in Lviv. Once I was robbed. There were some unpleasant moments, but there were very few of them compared to the good ones, I had a very good time in Ukraine ”.

But Ellis was sympathetic to the ignorance of Ukrainians - due to the lack of communication with people different from them. “I grew up in San Jose, and the city is ethnically very homogeneous, there were a lot of people with Asian roots. All my friends were of Chinese or Vietnamese origin, especially in my area. And I, too, had little contact with other people, until I started studying at the University of California at Los Angeles, and that's when I decided to go to Australia for a semester. I liked it there, so it motivated me to volunteer for the Peace Corps. ”

“The very idea that an American decided to volunteer in a Ukrainian village was very strange to many. Some people thought I was a spy, someone said that I work for the government, especially when they learned that volunteers are paid the same salaries as Ukrainian teachers - the very idea was shocking, ”Ellis says.

It was in Yasinya that Ellis first learned what real winter is. “I remember it shocked me a little. There were days when I just sat in my apartment. My Ukrainian friends called me, but I did not answer the phone, I had such a short-term depression. My pipes froze and I flooded my neighbor. And we had to defrost the pipes with a blowtorch, ”recalls the American.

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“One winter I was sick and sat at home, and my friends came to me, brought me blueberry cough syrup, I always remember that when I go there,” says Ellis.

In general, he says, Ukrainian hospitality is more Asian than American. He believes that Ukrainians should develop tourism so that this hospitality can be felt not only when you visit the owners, but also outside the home. He also advises Ukrainians to show the same sincerity and openness to each other - even to strangers.

Ellis himself twice showed Ukraine to his American friends and does not forget about his Ukrainian experience: “Something that I learned in Ukraine and from Ukrainians, I apply in my life. My wife is Ukrainian, my dog's name is Misha, and my license plate is “Dude”, and I definitely had a good time in Ukraine and every time I go there it’s like I’m returning home. ”

"My name is Mishka"

Malcolm Phillips from Pennsylvania has been to Ukraine about fifty times in the last 15 years alone: ​​"My American name is Malcolm Phillips, but my name is Mishka, because at heart I am Ukrainian."

And for the first time I got there during the Soviet Union. First - since the Cold War - as an analyst, collecting information about life in the USSR and the countries of the Eastern Bloc. “I looked at the photos, read the literature about what happened before - and compared with what changes were taking place in the country, traveled by train around the country. In the Soviet Union, people wanted more and more changes. I met with local people. I was looking for unobvious changes, I was looking for signals of how the government is changing, what people want. And I made reports on my findings, ”says Malcolm.

His travels lasted from a week to two months, “and I was looking for reasons to stay in Ukraine as long as possible ... At that time, people in the USA, Germany, France, England did not go to Eastern Europe, to Ukraine, because it was the Soviet Union ... And people in the West thought badly of people in the East, but not me. I didn’t like Soviet power, but I loved people. ”

At the university, Malcolm studied Russian and Ukrainian, and after the collapse of the Union, he continued to work with Ukraine - as an expert in the field of renewable energy and also as a pastor of a Protestant church, has a number of charitable projects for orphans, and now also for migrants from Donbass. “We have been conducting summer language camps in the Carpathians for 15 years now. We once brought two girls to our church in Virginia - and we still keep in touch with them. ”

He says that Eastern Europeans, and in particular Ukrainians, have always reacted to him, first of all, with interest and openness.

“It's hard to miss me,” he smiles. “In many places, I was the first non-white person that people saw. I like people. Usually I have a big beard, and I have a belly, and the children just reached out to me, and I adore children - and they always thought I was Santa Claus. "

The proclamation of Ukraine's independence, the Orange Revolution, the Revolution of Dignity - Malcolm saw with his own eyes how the state and the people are changing: “The Orange Revolution gave hope, but then expectations were not met. I saw how it all happens, but I said: do not lose hope, do not despair. Yes, it’s hard now, but I still believe in Ukraine - as I have always believed ”.

Malcolm adds: “I love your country, your culture. And they brought me dumplings, cabbage rolls, cheesecakes, sometimes vodka. And it was home. And usually I felt like a king, especially in a village where no one saw people like me, I was different, but I felt at home. and so I go back there. Now it is no secret that there are many problems in the United States, and I say to black Americans: go to Europe, to Eastern Europe, to Ukraine, and you will see what it means to be together. "

The original column is published on the website. Ukrainian service "Voices of America".

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