A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Archive for Work

A look back at Hanukkah

New s*** has come to light, man.

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We began with Amir lighting the candles. Ina, standing next to him, is the most religious amongst us in the office, other than Amir and Sharon, that is.

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Defender of the Fatherland Day

February 23 was a Soviet memorial holiday celebrating those soldiers who fell in World War II defending Russia against the Germans. Today it has become a sort of Men’s Day (to compliment Women’s Day, which takes place on March 8). Although many Ukrainians don’t celebrate this holiday, our office takes it very seriously and prepares an entire spectacle and feast for the men. The women transformed the office into a Ukrainian kolkhoz (a collective farm during Soviet times, basically a Soviet kibbutz).

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Money, get away. Get a good job with good pay and youre okay.

This is more an apology than a post. It’s that time again for me: the job hunt has begun! Since I will be moving back to the United States in September, it would be nice if I could find something to do and some way to pay the rent, right?

In any event, the past couple of weeks have been quite busy due to a rather large application. Next Monday I submit it, and Tuesday I will again have some free time to write my blog. Stay tuned! I’ll be back, I promise.

Craziness and idleness

We moved. Everyone moved.

I was trying to explain the economic situation to my grandmother the other day after she told me that it couldn’t be worse than in America.

It is.

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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.

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DGU kickoff event in Zaporozhe

December 17, 2008. 11 am. “Cultural Palace,” Zaporozhe.

Press conference

The morning began with a press conference, to which the major television channels, newspapers, and young volunteers of Zaporozhe were invited. I was very excited by the turnout– nearly 40 young people were there, which is quite astonishing, considering how little is known about voluntarism here in Ukraine. The conference lasted a little over an hour, after all was said and done. Inessa, the energetic director of JCC Zaporozhe, who organized most of this event, was our emcee for the morning. We opened with speeches. Anatoli, director of Chessed Zaporozhe, and Amir spoke, among others. Then it was time to unveil the site itself.

Inessa, Sabina, and I explain the site

Above (left to right): Inessa, me, Sabina

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Metsudah

This post dates back to the 17th of November; I just now realized that I never published it! Enjoy this blast from the past…

I had heard so much about the Metsudah program in my short time here, but couldn’t really understand what made it so special. This weekend I had the chance to experience it firsthand.

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Save Yourself

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I am travelling the 1.5 hours to Zaporozhe, the evening before I am to leave for America, in order to witness firsthand a JCC charity fundraiser. The event, a freestyle competition, is called “Сохрани себя,” or “Save Yourself.” Entrance was 10 грн (grivnas), and all proceeds go to the family of Anton, a 22-year-old diagnosed with leukemia.

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Zaporozhe and Donetsk

The story: over the past week and a half, I went on two excursions, to Zaporozhe and to Donetsk.

When: I went to Zaporozhe last Thursday. Amir and I left at 3 pm and got back at 9 pm. Amir, Karima (another JDC employee) and I left this Monday at 2 pm, Karina and I arrived in Donetsk at 7 pm, Amir continued to Ludonsk for the night, and we all left Donetsk the next day at 3 pm and arrived in Dnepropetrovsk at 7:30 pm.

The location: Zaporozhe is about one hour south of Dnepropetrovsk, and Donetsk is about four and a half hours west.

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So what exactly am I doing here?

I work for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee– otherwise known as “JDC” in America and “the Joint” everywhere else in the world. Technically, my title is “volunteer,” although I am paid a modest monthly salary, have an apartment with all expenses paid, and have health insurance coverage. I live far better than the average Ukrainian (I live pretty well by any standards), and yet I am considered to be a volunteer. I, therefore, consider myself a paid employee and, as such, take my work very seriously.

My first week was devoted to getting to know the Jewish community here in Dnepropetrovsk. I visited the JDC office, the Jewish Community Center (JCC), Chessed (a center which runs programs for the elderly Jews in the community), the new synagogue, the Jewish school (actually, there are three schools in the same facility– one religious one for boys, one religious one for girls, and one not-quite-secular-but-far-less-religious one that is co-ed), Beit-Chana (the university for women studying to become Jewish teachers), and Beit-Baruch (the nursing home for 60 elderly Jews erected by the Boston JCRC). I met the main characters in each location, and I especially devoted my time to auditing the various programs the JCC offers to the community. My boss Amir told me right off the bat that I should take a few weeks to get my bearings and figure the place out before I get involved in any one project. JDC is very much about understanding what the community wants, based on how it already functions. It would be pretty useless and maybe even detrimental for me to enter into an already high functioning organization and create a new program that just won’t work with the system in place. After I understand Dnepropetrovsk and fully grok the people in the Jewish community, then I can go about changing it.

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