By the time we returned to Kyiv, I was exhausted. I really just wanted to take Tori home to Sokyriany, but I had promised my host parents, Anya and Victor (who I lived with my first three months in Ukraine, while I was in training and learning Ukrainian) that I would come for the weekend and bring my sister to meet them. But before we could catch the bus to Kolychivka (the village where they live, about 2 hours outside of Kyiv), I had a huge list of things to do at Peace Corps. So Mark gave Tori a tour of the famous monuments in Kyiv while I took care of business 🙂 I was so glad Tori had something fun to do while I was otherwise occupied! The only downside to Ukraine is that its very challenging for non-Russian/Ukrainian speakers… I would’ve been terrified leaving Tori on her own, so it was a relief for me that someone was taking care of her : )
While Tori was doing some site-seeing, my first order of business was seeing “Papa Sergei,” who is Peace Corps’ Safety & Security Officer. He is probably the most notorious man at PC Headquarters, and he definitely has the most illustrious career. He’s a former KGB officer, and he knows everyone worth knowing in Ukraine. He has a reputation of getting things done, one way or the other, and I know many PCVs who have been taken care of in challenging situations by Sergei. In one instance, some PCVs were stranded on the border between Trans-Dniester (a militant area of Moldova that declared independence from Moldova and allegiance to Russia) when the border guards had swiped their passports and wouldn’t return them without a huge bribe. But after one call from Papa Sergei, these PCVs were released with apologies from the guards and were on their way home to Ukraine. So you see, Papa Sergei is something of a legend for PCVs, and if you’re put in an unfortunate position which brings PC Safety & Security into play, you know Papa Sergei will do whatever it takes to help.
I had filed a police report in June after my cell phone, passport, and wallet were stolen by a gypsy woman (right off the table in front of me at dinner), and the police in Kyiv had brought a suspicious gypsy woman in for questioning after finding a nice cell phone in her possession. The description matched the report, so they called Papa Sergei to come in. The police who found this woman were on the night shift, but they ended up staying all day as well with Papa Sergei, interrogating this woman and finding out what she did with my things.
As Papa Sergei recollected the experience for me in his office at Peace Corps, he informed me that they played “good cop, bad cop” to get this woman to crack. With a mischievous and slightly chilling look in his eye, he told me, “you can guess who played the bad cop.” I wanted to laugh out loud, but at the same time I almost felt bad for this woman. I would not want to go up against Papa Sergei in an interrogation. Apparently this woman already had a pretty long criminal record, so Papa Sergei told her that they might go easy on her with this new charge if she could produce my official documents. Evidently it worked, because in addition to my cell phone (which they had found on her person), she also produced my passport, accreditation card (which makes it legal for me to live and work in Ukraine), and my credit card! She’d already spent the cash, but I was just relieved to have all my documents back.
The police were proceeding with charging her for the theft, and Papa Sergei had me identify her from a series of 10 pictures they gave him. It was easy, and after signing a few papers, all of my things were returned to me. Papa Sergei recommended that I write a thank-you letter to the police in Kyiv, which I did that afternoon. I asked him if he’d help me translate my letter to Ukrainian, but he smiled and said “we’ll send it in English; it’ll give them an incentive to study.” I also wrote him an email, thanking him for everything he did to get my stuff back. I can add my experience to the many that other volunteers have had with Papa Sergei–he’s your fiercest advocate and nobody messes with his volunteers. Its nice to know that if you’re ever put in a terrible position in Ukraine, we have someone like him to come to the rescue : )
I met Tori and Mark at the hostel that night, after finishing all the stuff I had to do at Peace Corps headquarters. Mark was leaving for Odessa, and Tori and I decided we’d stay at the hostel that night and go onto Kolychivka the next day. After dinner, Mark set out for the train and that was the last I saw of him. I knew we needed to have a serious conversation, but after all the stress from the day at the police station and the exhaustion from our travels, I didn’t have any energy left to address all the things that weren’t working between us. I chickened out of having the conversation, but it still felt like a huge load was lifted from my shoulders once he was gone. It was also nice to finally have time with just Tori as well; I’d had to share her for the last two weeks, which had been fine, but I was looking forward to some sister time : )
The next day, Tori got to experience village life in Kolychivka. So far, she’d only seen major cities and tourist destinations, but Kolychivka is pretty much the opposite end of that spectrum. I was pleased with how much she liked it, and how quickly she took to Anya and Victor. She used a few Ukrainian words she’d learned, and Anya complimented her on how quickly she learned. Apparently it took me all of the three months I lived with Anya to be able to speak as well as Tori did in two weeks ; )
Tori and I loved our time in Kolychivka. We spent the weekend chilling out, swimming in the pond, and eating way too much yummy home-cooked Ukrainian food. We also made a trip into the nearby city of Chernihiv, where I took my mother when she came to visit. I took Tori to Mom’s favorite cafe, and we took this picture just for Mom 🙂
Tori and I spent lots of time hanging out with Anya and Victor, enjoying the garden and the incredible produce that came out of it. I’ve never been into gardening, but spending time in a Ukrainian village in summertime is enough to make anyone change their mind–the quality of fresh, home-grown food is so good! Plus, the taste is unbeatable. I know Tori got hooked 😉 Tori also got to experience how much Ukrainian men love to drink; our Dad had sent Victor a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey (Victor had sent Dad a bottle of home-made vodka last year, known as “samahon” and Dad wanted him to have a taste of American liquor) which was obviously full when we arrived on Friday. By Sunday night, only a quarter of the bottle remained, and Tori came to understand how much (most, not all) Ukrainian men love to drink!
After a thoroughly enjoyable weekend in Kolychivka, Tori and I were on the road again. This time our destination was my hometown in Ukraine; Sokyriany! I had loved our visit in Kolychivka, but the thought of going home to my apartment and showing Tori around the home I’ve had for the last two years had me on the edge of my seat on the train 🙂
To hear about summertime Sokyriany, check out the next blog post.