By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — A 2012 Hartwick College graduate who joined the Peace Corps is among volunteers recently evacuated from Ukraine.
Brendan Cahill, 23, of Airmont in Rockland County, said he is eager to return to his assignment teaching English at a secondary school in Zolochiv, a city in an area he described as not unlike Oneonta.
And though he is home in New York, he continues working and staying in touch with Ukraine connections through social and communications media.
“I, along with many Peace Corps Volunteers, are still actively in touch with our Ukrainian schools and organizations, working on our various projects and teaching English lessons that began prior to leaving,” Cahill said in an email. “So, while we are not physically in Ukraine our work still continues through what our office in Kiev calls `Virtual Peace Corps.’
“I’ve also been making some contacts with Ukrainian American organizations to offer any help I can provide and schools to do presentations,” he said. “Most importantly, though, I am maintaining contact with my Ukrainian students and still continuing our Peace Corps mission in Ukraine.”
Cahill couldn’t comment during a telephone interview this week about political tensions in Ukraine because of Peace Corps policy. But he did share that he wants Americans to know that the country is more than a name in the news and that he hasn’t met more friendly and hard-working people than in Ukraine.
“The people are very kind, very loving, very open,” Cahill said. A common phrase in that country, he said, is that “Ukraine is one big village.”
Ukraine has been in the midst of a political crisis sparked by ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a partnership agreement with the European Union in favor of historical ties with Moscow, according to an Associated Press report this week. After Yanukovych fled Ukraine last week, Russian forces moved into Crimea, despite President Barack Obama’s warnings that there would be costs for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
On Thursday, lawmakers in Crimea unanimously declared they wanted to join Russia and would put the decision to voters in 10 days, AP reported. Obama condemned the move and the West answered with the first real sanctions against Russia.
Obama said any decisions on the future of Crimea, a pro-Russian area of Ukraine, must include the country’s new government.
On Feb. 24, the Peace Corps announced that all Peace Corps Ukraine volunteers were safe and had been evacuated from the country. The agency will continue to assess security in Ukraine, the media release said, and while officials said the hope is that volunteers can return, the safety and security of Peace Corps workers are the agency’s top priority.
Cahill said Peace Corps Washington and Peace Corps Ukraine are working closely together to monitor the situation in Ukraine to send volunteers back as soon as possible.
“Volunteers are eagerly awaiting word from Peace Corps for when we can return,” Cahill said.
Ukraine has a population of about 48 million people and the official language is Ukrainian. More than 2,740 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Ukraine since 1992, when the program was established in that country, according to the agency’s website. Current projects include teaching English, community development, and youth development.
Ukraine is the country with the largest number of Peace Corps volunteers, Cahill said. About two years ago, there were about 500 volunteers, he said, and now about 230 volunteers assigned to serve there.
Most Ukrainians speak both Ukrainian and Russian, Cahill said. Peace Corps volunteers learned one of the two languages, and he learned Ukrainian.
Cahill said a three-month intensive language course and living with a host family after arriving in Ukraine provided solid instruction and practice to have a good, working knowledge of the language. He can converse with people he meets during his daily travels in the community of Zolochiv, which is in the western section of Ukraine and is about an hour’s drive east of Lvov.
“I feel very comfortable with the language now,” said Cahill, who studied French in high school and college. Cahill teaches English to fourth- through 11-grade students at Zolochiv School No. 4, which has an enrollment of about 270 pupils.
“Just the other day I, along with another American volunteer in California and two other Ukrainian college students in Kiev and Kharkov, just finished an application for a grant for a summer English and volunteerism camp,” Cahill said. Work on plans for the camp, called CACTUS for “Community ACTion Ukrainian Style,” was conducted via computer video conferencing across three time zones and from four different locations, he said.
Cahill was a history major and studied education at Hartwick, a private liberal arts and sciences college in Oneonta that enrolls about 1,500 students. He graduated in 2012.
Currently five graduates are Peace Corps volunteers, Hartwick College officials said, and about 105 graduates have served over the years.
Mark Davies, associate professor of education at Hartwick, said Cahill visited the campus in January while on break and spoke with some students about his Peace Corps experiences. Davies said he hasn’t been worried about the safety of Cahill, who has stayed in touch.
Cahill is a level-headed young man with high moral standards and focused on making a positive difference inside and outside the classroom, said Davies, who was his college adviser. And whenever meeting people, Cahill focuses on knowing them individually as human beings, he said.
“It wasn’t much of a surprise when he decided on the Peace Corps,” Davies said. “He became a wonderful ambassador for the United States.”
Peace Corps recruiters will be visiting Hartwick College and the State University College at Oneonta in mid-April.
Cahill said joining the Peace Corps filled his goals to teach, travel and help other people. He applied for a teaching assignment “anywhere,” he said, and found out graduation day in May 2012 that his post would be in Ukraine.
“It has been a tremendous blessing,” said Cahill, who took an oath to serve in the Peace Corps for two years and started his teaching job in December 2012.
Teaching and living in Ukraine has been instructive and personally maturing, Cahill said.
“I’ve learned to have a lot more patience,” Cahill said. He also has found that there are cultural variations in the definition of success for a project, he said.
“The cross-cultural experience never really stops,” Cahill said. “My experience in Ukraine will certainly influence how I teach and how I think about the world for the rest of my life.”Ukraine Capital: Kiev Location: Central Eastern Europe Official language: Ukrainian Independence: Aug. 24, 1991 Population: 48 million, 25th in the world Source: Embassy of Ukraine