March 4, 2014

Perspective: My CWY Experience in the Ukraine

UkraineBThere is more than one side to every story. As a Canada World Youth volunteer who was recently living in Ukraine throughout the bulk of the very public protest known as “Euromadian”, I would like to tell a part of the story about the Ukrainian people that many of my fellow Canadians may not have heard despite the amount of attention on this country due to these recent events.

Ukrainian people are some of the kindest, most patient and hospitable people I have ever had the privilege to meet. Often times while in Ukraine, I would read western media stories and receive frantic messages from family and friends about the current situation. While there were protests throughout the country, the majority of these protests were primarily calm and peaceful, a show of support for the protestors in Kiev and their opposition to a decision made by their government. We are all truly saddened by the events currently taking place in Kiev, the capital city.

In September 2013, I embarked on my Canada World Youth adventure between Sudbury, Ontario and Ostroh, Ukraine. This was also my first experience with Ukrainian people and an opportunity to learn about their culture. Throughout the first weeks of our program, I began to get to know my new Ukrainian friends. I remember having a broken leg at the time and the Ukrainians constantly offered their assistance and their encouragement and were always readily available for anything I may need, despite the fact that I was still somewhat a stranger to them. Upon our arrival in Sudbury, we were heavily involved with the local Ukrainian National Federation. Throughout the months of helping make cabbage rolls and Varenicky, dancing and singing traditional songs at their annual “Yamarock” festival and being in the presence of the Ukrainian people, I began to realize that I was involved with a culture rich in absolute generosity, pride and unfading kindness. The Ukrainian Federation not only donated their space to our group every week for our Educational Activity Days but often invited us to stay for supper after our workshops, sometimes even when they weren’t already making food they would cook something special for us. They strived to involve us in every activity they could, wanting us to be able to take part in their organization and get to know the people. Upon our departure from Sudbury, these Ukrainian Sudbury residents gave us incredibly generous gifts and also had also given me a completely unforgettable experience that has had an impact on my life incomparable to any other.

Once arriving in Ukraine, I understood that this incomparable experience had only just begun. Learning a Slavic language as an English speaker is one of the most challenging things I have ever done. My level of Ukrainian was very low-despite my persistent and constant efforts and practice while in Canada. The first weeks in Ukraine presented many communication challenges. I didn’t know a lot of key words or proper grammar and must have said some pretty incomprehensible things, yet I was treated with more patience than I would have ever imagined or expected. People would listen to me struggle through a sentence then offer the correct version of words for me, draw a picture, point at 15 different products on the shelf and sometimes play an impromptu game of charades. Around Christmas I had the opportunity to visit the home of my counterpart, Olia’s, a different community than our host community. Her family had a rug hung on the wall and I told her mom that I thought it was beautiful. A few days later as I was leaving the home of Olia, her family presented me with the very same rug. They removed it from their own wall to give it to me, just to make me happy.

Whenever we travel, we meet people whose personalities and values may be different from those of our own. The majority of the Ukrainian people I had the privilege to meet and get to know during this experience were so positive, full of life, kind and generous. I have so much gratitude towards the Ukrainian people and I admire their strength, continuing on with such grace and dignity at such an enormously difficult time.

Thank you,
Michaela Pye

Cet article est également disponible en FR.

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About Canada World Youth

Canada World Youth is dedicated to enriching the lives of youth aged up to 35 who want to become informed and active global citizens. CWY offers international transformative learning experiences focused on building knowledge, leadership and skills through participation in sustainable community-driven projects. For more than 40 years, 38,000 youth and 12,000 host families have participated in CWY programs, in Canada and abroad.

CWY is registered with the Canada Revenue Agency as a charitable organization (#118973999RR0001).

Source : Mary McGee, Communications Officer, Canada World Youth, 514 931-3526 # 336,

Interviews and information (photos available):

Mary McGee
1 800 605-3526 #336
514 931-3526 # 336