A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Volunteering in Donetsk as we open DGU

Be sure to check out the official Do Good, Ukraine! articles about these events!!

10:45 I arrived at the Workers’ Cultural Hospital 15 minutes later than planned, since Seriozha (my driver) and I got a little lost in the big city of Donetsk. Dasha, organized as ever and arranging twelve things at once on her two cell phones, was waiting for me outside the entrance. We tell Seriozha that we’ll be back in less than an hour, and then rush up the stiars to the children’s oncology ward.

10:50 We had to put blue plastic slippers over our feet before entering the floor. I could see as soon as I walked through the double doors from the stairs that the performance had already begun. Standing outside the doorframe of one of the rooms are five young students about my age, dressed as a cat, a crow, a little girl with pigtails, an old man with a straw hat and a handlebar mustache, an old woman with a cane, and a princess, all in gold. Another student, dressed as a young boy, runs out of the room and frantically changed into a new costume, while happy children’s music is playing “onstage.” He buckles new pants over his shorts, throws on a fur vest, a fake beard and mustache, and a Russian fur hat, before hunching over on a cane. Just in time for his cue, he walks back into the room where the performance is taking place. I move over to stand with a few parents and volunteers outside the door to get a better view. There must be twenty children there, plus at least one parent for each child. It’s a good crowd, stuffed in a fairly small room. Most kids are sitting on their parents’ laps. Some, not many, are on the floor. There are a few really little ones, maybe 2 or 3 years old, quite a few 4-9 year olds, and one or two 10-12 year olds. Some are wearing sanitary masks over their mouths. About half are bald. All of them look like they were enjoying the performance.

hospital 27

11:15 The show is almost over, and even though I don’t understand a thing (as it’s in Ukrainian), I’m having a great time. The students from Donetsk’s Cultprosvet Institute are cracking me up, both on and offstage, while performing or waiting for their cues. They’re quite good, and they brought simple but cute sets, as well as music. I’m very impressed.

hospital 20

11:20 The show has ended, and it’s time to give out gifts! Dasha and Grisha brought a gift bag for every child, filled with candy, little toys, and medicine. After they hand them all out, the cast will say their goodbyes and head out.

hospital 5

(You can see Dasha in the pink sweater on the left)

11:30 The cast changed, took apart the sets, loaded up their vans, and left. Dasha, her boyfriend Maksim, Grisha, and I will go with Seriozha towards Chessed.

11:45 We’re stopping at McDonald’s for a bite. We’re all starved. Dasha’s been up all morning organizing the day’s events, while I had to leave the apartment before 7 am to make it here on time. Grisha, unfortunately, has to go back to work, but I had an opportunity to talk to him in the car about the educational seminar we’re planning, so I am satisfied.

12:15 This was the third time I’ve eaten McDonald’s in Ukraine (rather ironic, considering I never eat it in America). The first time was at Moct Citi Center, our Dnepropetrovsk mall, after a football game, because it was the only inexpensive restaurant open so late (everyone there, incidentally, was wearing Dnepr shirts and scarves). The second time was in Simferopl, on the way back from Limmud. We had two hours before our train would leave, so we sat at McDonald’s for a while, since it was the only fast food by the bus station. Turns out, there would have been plenty by the train station, but we only realized that after the fact. Now I’ve had it again in Donetsk, Maks’s call. I got a chance to meet Maks. He’s a nice guy. Very funny. I like him. Dasha’s crazy about him.

12:30 We’re back at Chessed now for another three hours before we leave for the next volunteer event. I’m sitting in the main activity room for the JCC-type Chessed programs. Here they have two computers, a sound system, a projector, a universal gym machine, a tv, and lots of arts & crafts projects on the walls. It’s small, maybe 15 x 20 feet, but they use the space well. Today when I entered, I could barely find room to sit, so full of clothes, books, toys, stuffed animals, coats, and other donated goods was the space! Yulia, also a member of the Donetsk DGU team, told me there had been even more goods before, so they had had to take them to the orphanage early. I’m so impressed at the gift drive Dasha and Yulia have been organizing for the past two weeks. I never would have imagined there’d be so many goods!

orphanage 47

12:50 Dasha’s phone just rang, for the first time not on silent. It was the Sponge Bob Square Pants theme song, in Russian. Very funny.

14:10 We just finished loading up the van wtih all the goods. Dasha and Yulia would sort them, and the rest of us (by this point, at least ten young people around my age had already shown up) carried the sorted bags and boxes to the van. These will be driven to the orphanage, and once all the volunteers arrive, we’ll follow.

14:30 By now about 30 university students have shown up. Yulia is talking with some of them about Do Good, Ukraine!, while Dasha is handing out and explaining volunteer forms. There are some five questions on the form, asking about the students’ availablility, knowledge, and desiere to volunteer. I am a little distressed that there is no mention of DGU on this form, nor is there a flier with our information on it. We were supposed to have pens ready with our website and logo printed on them, but the company Sabina was using flaked out on us last minute. I, therefore, am sitting in the corner of the room and writing our name and address over and over again on small pieces of notebook paper, so that Yulia can hand them out later. They’re not so professional looking, but at least it’s something. Oh, well, such is life.

16:15 Wow. That took a long time. We left at around 14:45 for the orphanage. Yes, we hit some traffic, but this is far away from the center of Donetsk. We are just arriving now.

16:20 I have never been in a more reviling bathroom in my life. Keep in mind I spent a week in Muchucuxcah, Mexico, where you don’t flush the toilets, lived in Madrid, where for fear of who knows what diseases, you learn never to sit on the toilet seats at clubs and bars, as well as most European countries, Argentina, Japan, Morocco, and Israel. I will repeat: I have NEVER been in a more reviling bathroom in my life. This bathroom is for both the students and the teachers, some of whom live here permanently along with their pupils.

16:45 I am sitting with my jacket on in the cold auditorium. The director has explained that they have to ration their resources, and since the students are in here rarely, whereas they are in their dorms every day, they have chosen to leave this room unheated. After taking a little time to settle in, change into costumes, get our photographic equipment ready, and speak to the directors of the orphanage, we’re finally ready to begin. The kids are filing in as I write.

orphanage 34

17:30 What a great show. Some of the university students performed a New Year’s spectacle with lots of audience participation, and the kids just loved it. Dasha and Yulia are seated in the front with the orphanage directors, the two photographers (Maks is one of them) are running around taking pictures, and the rest of us are sitting in the back of the room. Now it’s time to distribute the gifts, so we’re about to start moving. We’re going to do it in two groups– older and younger kids. The older kids’ group will go to the dorms, and the younger kids will stay in the auditorium.

orphanage 53

18:15 We’re back in the mashrutki (vans), preparing to head back to the JCC. That was really nice. I was in the group with the little kids. After we handed out some of the toys we brought with us (the clothes and other collected items will be distrubited later), we got in a circle and played a whole bunch of games. Name games, sound and gesture games, cat and mouse (it’s like the American game kids play with the parachute, but without the parachute), and others. The kids were really sweet, and I think we all enjoyed our time immensely.

orphanage 42

19:30 We hit no traffic, so we made it back in an hour. I went inside the JCC to quickly say my farewells to Dasha, Yulia, and the other volunteers I spoke with, as well as to hand out all the pieces of paper with DGU’s information that I had been furiously writing and ripping. Now Seriozha and I are ready for the long ride home.

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1 Comment»

  Gabriel Diaz wrote @

It’s a cute irony that you’ve eaten at McDonalds more in the Ukraine than in the US. I’m also surprised at the density of service you did in just a single day. So much good packed into so little time. I hope you get time to rest! I’m really proud to say that I’m your friend. Nice work out there.


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