Sunday at City Center

The day started out so dreary I feared a day of sight seeing would be a total wash.  For entertainment I could walk across the street to the supermarket. Or go clothes shopping (local fashion is very interesting).  Or play solitaire on my laptop for eight hours. Or sleep.

BUT!  The sky cleared quickly.  There was great improvement just during the time while we were in breakfast so Ignacio, Ash, Hafsa and myself decided to embark on sightseeing to the center of the city.  We had to take the subway and then do a bit of walking to get there, but it was worth it.  The subway station we got off at was MASSIVE because two different lines connected there.  I think I really only made it up from the subway because I was following the crowd that poured out of the train.  It was a little confusing.  Also, probably it was confusing since, you know, I don’t really understand Russian.  The station we stopped at, also went by two different names, I think Universitet and ALSO Gasprom.. or Darzprom, depending on if you were reading a sign printed in Russian or Ukrainian. See?  You’re already confused, too!  The metro station we got off at was very sci-fi/steam punk.  I loved the chandeliers.


Here’s that guy, that crazy guy, Lenin.  What’s he doing here anyway?  I’m only making a funny face because Ignacio was also making a funny face (actually, a whole funny pose) but Hafsa zoomed in and you couldn’t see it.


Here he is again.  Can you believe the nerve of this guy?  Standing here for so long after communism has fallen?  Though considering he’s the monument that really ties the whole square together, and there is a street named after him in the city, it would be a bit of a shame to tear him down, but they seriously could have put another statue up in his place, like, say, anyone else in the free world with a -sky at the end of their name.


This is the building way at the other end of this square.  It’s probably the only building I’ve seen so far that has a tryzub on it.  By the way, this is apparently the second largest public square in the world.  The only one bigger is Tienneman.


Here’s Shevchenko, now this is a Ukrainian statue I can get behind.  It’s really a magnificent monument. The figures around the base depict points in Ukrainian history, beginning with its birth (that’s on the right, a woman holding a small baby), and finishes with a man and woman looking forward to the future.


This is the view of the back, depicting the persecution of the kozaks.


This is in front of the opera house.  I can’t believe Ani Lorak is playing here on Tuesday.  She is one of my favorites.  I will not be in attendance.  I’m doubly sad about this because the opera house is very impressive looking from the outside, would really love to see the inside as well.  But alas, they wouldn’t let us in without a ticket.


The front steps of the opera house from far away.


I have to tell you I got yelled at for taking this picture. “Relax, pal, I’m not KGB! I just want take picture of delicious foods for eating later!”

Below is where we got to eat.  There was no one here to yell at me for taking pictures.  Also, the tv was playing different music videos from what music we actually heard over the sound system, which really kind of bothered me a lot.  Also, this place is a chain restaurant, I went to another one of these places in Lviv.  Also, ALL OF THEIR BATHROOMS WERE CLOSED which was dumb.  Also, now I’m just starting my sentences with the word also on purpose.


The way this place was set up is very interesting, because it seems like they basically took over the building after it was built.  You walk in and mostly it is just the buffet area.  There are very few places to eat.  You walk up half a level and there is a teeny dining room, then another half a level and there is a large dining room (with multiple rooms), with a second dessert and beer buffet.  Then you walk up just a few steps and you end up in the room we ate in.  I don’t know why my colleagues insisted on sitting as high up as possible.  The food here was really great.  Not SUPER remarkable, and I definitely didn’t like the stuffed cabbage (The cabbage was all wrong, I gave Hafsa a full education on the proper handling of cabbage and what kind to use and what kind you SHOULDN’T use and they totally were using the kind you shouldn’t use, but whatever, it is their restaurant, not mine), but definitely, I will go back there again in a heart beat, if for dessert alone.  I had cherry varenyky, and also that wafer and condensed milk torte concoction that my mother makes and a few of the ladies from church make as well.  I think I like my mom’s better though.


I don’t know what this statue is for, and why there are men here demonstrating with flags with hammer and sickles on them, but I’m pretty sure any explanation of either might make me sad.  I tried to get a better picture of the flag that had the writing on it, but none came out well, and I didn’t fancy the idea of going right up to them and asking, Hey, how’s it going? What’s up!

Right behind the demonstrators, and statue, and people on horseback, and army tanks, was a monastery.  We visited (glad I brought a scarf to cover my head).  We went inside and I bought two candles to light for my grandmothers in the church there.  I took some pictures of the outside, but obviously none of the inside. Whatever good fortune may have been bestowed on me for the lighting of candles I didn’t want taken away for the taking of pictures.

While we were here Ignacio went on a search for a Triptika, which I may be spelling wrong, but that’s how he pronounced it.  On his last trip to UA, he had bought one for his father, and on this trip he wanted to buy one for himself.


He didn’t end up finding one he liked in the gift shop at the monastery, or in another religious store a few meters away, but at the gift store at this massive and very interesting looking cathedral.  We got to this one after a trip through an area where lots of people were selling paintings, and there was a statute of a kozak looking guy that I made up a story about for Hafsa.  I don’t even remember it all.  Since I was kind of acting as the guide for everyone since I know the most about the town and can read some of the signs, she had been asking me a few random questions as we traveled (I’ll bet it was my extensive knowledge of cabbage that really impressed her, haha), and asked about the statue we were very cautiously walking past (ice plus melting conditions equals slippery ice, plus walking downhill equals either hilarity.. or pain).  I made up some story about how he killed hundreds of invaders to UA with one hand while painting a delightful image of the steppes with  his other hand, so that is why people sell paintings in that park.  I think she bought it until I started to uncontrollably giggle.

We then went on a massive trek across the river, through a bus depot and finally made it to the central market.  I thought this might be a great place to get souveniers, but it was basically a flea market, where they sold really important and indigenous things to this region of Ukraine.  Like raisins.  And kitchen pots.  And hair dye.  Basically, it was an outdoor supermarket.  Or something.  I was so bored with this place I decided to fall.  Actually, my interest in the place has nothing to do with me falling.  I just totally lost my footing and slid and fell on my right leg and arm.. into a puddle that I think was filled with disintegrating cardboard.  It was kind of disgusting, but I didn’t get totally soaked.


It was at this point that we found our way out of the market and were faced with MacDonalds.  I was actually kind of hoping to go, because I was really interested in the comforting taste of a double cheeseburger (or maybe the new and exotic taste of a ukrainian double cheeseburger).  We didn’t go to McD’s (I SWEAR I AM GOING TO GO TO ONE BEFORE WE LEAVE), but we found the nearest metro station and headed home.

I was so glad to get out of my shoes.  My Uggs were totally soaked.  Of course the Aussies know nothing about waterproofing shoes (especially the kind of shoes that they never expected crazy Americans to wear outside in the snow in the first place).  They’ve hardly ever seen snow before!  In fact, here’s my favorite Aussie, Ash, with his first snowball.

Ukrainian Confections

I simply have to start documenting some of the sweets that we have been eating.  American desserts have absolutely nothing on Ukrainian desserts.  This is a post I’ll hopefully be getting back to to post more pictures as the week goes on.

First of all, our day starts at the hospital kind of slowly.  While patients may still be getting prepped for surgery, our surgeon, Chris and anesthesiologists Ignacio and Diana can still be found hanging around the unit.  Also, since the patients are pretty stable, sometimes the nurses have very little to do (or the overnight nurses haven’t left yet).  Between us and the local staff, there are always at least two or three people in the lounge area.

It's a marsh, marsh, marshmallow world!

Accordingly, Tanya, who is maybe the most amazing Ukrainian cook I have ever had the pleasure of knowing (and eating her creations),  sets out a plate of something sweet to accompany our morning coffee or tea.  The other morning, we had this plate of chocolate covered marshmallow something or other, and this whole other marshmallow creation that had jelly in the middle of it.

The Five Things I Miss the Most

The five things I miss the most, mostly in order of importance: my parents, my boyfriend, coffee, my music library and Cottonelle.

Chris and my parents are a tie for first.  Coffee and music are a tie for second, and decent toilet paper is definitely missed as well.

This dark stuff does look extra dark because of the glass, but let me tell you, it's like as large cup of espresso.

I guess along with coffee I miss a good roll with butter, too, and my typical American breakfast.  Over here, they don’t really understand the concept of breakfast the way, I think, the rest of the world understands it.  For them, breakfast is just another meal.  Neena said that yesterday she got a “Russian” breakfast in the hotel restaurant, and it consisted of rice and lentils, and large meatballs.  Not exactly a typical breakfast by American standards.  If I ever ate meatballs and rice for breakfast it would be because it was leftover from dinner the night before (and also, because I was way starving and not interested in a simple bowl of cereal).

This is what coffee looks like at the hospital. You have to make it yourself. It's similar to Turkish coffee... but not actually tasty.

Our “American” breakfast (not that they call it that, but I will) consists of cereal (lately it’s been Cocoa Puffs), yogurt, juice, milk, toast with ham and three sunny side up eggs. Everyday.  You can also order chai (tea) or kofe (coffee).  They get very upset when you unscrew the sugar container because you can’t get it out otherwise.  They also get very confused when you don’t want to eat eggs and ham (I will not have a coronary, Sam I Am).  Basically, they get very confused and upset when you try and do anything out of the ordinary.  As if, having a choice is a foreign concept to them.  In Communist Russia, you don’t have options, options have you.

And maybe by now you’re wondering, why on earth do I miss toilet paper.  What am I doing if I have no toilet paper!? Well, we do have toilet paper here, but it is awful.  Have you ever seen recycled paper or artisan/handmade paper, that has little flecks of fiber in them, to give them that handcrafted look?  Yeah.. this toilet paper is like that.  We’ve got an unbleached roll of rough, speckled paper.  Next time I travel out of the country I’m bringing my OWN instant coffee, my OWN roll of toilet paper, and preferably, my family and boyfriend, too.

Pics coming soon

So the whole point of my being here is to take lots of pictures of adorable children with congenital heart defects, to write about those kids, and at the end of the day, to upload it all for ccpi to see.

By the time i get that done, i am so completely tired that i have little time to get my own work done, posting to my blog with personal pics. And sometimes… The internet just isnt working. In soviet russia, you dont surf internet, internet surf you.

However, that doesnt keep me from taking my personal pics, and in my spare time this weekend, i hope to update loads, including whatever sightseeing we do tomorrow, their strange confections, loads of snow and also, the horrible slop they try and pass for coffee. And you know me and coffee…

Miss you all!

Trudging and Traveling Through Kharkiv

Tuesday was personally a very tough day for me. We traveled to the children’s hospital across town to evaluate an emergency situation that sprung up over night with a new born (not even a day old), but we were too late.  The baby had slipped away at some point between their call to us and our arrival in their ICU.  I was in a daze the rest of the day, and in fact could not even bring myself to eat dinner that night.  For the doctors and nurses on our team, this is just something that comes with the territory, but for a music teacher/sometimes journalist like myself, it is all brand new and unfamiliar territory.

When Wednesday started, I was cautious, but my spirits were raised when we got to the hospital and visited our children who had already underwent surgery and were reaching new levels of feeling healthy that they had never reached before.  It helped to remind me what everyone else already knew – we can’t save them all but we have to remain just as focused.

New apartment buildings on our walk home.

Also on Wednesday, Ignacio, one of the anesthesiologist, had the bright idea that we should walk all the way back to our hotel, instead of calling a taxi or taking public transportation.  Even though pretty much the other four people (including me) in the group disagreed with this plan, he somehow managed to convince us all we should walk anyway.  And walk we did!  It took us a good 45 minutes to get from the hospital to our hotel, and I got to snap off a few great pictures along the way.  I also got to fall down twice, which was eternally amusing.  The first time I fell sideways into a huge bank of snow (didn’t hurt at all, i just got wet) and the second time I landed on my knee, which somehow didn’t hurt.  I apparently landed so gracefully both the doctors with me were impressed.  We all had a good laugh about it.

Defending his territory

An interesting thing about this city is there are so. many. stray. dogs.  I have never seen more stray dogs in my life.  In any town I’ve ever been in, there are stray cats.. occaisionally.  But to be honest I’m not sure I’ve ever seen stray dogs anywhere near the amount of stray dogs I’ve seen in Kharkiv.  Say what you will about Chinese restaurants, the amount is astronomical.  There was one guarding the front door to the hospital when we left (though I think I caught a glimpse of another dog slinking away into the snowy bushes), and later on we actually witness two dogs fighting… in the subway!  How they got in I don’t even know.

The second floor of our metro station, where the actual metro comes.

The subway here in Kharkiv is remarkable enough to warrant its own post, but I will try to condense it here.  The metro is two levels, and the metro serves the triple purpose of moving people quickly through the underground, giving people a safe place to cross nasty intersections, and also, has a few shops on the first level, where you can buy everything from jewelry to beauty supplies to baked goods and meats like kolbas.

Detail from the wall at our metro stop.

Each metro station has four entrances, located on each corner of a major intersection.  Each entrance leads down to the first floor, where all these little booths are located.  You can enter from any corner and travel under the intersection to safely get to the other side.

The second level is where the subway actually is, and I’ve never seen a cleaner subway station.  If I ever have the time I may get on the subway to ride all the way from our stop (which is the second to last on our end of it) to the other end and back.  Each station seems to have a different style to it.  Our station, which is named for the botanical gardens nearby, has a lovely mosaic of flowers on the wall.  The next station we stopped at was floor to ceiling white and pink marble.  It was, dare I say it, breath taking.

It's funny how much English there actually is on signs in this town.

Finally, after the 45 minute walk, a quick stop at our hotel, and ten minutes on the metro, we made it to the fine dining establishment, I say this with just a hint of sarcasm, where we would be breaking our evening bread… Pizza Bella.  I had the spaghetti bolognese, which, unsurprisingly, did not exceed anything I’ve ever had in the States, but everyone else seemed to enjoy their lasagnas and pizzas.

We got back to our hotel around ten, and I spent the next 40 minutes talking to my boyfriend, then my parents, and was up until after midnight uploading pictures to Chernobyl Children’s Project.  My days are longer than most of my teammates realize, and it’s possible that it might be longer than anyone else’s.  Most of us get up at 6 and are in bed by 11.  I on the other hand, have been to bed close to 1 AM most nights.

While they are busy saving lives all day, I get to sit around and watch. It’s a lot of waiting, but it’s worth it.  Though when you sit around most of your day doing pretty much nothing, it can be just as exhausting.  I try and keep busy, moving about when there’s absolutely nothing to do, and I do try to keep abreast of what’s going on in the PICU.  I’ve also been visiting our patients once they move into regular rooms, which is always a bright spot in my day.  When I can bring a little toy for the patients, it’s bright for them, too!

Our hotel, Hotel Myr. On the first floor there is a night club, sauna and car dealership.

The real bulk of the work that I am doing here comes towards the end of the day at the hospital, after most of my pictures have been taken.  I upload them to my computer, edit what I need to.  I write throughout the day, when the mood strikes me, or to copy down information (I am keeping profiles of each child) as soon as it comes into the “office” which is a term I will loosely apply to the lounge in the PICU where I set up my gear and where Frank, the intensivist also sets up his laptop.  Also, most of the paperwork ends up on the desk that Frank sits at (though it is so covered with medical equipment and some other computer, he rarely actually puts his own laptop on it).

Then, once we are back at the hotel, I set myself up in the lobby and start uploading text and pictures.  Depending on how much I am uploading, the process can take about a half hour… which is also enough time to catch up on Farmville and Cafeworld.  Do you know I had FIFTY Farmville gifts the other night?  It’s astounding.  I know what is keeping me so busy these past few days, but don’t the rest of my friends have anything better to do?  Seriously!

Count your blessings

… And by blessings, I mean snow plows. There is a ridiculous amount of snow already on the ground and it’s still falling!

And I have yet to see a snow plow. If the roads are clear it is because there are a lot of cars on a particular road. Less traveled roads are thick with snow and sometimes the car swerves and slides in ways I have never experienced before… Because in New Jersey they actually clear the roads for you.

Getting Here and Day 1

I wanted an adventure and I got one.

Moving from one flight to another was easy enough in Paris. Getting through customs in Kyiv was also a breeze. Time creeped by in the three hours I waited for my first teammate, Neena, to arrive. She’s a really fun, and awesome lady from Miami, and she made the following four hours bearable.

We passed most of the afternoon sitting at the cafe in the International terminal, watching the snow fall outside. Just as we were about to go for a walk around the terminal, more team members showed up. Two flying in from the states and two from Europe.

While trying to sort out our flight from Kyiv to Kharkiv (was it delayed? cancelled? rescheduled? we watched it snow heavily all afternoon) we met up with a team member from the UK. Turns out, our flight did indeed get cancelled, and everyone got bumped to Monday morning at 9 AM. Seeing as how we had to be ath the hospital around 10 each morning, that was not good. So we “obliged” one of the “kind” gentleman who had been following us around for the better part of a half hour, asking us if we would be interested in a taxi to Kharkiv. Only a four hour drive? We’ll be there by midnight, we’ll take it!

The 8-seater van that got us to Kharkiv, very bumpily, and very slowly, was nice enough. The 4 hour drive that turned into 8, on the other hand, wasn’t. I appreciate the many times our driver avoided dangerous potholes on what seemed to be completely unplowed roads. But at the same time, his violent swerving was robbing me of the only sleep I’d gotten in the past 24 hours. We checked into our hotel just after 4 in the morning. I have never been happier to fall asleep on such an uncomfortable bed. It’s really not that bad.. but it’s not my bed at home, for sure.

If this is all the adventure I have all week, I’ll be quite happy.

Our first day was pretty eventful in the lives of two courageous boys, right now getting a good night’s sleep with a fixed up heart in our PICU, but from a doctor’s perspective, I am gathering that this is pretty routine. As I’ve stated before, the heart defects that children come in with in this part of the world are pretty rare, but a lot of times, fixeable, in most other parts of the world. But as I learned today, this is not most parts of the world. More can be read (at some point, real soon), at http://chernobyl.typepad.com

After the day’s work was done, we enjoyed dinner at a Ukrainian restaurant near to our Hotel (so near, that it was already on my list of places to check out). We ate at Sloboda, which looks like a Ukrainian village on the inside. The main dining room (pictures will be added tomorrow, so check back), looked like you were standing outside, complete with christmas light stars suspended in the ceiling and a large fake tree dominanting the room. We ate in a separate room, which felt like we were going into some villager’s home to dine on some real honest-to-goodness home cooking. I enjoyed many Ukrainian appetizers (salads, breads, pickled vegetables and kolbasy) and for dinner I ate borscht (beet soup) and varenyky with cherries. Cherries! I have had varenyk many times in my life, but I don’t think I’ve ever had them with cherries (maybe my mother can correct me).

After dinner we enjoyed some traditional Irish stout in a tradition British pub (tell me how that sorts out, really), and relaxed with some of the teammates while discussing everything from current Ukrainian politics, to WWII and our favorite movies. All in all, a great night. Now, time to upload all my files for CCPI. It’s about 1:00 AM here in Ukraine, and I guess, just about dinner time back home in the states.

I miss everyone terribly, but I can quite honestly say that I am simply having a blast. I spend all day with truly inspirational people, doing inspirational, and completely life-altering work. This is truly an experience of a lifetime. Also.. most of the English that I am listening to is British English, complete with some British slang and the whole accent. When I come home I think I will also be speaking just a little bit of the Queen’s English with the accent to match. Cheerio, i spakoyniyi nochi, me mates!

Ukrainian Dinner

these people are saving lives! they are amazing!

Monday night was the first and last time for a week that the team would eat as one large group.  Everyone on the team has different schedules.  The nurses for example work in 12 hour shifts, while our cardiologists work for 24 hours straight each.  The anesthesiologists, intensivist, head surgeon, biomedical engineer and myself only come into the hospital during the day.

So Monday we decided to go as a group out to dinner, along with Dr. Igor, the head of the cardiology unit at the hospital, and Olga, one of the surgeons.  We originally were going to go for Georgian food, but decided on Ukrainian instead.

Which, I guess, sounds kind of silly, considering that we are, in fact, in Ukraine.  But the states do have American themed restaurants that feature “American” cuisine (whatever that actually is).

Going to a Ukrainian restaurant in Eastern Ukraine is a little like going to Longhorn Steakhouse (or I guess any steakhouse with an out west theme) somewhere on the East Coast.  The cuisine is traditional Ukrainian, and the decor is straight from the Carpathian mountains in the west (incidentally, where my family is from).

I wish my front yard looked this nice!

The main dining room is decorated to look like you are in someone’s front yard.  A large fake tree dominates the center of the room, and the ceiling is very dark with white christmas lights for stars.  To the right is the home’s front porch, and eating in the backroom is like getting invited in for a lovely dinner.

They sat us at a few tables pushed together to make one long table.  They gave us only two menus, which made ordering food for 13 people rather interesting.  Especially since one menu was in Ukrainian and one menu was in English.. so all but two people at the table had to share just one menu!

is that a phone book? no, it's a menu.

And this menu was a book!  They offered so many different kinds of food.  There was a whole page devoted to soups, to salads, to varenky and bliny (pierogies and blintzs), a whole page for fish, a whole page for meats, a whole page for shashlyk (meat skewered and barbecued), for desserts, for appetizers, and of course, a whole page for vodka, and for cognac and for wines and beer.  Most of the Americans were surprised by this, but I know my Ukrainian countrymen better.

I intended to take pictures of all the food, but got as far as the roll that came out before the many dishes of appetizers we snacked on.  There were pickled vegetables, salad, kolbas (ukrainian sausage), and a few fish dishes i could barely look at let alone try to eat (and, you know, I’ve tried chicken in aspic once, and didn’t like that, so I knew there was no way I’d like fish in aspic.  And if you’re wondering what aspic is let me use the more familiar American brand name.  Jell-O.)

For my own dinner I had a bowl of borscht (beet soup), which is just a little sweet and I like to think of it as dessert with vegetables (it can happen, kids!).  I also had cherry varenyky, which seriously could have passed off as a dessert, which is the beauty of varenyk.  You can put practically anything inside of them.  For those of you still a little lost on what a pierogy or varenyk is, the Italians call the same thing a ravioli.  The biggest difference is that while a ravioli may be two pieces of dough pressed together around the filling, a varenyk or pierogy is just one piece of dough folded over itself.  Also, someone will probably tell me I’m wrong, but I’ve never seen a ravioli bigger than a pierogy.  I can eat 6 – 8 pierogy at one sitting, more or less, or be more or less stuffed (especially since I am also drowning them in butter, onions and sour cream).

And the difference between a pierogy or varenyk is pretty much nothing.  Pierogy is a Polish term.  Varenyk is a Ukrainian one.  Ukrainians can sometimes call it pyrohy, and that is because in this part of the world, the letter for G and the letter for H is actually the same letter (in cyrillic, it is the character that looks like an uppercase L, flipped horizontally).  There is a Russian food called pyrozhok, which is similar, but strictly a dessert food, and a pelmeny is a Russian pierogy that is strictly filled with meet (which i guess makes sense since they seem to be differentiating between dinner – pelmeny – and dessert – pyrozhok).

Have I lost you yet?

By the time we got through dinner, no one had room for dessert.  I don’t know if I can remember the last time that happened to me!

Why I’m Volunteering for Chornobyl

There are many great and worthy causes out there in the world.  Ending hunger, finding a cure for cancer, preserving our environment – these are all great causes.  And personally, I hope that we do end world hunger, and that we do find a cure for cancer, and that we as a people can learn to stop trashing this planet.

But see, I am Ukrainian.  I care very much about the culture of my ancestors.  I am deeply upset by the injustice suffered by Ukrainians under Soviet reign, and I think there is not a better symbol of the Soviets’ cruelty than the fallout (both literal and figurative) from the explosion at the Chornobyl Power Plant on April 26, 1986.

I will spare a history lesson, or details on the aftermath.  For that, you can visit here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster – and you should.

What makes me SO upset is that people in Ukraine – mainly children – who need ongoing treatment are not getting it.  Why?  Because the government can’t supply it for free, nor can the children’s parents pay for it out of pocket.  For life saving procedures to get performed, the time, effort and manpower simply must be donated.

If this kind of accident had occurred in this country, I mean, even if somehow with our technology that much radiation had accidentally gotten into the air after an explosion of that magnitude, we would have had the technology to prepare our cleanup crew workers and firefighters.  People from the surrounding areas would be evacuated faster.  Better care would be given.  Better on-going care would be given.  Funds and foundations for the treatment of victims would be set up.  Look at Katrina (ok, maybe don’t look at Katrina).  Look at the help we are sending to Haiti.

Chornobyl simply would not have happened here the way it happened there, if it had happened at all.

And who knows how long it will take before all children are born 100% healthy.  Before radiated land is deemed fit to be inhabited again.  Before the old reactor is demolished in a carefully controlled way and completely entombed in a proper sarcophagus.

My children – my students – know what cancer is, and they know that there are hungry people in the world, and they know that we should recycle. But every time, I have to explain what Chornobyl is, and what the consequences are.

The radiation released by that accident will be around long after everyone on the planet is fat and satiated, after cancer goes the way of polio, after we’ve saved all the rainforests and learned how to sort and recycle every material in existence. Long after my children explain Chornobyl to their children.

I am volunteering not just to help make better the lives of little Ukrainian children I’ve never met, but to spread awareness.  Chornobyl is still happening in Ukraine.  Chornobyl can happen here, too. Our children need to learn, and we all need to do what we can for the children already suffering.

And sometimes I wonder to myself, with a slight adjustment of events, I could have been a kindergartner in a Ukrainian school, not an American one.  I could have grown up to have thyroid cancer.  Or given birth to a baby who’d need heart surgery before she was a toddler.  I’d be the one relying on the volunteer efforts of strangers from half a globe away.  It could be me.  Or my friends or family.  It could be my child.

So what am I doing exactly?  Nothing glorious.  I am volunteering with Chernobyl Children’s Project, International, on one of their cardiac missions to Kharkiv, Ukraine (located in the Eastern part of the country).  While doctors and nurses will be traveling there to perform heart surgeries on infants, I will be taking pictures of the children and writing their stories.  It is hard to compel someone to donate money to a cause they’ve never really heard of, to benefit people they will never meet.  But when faces are put to names, it will hopefully inspire even those least charitable to support this worthy cause.