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Hello everyone. I've just returned home from the Ukraine. I'll dump a few pictures in here. I'm not sure what to include; for once I have a lot to talk about. Sorry for the quality, I'm really just getting this out of the way. My grandmother passed away while I was gone and my aunt was hospitalized. I'm with her now but she's not expected to last much longer.


She passed away a few hours ago.


I'm hesitant to share any pictures with kids in them, but I'll include one. If any mod thinks that's dodgy, or at least dodgier than the average member,  please remove.



Ukraine is amazingly fertile. I've seen nothing like it in the US.



 There will be a foster home here soon. Most of the city doesn't look so good as this. 





This is a mass grave; one of three Holocaust monuments in Novagrad. The other two were covered up until the USSR fell, this one had a Soviet monument but it made no mention of Jews. The adults were lined up and shot on the hill in the background, the children were taken to a nearby location. The crying mother is a common symbol. There's also a Jewish graveyard nearby, unkempt since WWII. Some people have volunteered to restore it next year. 






This is the Holodomor monument in Kiev. I guess everyone knows about that. 









This is Independence Square. Every weekend the police close it off and the city has a party; music, dancing, lights, street performers. It's great. Some of the buildings are still damaged from the revolution.


Over the past 20 years, my church has built a relationship with a Ukrainian church in Novahrad-Volynsyi. So most every year a handful of people go to help out with some of their ministries, summer camps, construction, outreaches to Gypsie and Jewish communities, that sort of thing. One of their main outreaches works with a "special school", which is what we focused on. It's similar to an orphanage, but they also keep the children of alcoholics, single parents, and those who simply can't provide. They sent some of us to a blind asylum and nearby villages as well, but I stayed with the children.

When we arrived, everyone with a home had already gone there for the fall festival, so we got to spend the whole week with about 30 orphans. In the morning we'd start with a story in the auditorium. Someone would tell the story with props and a translator while some of the children would be actors. Several of us shared our personal stories then, too. They liked to hear where we'd come from. After that we'd spend the time until lunch making crafts. Everyone on our team brought their own- a trick of course. The idea is to have something to help them with so you can, simply, get close enough to love them. That's not something they get anywhere else, and we'd like them to remember it later as their prospects are pretty bad. I taught them to make paper flowers. 

The kids were great, but extremely competitive. They tended to hoard anything we gave them, but they had fun away. First time, but it went pretty well. I made friends with a little girl with fetal alcohol syndrome. She'd sit in my lap as chatter, then give me a stupid boy look for not understanding. One afternoon the administrators let us pack all of the children in a couple of vans and drive alone to the Cultural Palace to see a Georgian dance troop. None of this stuff would ever be allowed in the US. The last way we had something of a tour of Kiev.

As for Ukraine itself, it's very poor. It was strange for me because I've never been anything resembling rich (standard of living is lower than NM, but not terribly so.) Everyone had a garden instead of a yard, whatever the family doesn't use is sold to stock the markets. The buildings relied on some creative reuse of materials for repairs, but there were also completely modern houses. It looked a lot like Mexico in that regard. Horse-drawn carts were common, too, but that's because the taxes on cars are so high. 

I noticed that the people there were often well disciplined and very talented, particularly with music,  but ambition is rare; people just exist. If the music is any indication, and it usually is, the country is suffering from a centuries old depression. They've been oppressed long enough that they don't know how to use their freedom now that they have some. There was also a noticeable lack of young men due to the war with Russia, and alcoholism was rampant. Membership in the church even requires you to denounce vodka.

One week wasn't nearly enough. I'm saving again for next year, maybe we'll have more time.

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