April 18th, our final day with Oleksandr

What an amazing day.

It started with an 8 am pickup in front of our hotel. The four of us, Michael myself, Lisa Weilminster for IREX Washington DC and Michael Kuban for the Department of State all set off for a small village school in the town of Borispil.

We arrived early only to find that the school staff were very nervous about our visit and asked that we wait outside until they were ready. As it was beautiful out this was no problem. We walked around and actually found that the village playground was a free wifi spot. As wifi had been out in our hotel for several days we took this opportunity to get online and let everyone know that we were alive.

We went into the school and met with the principal. The school has just 12 students in grades first through fourth. They all go to school together, in some respects it is a lot like a Montessori style education.

The kids were not ready so we went to the little museum. Most schools have a museu room where they show off ethnic culture and handicrafts. This village has one man who after retiring for the military began to chronicle the life of the village. His museum was amazing. It had artifacts from the tenth century through items dug up after World War Two. He had spent three years creating a hand drawn map of the village with every house and with information on the inhabitants in the houses. He had info on every person who had been born I the village going back to 1750. It was incredible.

Following the museum visit, the students were ready.

On this day they were celebrating the coming of spring. It was a school tradition to recite poetry, do dances and sing about birds and springtime. They build a birdhouse each year and hang it in their yard as a final activity. We watched their dances and helped in the hanging of the birdhouse. We were also treated to a ladies choral group that danced in regional clothes and sang folk songs. Video to follow!


We then had a most amazing thing happen. The kids went how and we went outside to let the teachers prepare lunch. Outside three people in military outfits walked up to us. They were Cossacks and leaders of. Cossack youth group similar in nature to boy and Girl Scouts. They were also invited to lunch.

Lunch was an incredible amount of food and drink. Here at lunch we learned about mandatory toasts. The first toast is to health the second toast is to friendship. Everyone at the table is expected to make a toast and then a final toast 'on the horse' is given as you are leaving. As 2pm approached we made our departure and raced back to the school for our farewell concert.

The school concert was amazing.


The audience was waiting

The opening lines


Ukrainian folk dances and songs

There was folk music on the Bandura.

There was a singing contest between several ukrainian students and the four. Yes, we sang one stage and did credible renditions of 'take me out to the ballpark', 'Yankee doodle dandy', 'I'm a little teapot' and 'Itsy bitsy spider'. They said we won but I am sure the competition was fixed! If video of this comes my way I will post it…

The concert ran for at least two hours and was incredible. We were very sorry when it was over and we had to leave our adopted school.






April 15th, the great famine, making dolls, presentations, a kindergarten and open air museum, whew!

Today we observed a lesson on the great famine of 1932-1933. We learned that the USSR took all of the harvest in 1932 and left nothing for the local Ukrainians. In the ensuing winter between 5 and 10 million citizens died of starvation. This was not acknowledged by the soviets and has only been commemorated in Ukraine since the year 2006. In school students read poems, watched a video compiled by our host teacher of survivors telling of their ordeal and then had a moment of silence. The students then left the classroom and walked off of the school grounds and up to the local cathedral to lay flowers at the memorial to the great famine.

It was a very powerful morning as we viewed the footage of the famine. I had never heard of this event before. It is now considered an act of genocide perpetrated by the Soviets on the Ukrainian people.

Following this we had a Master Class on Ukrainian doll making. I had expected this to be us observing students make the dolls. No, it was the four of us seated a a table making our own dolls.

The dolls are traditionally without faces. Mothers would make dolls out of grasses and scraps off cloth and then let the children play with them while she put together a meal. We were told that the child would imagine the faces of the dolls, if the child was happy, the doll had a happy face if sad, then a sad face. Itis also said that the person making the dolls thinks of something specific and then puts a little bit of her soul into the doll.


Michael and our patient teacher.

Us hard at work trying to tie strings that we cannot see. It didn't help that I lost my reading glasses in Chernobyl…

A diorama that a student made. I shows the typical components of a one room (pre soviet, village) ukrainian house.

Following our master class we each made presentations to the students. Michael did his on his dots in blue water project. Info on this can be found here


After our presentations we went off to visit the kindergarten Kolosok in the nearby village of Petropavliska Borshchahivka.

The kindergarten was in a nice modern building unfortunately we arrived at nap time so did not see classes in action. We did see plenty of sleeping children. The building very much reminded me of the Goddard preschool at my own children had gone to. Just much bigger!



Waking up and having a snack. I tried to trade them cookies for stickers but they would have none of that. Smart kids!

We left the kindergarten and drove to an open air museum on life in older ukrainian villages. After several wrong turns and asking lots of people on how to get there we arrived 'there'.

Haystacks in front of a house.

Beehives made out of hollowed stumps and thatched roofs.

Real dog, fake cow, go figure…

After this trip it was dinner at our usual restaurant and then back to the hotel for planning for the next day.


April 9th, US embassy, dinner and the Philharmonic Orchestra

No pictures from the US embassy, they are not allowed. The embassy in Kyiv is new, and the model for all new embassies. We met with several people and learned what the embassy's role was within the country.


Following our embassy trip we went to dinner at a restaurant with the world's largest beer sign on it. at least that is what we thought. Inside the style was a cross between brewpub and rabbit warren.

The most exciting news was that smoking in restaurants had been recently outlawed, and in most evrery place i went, the law was being obeyed.





One of our appetizers was shaved pigs ears dipped in a flavored mayonaise. tasted a little like reall chewy bacon. Another one crossed off of my bucket list!

This was followed by lamb meat on the bone with eggplant sauce. Delicious!

We then hightailed it to the symphony hall for a part of a performance. Warm hall, full stomachs and soothing music. You can guess the rest!




The land of ever flowing food April 16, 2013

Dinner tonight was one for the books. We ate in a former soviet hotel with a restaurant in the ground floor. No signs whatsoever for the restaurant, you would never know it was there. We had a private room for dinner and the meal shall from here on be known as the meal of ever flowing food.

We started off with two salads, a Greek salad and a type of Caesar salad. We also had fried cabbage rolls, eggplant rolled around spiced cheese and vegetables and a platter of meats and sausages. Next came a bowl of Borscht with sour cream and it was amazing. This was followed up by a plate of potatoes, mushrooms and chicken rolled around herbs, stuffed cabbage, and sausages. This was followed by voreneckies (cabbage stuffed pierogies) and was finished with Creoles stuffed with sweet cheese sour cherries, and apples. All this was washed down by a drink made from dried apples and pears, and smoked, dried plums. The drink is called something like oovwash and is out of this world. Every course was started with a toast.

The amount of food served was stupendous, our friends took home an amazing quantity of leftovers. The bill was around $90 for five people. Amazing.


Master class-folk dolls

Michael and I partook in a class on folk dolls given by the technical arts teacher. We learned that Ukrainian dolls were historically made from grass or straw, and did not have faces. It was very amusing watching Michael and myself attempt to tie off very small knots, thread needles, etc but in the end we made two very passable dolls.

The folk art class was amazing. The students permeate embroidered items, folk dolls and other 100% hand-made items. Their work is stunning.


Chernobyl and Pripyat tour April 13

After teaching about it for years, and then playing a map of it on Xbox I actually walked the streets of Pripyat and Chernobyl.

We were met by our tour company solo travel east, and were loaded onto a medium sized bus for the two hour drive to the exclusion zones. At the 30km exclusion zone our passports were checked and we were allowed in.

Ther is no radiation at the 30 km zone, we continued driving towards the reactor.

We then stopped at a memorial to the first firemen that arrived to fight the reactor fire. The 28 first responders all died within several weeks of the accident.

The memorial was put together by firemen, as far as the Soviet Union knew, it did not exist.

Near this area was a selection of the robots that were used to help clean up the accident.


Sorry, no R2D2.

We then drove through Chernobyl to a kindergarten.




Then onward to the reactor.

From the reactor we went into Pripyat. It was surreal seeing first-hand what I had taught about for several years. We wandered the town, found some incredible hot spots and even went inside a building. Most are collapsing now so they are not safe. The building housing the swimming pool is still solid, although water was cascading down the inside of it as we explored.








Hotspot by the amusement park. Background radiation in Kyiv is 0.15 millisieverts. This reading was 30.18 or over tw hundred times more radioactive than normal.


Can you guess what this is? It was a soccer stadium!


Swimming pool building.


Lane markers, the rope had rotted away in the 27 years since they were last used.


After leaving Pripyat we drove back towards Chernobyl, stopped for a bit of lunch, and saw the memorial to all the towns that were permanently evacuated. All in all, 130,000 people were relocated. Pripyat itself was emptied of 50,000 people in three hours!

Amazing tour!


Cosmonautics day

Wow, what a day! In to school to judge the posters, pictures and art projects about space. Over fifty students created works, some of them truly amazing.



One student put together two old computer fans and created a kinetic sculpture.


They were all amazing.

After judging the art we started in with our egg drop lander project. The students dove into the project and in no time supplies were flying around the room. We went through over 250 balloons!






Younger I children started poking their heads in the door


And in no time we had more kids in the room and working on the project.

We finished up our designs and went outside to test them. Many students named their designs. We had 'made in China', 'crazy peoples' and our favorite. The 'Lucky Eggs'. Pictures and video of these will follow!

Many students were successful, and I am sure that they will remember their visit with the crazy Americans in their blue NASA suits.


April 11th school visit

At last we visited Oleksandr's school.


We were met at the door by Nastya and Veronica, two girls who gave us a quick tour of the building and showed us several classes.

Interesting side note, we walked into a fifth grade class only to find no teacher. The teacher was on break, the students were sitting quietly and conversing in low tones so as not to disturb anyone.

We met with the assistant principal, and the principal and discussed our impressions of Ukraine. We then spent some time talking to a class of students.

The students did not want to talk at first but after their teacher left the room and I showed them videos of pumpkins and balloons exploding in my class they warmed up and we had a discussion. The said that they never did anything like what I was showing them on video. I left them with th thought that maybe some could try a lesson 'Jacoves style' on the following day.

Our day moved on to talks with the mayor and the local Bishop then finished with dinner with our host teacher's family at the restaurant in our hotel.

20130412-192121.jpgBack from dinner we worked on our presentations for the following day then passed out.


Gift Culture

We had been told that there was a gift culture in Ukraine. After today, yes, it is true. We met with the local mayor of our new home in Sofiivska Borshchahivka. After our talk he presented us with several items with the town seal on it.

We presented him with a small plaque, a mug, American and Swiss flags and a NJ lighthouse key chain.

A little later we stopped to see the Ukrainian Orthodox Church being built in town. We also met the bishop and were given a very thorough tour, we saw the plans for the church and the school complexes being built and we got personal stories about several ikons that had been hidden or spared destruction when Ukraine came under Soviet dominion. After our tour we were presented with small ikons of our own to take with us.

I hope the Bishop likes his new NJ keychain!