History of the Peace Corps in Ukraine
The opening of Peace Corps programs in the Newly Independent States corresponded with the beginning of the end of decades of mistrust and hostility between the United States and the former communist governments in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. In the decade that Peace Corps Volunteers have worked in Ukraine, they and their Ukrainian counterparts have faced and overcome a wide range of challenges. Suspicions harbored for years are difficult to overcome. Ambiguity and economic instability have been the norm in Ukraine during the difficult transition to integration with the West. Working and living in a country that is simultaneously deconstructing and reconstructing can often be confusing and frustrating. The Peace Corps has always prided itself on its ability to provide flexible and adaptable Volunteers, and the program in Ukraine truly tests this ability.
The formal agreement establishing Peace Corps/Ukraine was signed in May 1992 in Washington, D.C., by former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk and former U.S. President George Bush. Since the first group of Volunteers arrived in Ukraine in 1992, more than 1,000 Volunteers have worked in three project areas: business development, teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL), and environmental protection. Currently, more than 300 Volunteers work in more than 100 cities and towns throughout the country’s 24 provinces and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
Peace Corps Future in Ukraine
The first group of volunteers arrived in Kyiv, "City of Lights", on November 15, 1992. The group consisted of 53 Business Development trainees. After a rigorous training, 48 volunteers entered service in January, 1993. Antics ensured.
The community economic development project, launched in 2006, addresses two realities within the context of development in Ukraine. First, Ukraine currently possesses incomplete institutional structures, such as widespread private ownership or a sound banking system, to support the process of economic transition. Second, there is no collective memory of a free-market system and civil society within the society. The community economic development project seeks to establish cooperation and partnerships among three sectors of society: business, government, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to strengthen their common development work. This includes facilitation and transfer of free-market professional skills as well as citizenship skills at multiple levels. Volunteers provide assistance to institutions, including schools and universities; to NGOs; and to government structures at regional and municipal levels. Volunteers in this project have primary assignments as educators or facilitators. Many of the Volunteers working with NGOs work at a grassroot level building stronger participation and initiative among local people to address common community needs. Approximately one quarter of community economic development Volunteers are placed in educational institutions; they are not placed with private businesses, but some may be placed at business centers that provide consulting and training to a variety of people wanting to start or expand small businesses. Volunteers placed at governmental institutions work on initiating new projects that target community growth on a local level in the areas of social and economic development.
Ukraine has a long history of valuing education for its citizens, and the study of languages has been an integral component of the national curriculum. Throughout the history of conquests and various rulers, the citizens of Ukraine fought to maintain the right to study, learn, and publish in Ukrainian. In 1920, however, Russian was declared the official language, and all study, official documents, and most published materials were in Russian. Following independence in 1991, Ukrainian was declared the official language with the mandate that educational institutions switch to Ukrainian curricula and instruction. At a time when all components of the educational system are attempting to implement a Ukrainian medium of instruction, there is a growing demand from parents and students for increased instruction in English. These two developments place enormous strain upon an already stretched system.
In response to these initiatives, the Peace Corps launched a TEFL project in Ukraine in September 1993. The project was developed in response to the needs identified in the state’s national program and through a baseline survey of Ukrainian students, teachers, and ministry officials. Volunteers in the TEFL project work to expand and improve the quality of English instruction in schools and at teacher-training institutions, and to assist in developing new English teaching materials for primary and secondary schools.
Like conditions in Ukraine, Peace Corps programs here continue to evolve. Volunteers in all projects have defined their roles as agents of change, contributing in a variety of ways to the development of Ukraine into a modern European state. As this occurs, new opportunities for Peace Corps programming emerge.
A youth development project was created in 2005 at the request of the Ukrainian government to address the growing gap between the development levels of young people in most urban centers and those in rural and otherwise disadvantaged areas. As many urban Ukrainians are quickly gaining the skills they need to succeed in the new post-Soviet social and economic framework that increasingly characterizes independent Ukraine, children in villages and other economically depressed parts of the country risk falling behind in acquiring the skills and knowledge that they will need to succeed. Youth development Volunteers work with secondary schools, orphanages, and NGOs in small- and medium-sized towns to develop and administer youth programs on healthy lifestyles, civics, information technology (IT), environmental awareness, career building, and sports.