Atop Mt. Hoverla, the highest mountain in the Ukrainian Carpathians (2061m)

Featured EY Contributor: Tammela Platt

Two years ago, did you think you would be doing what you are currently doing, or heading where you are about to be heading? I certainly didn’t…

In September 2010 I arrived in Ukraine and was plunked down in a 2,000-person village to live with a host family and study Ukrainian for three intense months alongside four other Peace Corps Trainees. We became full-fledged Volunteers in December 2010 upon successfully completing – some say surviving – Pre-Service Training (PST).

Living with Ukrainian host parents who spoke no English – and not even pure Ukrainian – was often stressful. I felt like a grown-up baby for the first few (or more) weeks of PST: even though I kicked butt at “slap-the-correct-word” vocabulary games in Ukrainian class, I still had to painstakingly search for, write down, and memorize simple sentences before being able to ask my host mom if I could please do laundry.

PST was like climbing Mt. Hoverla, the highest mountain in the Ukrainian Carpathians

Fast forward to today, more than two years later. Now I speak Ukrainian well; my challenge lies not in communicating in day-to-day situations but in finding a way to express to my Ukrainian friends, colleagues, and students how much they have meant to me over the past two years.

With my departure looming, many daily exchanges pan out like this:

“Isn’t it too bad that you’re leaving? Won’t you miss it here?”

“Yes, I’ll miss it a lot. It has been wonderful to live and work here for two years.”

“But you could just stay!”

If only it were that simple.

Next stop: London!

Perhaps I could stay, and I probably would have stayed, if life hadn’t pointed me in a new direction: toward London.

I didn’t expect to be moving to London after the Peace Corps but I am thrilled to be doing so and look forward to continuing my adventures abroad. Life takes us in interesting directions, doesn’t it?

But let’s return to Ukraine for a moment.

Two years have been more than enough time for this country – its people, culture, language, and cuisine – to work its way into my heart, and it will probably stay there. From now on my head will whip around every time I hear someone speaking a Slavic language, hoping that it’s Ukrainian and that I’ll be able to strike up a conversation, or at least offer a “dobryy den” and a smile. I will order borscht every time I see it on a restaurant menu. I’ll probably end up thinking to myself, “Mama Anya’s borscht was way better than this.”

(My borscht is pretty darn good, too)

Ukraine has rubbed off on me, and perhaps a small piece of me will remain in this little southwestern Ukrainian town: the way that crazy American went running up and down the river in the mornings; the way I sat on the desk while teaching English lessons (a Ukrainian teacher would never do that); the way I smiled all the time and at everyone, regardless of whether I knew them personally or not.

Living abroad for over two years has expanded my perspective, and I believe that I’ve graduated from “travel enthusiast” to “citizen of the world.” I feel now as if I could make my home anywhere, and each place I live will only add to the parts of other places that I carry inside of me.

Or so I hope. Who knows what I’ll be saying in two more years? Keep up with me on EY to find out where life takes me!


Beet Week Day 5 – Let’s Spice it Up

хрін (khrin)

In Ukraine, this spicy sweet condiment or salad called khrin (хрін) is a traditional Easter dish, but it is known and used throughout the world under a variety of names and for a variety of purposes.   In the US, it is commonly referred to as Red <Beet> Horseradish and its bright pink color makes it an interesting addition to more typical condiments.


  • 2-4 stalks of fresh horseradish, grated
  • 1-2 raw beets, peeled and grated


  • Peel and grate raw beets. Let them sit for a little while and then squeeze the juice out.
  • Grate the horseradish and put into a bowl (note: the grating of the horseradish releases an enzyme that creates its spiciness.  As the grated horseradish sits,  it will become spicier – to a point – however if left too long, it will lose that pungent flavor and become bitter).
  • Add the beet juice to the horseradish and mix (note: adding the beet juice counteracts the enzyme and stops the spiciness from perpetuating.  Additionally, the beets add a sweet flavor which further mellows the horseradish)

Khrin is a delicious accompaniment to any sort of cooked or cured meat.

On that spicy note – Happy adventures in Ukrainian cooking-with-beets! Leave a comment if you have other favorite beet-related or Ukrainian recipes.

Смачного (smachnoho)!  ~Tammela~

Other names this (or a similar horseradish) dish is known by:

Central and Eastern Europe – khreyn or keen.

Poland  – ofchrzan

Czech Republic – křen 

Lithuania – krienai

Russia – хренkhren 

Hungary - torma

Romania – hrean

Bulgaria – хрян,khryan

 Slovakia – chren


Beet Week – Day 2 “Salat” Recipes

The BEET goes on in Tammela’s Ukraine kitchen…

As you all may know by now, I’ve been living in Ukraine as a Peace Corps Volunteer since September 2010 and thus have had plenty of time to taste – and sometimes cook – many traditional Ukrainian dishes. A lot of these dishes include the staple (mainly root) vegetables that grow so easily and abundantly here in eastern Europe: potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, and beets. It is amazing how many different combinations and variations one can create from just these five vegetables.

Most people are quite familiar and comfortable with cooking and eating potatoes, carrots, onions and even cabbage. But I have found that beets challenge and puzzle many cooks. They are a funny shape, have a thicker skin than potatoes or carrots, and are (usually) a deep red-purple color that stains almost everything it touches.

How the heck does one cook and eat a beet?

That is what I am here to tell you!

I developed a passion for beets several summers ago while shopping at farmer’s markets in the States. That first summer I experimented with beet preparation: I roasted, boiled, and sautéed beets, sometimes alone and sometimes with other root vegetables. Some dishes turned out well and some failed. Living in Ukraine for the past year and a half has expanded my how-to-prepare-beets horizons.  Following your introduction to Borscht, I shall now introduce you to some other classic Ukrainian dishes that feature beets.

These beet-sporting Ukrainian dishes, which are often made for holiday meals but are equally as good for regular consumption include salat vinehret (салат вінегрет), one of my favorite salads; and salat shuba (салат шуба; shuba means “fur coat”), which is a bit of an acquired taste.

Hope you enjoy!


 салат вінегрет (salat vinehret) 

The vegetable proportions are generally about equal, but feel free to add more or less of anything, to your taste.


  • 1-3 small-medium potatoes, peeled
  • 1-2 medium beets
  • 1-2 medium carrots
  • 1-2 medium dill pickles (preferable homemade ones), diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • Oil, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  • Boil whole potatoes, beets, and carrots until cooked through. The beets will take the longest to cook – 45-60 minutes – so put them in first.
  • Meanwhile, dice the pickles and onion and put them in a big bowl.
  • When the root vegetables are cooked, peel the beets and carrots and let cool. When they are cool enough, dice the potatoes, beets, and carrots.
  • Add diced root vegetables to the bowl and season with your preferred amount of oil, salt, and pepper. Mix, and enjoy!


салат шуба (salat shuba)

If you are a mayonnaise lover, you can add it in between every layer. But if you’re like me and are slightly mayo-averse, feel free to only add it to the top layer.


  • 1-3 small-medium potatoes, peeled
  • 1-2 medium beets
  • 1-3 medium carrots
  • 1-2 cups pickled herring, diced
  • Mayonnaise, to taste


  • Boil whole potatoes, beets, and carrots until cooked through. The beets will take the longest to cook – 45-60 minutes – so put them in first.
  • Meanwhile, dice the herring and spread it out on a large shallow platter.
  • When the root vegetables are cooked, peel the beets and carrots and let cool. When they are cool enough, grate the potatoes, beets, and carrots but keep them separate.
  • Spread the grated potatoes over the herring, smoothing them into a nice, flat layer.
  • Spread the grated carrots over the potato layer.
  • Spread the grated beets on top of the carrots. Add a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise and spread it around evenly, letting it mix a little with the beets.
  • This salad looks beautiful when served in clean-cut slices that reveal the colorful layers.

Beet Week – Day 1 Ukrainian Style

Adventures in Ukrainian Cuisine: Beets

I have been living in Ukraine as a Peace Corps Volunteer since September 2010 and thus have had plenty of time to taste – and sometimes cook – many traditional Ukrainian dishes. A lot of these dishes include the staple (mainly root) vegetables that grow so easily and abundantly here in eastern Europe: potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, and beets.

I have found that beets are the biggest challenge. They are a funny shape, have a thicker skin than potatoes or carrots, and are (usually) a deep red-purple color that stains almost everything it touches. Living in Ukraine for the past year and a half has expanded my how-to-prepare-beets horizons.

Even if you know nothing about Ukraine or eastern Europe, you have probably heard of borscht, beet soup (or stew, as I prefer less water-to-vegetables ratio). Borscht is healthy, offering many nutrients and antioxidants and protein in its meat and/or beans.

There are two main kinds of borscht: green borscht and red borscht. As far as I can tell, the main difference between the two is the green borscht’s lack of beets and slightly different ingredient set (additions to green borscht include preserved young cabbage, dill, and hard-boiled egg). Red borscht is what probably comes to mind when a non-Eastern European thinks of borscht: that rich, reddish-purple soup set off by a dollop of bright white sour cream.

It’s important to note that every borscht is different. Every Ukrainian has her own recipe and it rarely turns out the same twice. Borscht gets better with age; third-day reheated borscht is, by far, the tastiest.

Український Борщ (Ukrainian Borscht), Tammela’s Version


  • Meat of choice (I used two chicken drumsticks), or beans, or no protein at all
  • 2 medium onions, sliced thinly
  • 3-4 small-medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and grated
  • 1 large or 2 small-medium beets, peeled and grated
  • 1-2 small-medium tomatoes, grated or chopped
  • 1-2 tbsp tomato paste (depending on how tomatoey you want your borscht to be)
  • ½ head of green cabbage, sliced thinly
  • Oil (Ukrainians use sunflower oil, but canola/vegetable oil would work fine)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Fresh dill, chopped
  • Optional: bunch of green onions, chopped
  • For serving: dollop of sour cream; hunk of brown bread; peeled raw garlic clove(s)


  • Bring water with meat to a boil, and simmer until it’s mostly cooked (cooking time will depend on the kind of meat you use; chicken cooks fast)Partway through, add the sliced onion to the water.
  • When meat is mostly cooked, add diced potatoes and keep simmering until potatoes are cooked, 10-20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, grate the carrot, beet, and tomato, and sauté for a few minutes in a pan with some oil.
  • Add sautéed vegetables to the pot and throw in the cabbage, too.
  • Salt and pepper to taste, stir in some tomato paste, add the dill and/or green onions, and let simmer for as long as you like.
  • Serve borscht with a dollop of sour cream (сметана, smetana), a hunk of brown bread (чорний хліб, chornyy khlib), and (if you’re really brave) a clove or two of peeled raw garlic.

If you are not up for trying your hand at borscht, there are a few other beet-sporting Ukrainian dishes, which are often made for holiday meals but are equally as good for regular consumption.  You can check them out here over the next few days as BEET WEEK continues!


Ready for more delightful beet recipes from the Ukraine?  Click here

St. Michaels Cathedral Kyiv

EY Travel Tips: Ukraine

In some ways living in Ukraine is not dissimilar from living in western Europe or even the United States: there are lots of cars, supermarkets, museums and other cultural attractions. But upon closer scrutiny Ukraine is still very much a developing country: public transport is slow, communities work and eat based on the seasonal calendar, most people hand-wash their clothes. That said, Ukraine has many interesting things to offer for the traveler. Below are a few recommendations based on my experiences over the past the ten months.

1. How to Travel: Buses and trains are numerous and are the cheapest ways to travel around the country. Be warned, travel is not fast. If you are torn between bus and train, buses tend to be slightly (30-60 minutes) quicker but slightly more expensive. Trains, though slower, are cheaper and more comfortable: in coupe (second class) and platzcart (third class) you are provided with bedding and can lie down and sleep (most long-distance trains are overnight).

2. Kyiv: Ukraine’s capital holds a few treasures worth seeing. Spend a day or two exploring the cathedrals – especially St. Sophia’s and St. Michael’s – and strolling down cobblestoned Andriyivs’ka Street, pausing to check out souvenir vendors. Walk down Khreshchatik, Kyiv’s main drag, lined with expensive stores and restaurants. Plan your walk for the weekend, when Khreshchatik is closed to cars between the Lenin statue and Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square). St. Michael’s Cathedral, Kyiv 2b. Eating in Kyiv is expensive. The cheapest non-supermarket food I have found in the city is a standard stop for traveling Peace Corps Volunteers who want a fast, cheap, filling meal on a budget. It’s a falafel restaurant on Starvoksal’na street, not far from the train station. Delicious falafel wraps start at 20 UAH (about $2.50). And they have hummus!

3. Because restaurants in Ukraine are expensive in most towns and cities, it is wise to shop at bazaars for the freshest and cheapest natural products. Bazaars are everywhere and have wide selections of just about any food item you could want. To save some money, stock up at the bazaar and have a picnic. Another cheaper option is finding a cafeteria (yidalnia) where you can sample traditional Ukrainian food at a lower price than a restaurant.

4. That said, it is fun to splurge once in a while at a restaurant. In L’viv I ate the best – and most expensive – restaurant meal I have had in Ukraine at a Jewish-themed restaurant, Pid Zolotoju Rozoju (“At the Golden Rose”). Apparently it is one of quite a few themed restaurants around the city. The premise at this one is that, after the meal, you haggle for the bill with your waiter; I think it attempts to (semi-insensitively) recreate some sort of “Jewish” custom. No prices are listed on the menu, so it is up to your negotiation skills to fix the price. My friends and I agreed on a maximum we could pay and our waiter opened negotiations at a ridiculously high price. We managed to get him to lower it by alternating bids with reasons like, “We’re poor volunteers here, teaching English! We love Ukraine!” It was unclear whether the waiter had previously set the bill total; it seemed so because eventually we got him down to a price that he would not go below. The haggling episode was jocular, and though the meal was expensive we were satisfied. (Side note: I am sure this system traps more than a few faint-hearted customers who give up negotiating at some point.) The service was excellent, and the food was delicious; I recommend the “Jewish spreads” sampler and the spiced wine.

5. While you are in L’viv, take time to wander around the central square’s cobblestoned streets and admire the architecture. There are two options for a great view of the city: pay 5 UAH to climb up the clock tower (ratusha) or – for free – take up to an hour to climb the hill and stairs of Vysokyy Zamok (“high castle”) to one of the highest points of the city. It is hard to choose which option I would recommend more; I got better pictures from the clock tower because it is right in the center, but Vysokyy Zamok gives you a better panorama of the entire city. If you have time, do both, but I would give Vysokyy Zamok a slight edge because it is free and higher up than the clock tower. Clock tower in the center of L’viv



6. From L’viv, since you are in the west, I recommend heading down to Chernivtsi, capital of the Chernivets’ka Oblast and once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (as was much of the rest of western Ukraine). Like L’viv, Chernivtsi has beautiful architecture and even an abandoned Gothic-style German cathedral. In Chernivtsi you must walk through Shevchenko Park and down Kobalans’ka Street, the city’s pedestrian street in the center. On Kobalans’ka, spend an hour or two in the regional historical museum to gaze at old maps, tools, art, and traditional Ukrainian costumes. The docents are helpful and knowledgeable. If you get hungry for lunch, stop at Café Efes, just off Soborna Ploshcha (Cathedral Square). There is traditional and non-traditional cuisine, the pizza has real parmesan cheese, and the prices are reasonable for travelers on a budget.

7. Climb Mount Hoverla, Ukraine’s highest mountain at 2,061 meters. It is in the Carpathian Mountains of western Ukraine. It’s an easy day-hike and the views are gorgeous. My only advice: don’t do it in March! It is still quite cold, the lower trails through the woods were icy, and there was still slippery snow above the tree line. We were not even allowed to advance to the true summit because of the wind and ice at the top. I did the hike with some friends – and about 95 other Peace Corps Volunteers, along with 4-500 Ukrainians – as part of a big event organized by a Volunteer and her NGO. The Ukrainians arrived decked out in snow suits and heavy hiking boots, and some even had ski poles. Most of us Volunteers had not been quite as well-informed of the weather; my thin cotton leggings did not cut it at the top. This would be a fantastic hike in the summer, and I hope to do it next year in the warm months.


Location of the Sniatyn Raion (District) in Ukraine

Chance Encounters of a Good Kind

Location of the Sniatyn Raion (District) in Ukraine

This story was a submission to’s first ever “Best Running Story in a Foreign Country Writing Contest” – April 2011. Our story’s author, Tammela Platt, is currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a town in southwest Ukraine. She writes “I have been in Ukraine since last September and at my permanent site since December.” She heard about the contest from a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, Runner, Oberlin Graduate and EY Writer: Samantha Kyrkostas.

This is a story about an incomplete run. An incomplete run thanks to the incredible openness and hospitality of the Ukrainian people.

Sniatyn’s stadium in winter. There is a cement track around the soccer field.

While doing a speed workout at my town’s stadium – 100-meter repeats, sprinting down the straightaway and jogging back – on the first day of February, I kept running by a woman taking a toddler for a walk – rather, he was walking her. On one of my recovery jogs, the woman called me over and asked me something – in Ukrainian, of course – about my running that I didn’t quite understand (upon reflection I think she asked how fast I run 100 meters; that day was not an especially fast day). When I told her I didn’t understand (Я не розумію/“Ya ne rozoomiyoo” – probably the first three words I mastered in Ukrainian), she said, “Oh, are you Polish?” It’s the blond hair and blue eyes. Or the assumption many Ukrainians make that anyone here who doesn’t speak fluent Ukrainian must be from Poland. When I told her I’m American and talked a little about the Peace Corps and why I’m here, she asked me to wait until her daughter (mother of the toddler) came back and then invited me directly to their apartments in the building across from the stadium. “Right now?” I asked. She answered in the affirmative. What could I say but yes? Sure, I would have liked to finish my workout, but it would have been stupid to refuse this offer from such a genuine woman.

Zhenia & Tanya's Apartment -To the right, behind the fence, is the stadium. Far center-right is the apartment building complex where Zhenia and Tanya live.

So off we went, Zhenia (Женя, short for Yevhenia (Євгенія)), the not-so-old grandmother, and Tanya (Таня, short for Tetiana), her daughter, guiding me across the street and up the stairs of their building, chattering the whole time about how glad they were to meet me and how I would be welcome anytime and must come see them. They showed me around their apartments and then, in typical Ukrainian fashion, sat me down with tea – despite the fact that I was sweaty from my run and surely did not smell sweet – and offered me some delicious cheese pancakes (called сирники/“syrnyky”) as we talked for a while about Ukraine and America. When it started to get dark I pleaded work to do and, full of snacks and happy feelings, jogged slowly home. Meeting Zhenia and Tanya was a great cap-off to what had already been a great day: I had talked with my 11th Form about Romanticism in art, had sung “My Favorite Things” to my 3rd Form, and had gotten three boxes in the mail. Days like that make spending two years in Ukraine a little less daunting.

And it all started with a run.

~ Tammela Platt~

Duck pic

Spring Pucker

It’s that funny month of March again where mornings are Winter and afternoons already Spring.  All batty-eyed and full of expectation, the sun – as the lark – rises earlier each morning. (So do I, by the way, though fumblingly and with decidedly less grace and panache.)   I wear my rain boots and winter coat every day – another marker of early March. Were I living in a big city where people go all ‘tall, dark and handsome’ for quirky fashions, I might get a few silent nods of approval, but here I think people are just wondering why I left my Power Ranger lunchbox and protection-tipped plastic umbrella at home. But, as previously mentioned, those high-heels make up for most of my fashion missteps in Ukraine.  So, rain boots and winter coat it is. The overnight chill leaves the road that stretches from my house to school icy until midday when the mud and green and chirp of birds reappear, reminding me that I’ve made it through the cruel months of Winter once again…

I turned onto my street just a few minutes ago satisfied that I’d managed to get off my butt and go for a run.  It rained yesterday and the road is rough and muddy terrain but, as always, quite worth it.  I saw the usual – a few kids playing by the side of the road, nibbling at the grass and following a Billy goat up and down the sidewalk and those spotted cows with horns just going about their early springtime business.

Things have quite suddenly become deathly green here.  Every tree branch hangs heavy over the sidewalk. Little streets that I walk down every day to get to school are nearly unrecognizable the growth has been so great. How this place has changed so quickly. It is beautiful and doing everything in its power to contend with the image of dark, gray Soviet concrete that seems permanently plastered in my mind.

The milder weather, though, has done little to change the dressing habits of Ukraine’s youngest generation.

Ukrainian kids are, as a rule, overdressed in Spring and Fall. The fear of catching a chill is ubiquitous and no thermometer could convince the guardians of these little stuffed starfish to let them shed even a single layer. I see one such munchkin a few hundred feet away from my front gate.  He’s standing alone, playing in a pile of sand (undoubtedly meant for some other purpose) and baking in the midday rays.  He’s bundled up like a rolled cigar; tight little layers, each adding to his girth and internal temperature.  He has a wool hat pulled down over his ears, corduroy pants (wide wales) and little yellow shoes.  The little shoes remind me of the twelve ducklings that are living in our yard.  Small gray mud stains spot the front half of each duckling.  Nearly identical spots are splattered on my neighbor boy’s shoes.  It is nothing like Pollock but it ain’t half bad.

Usually, as I walk by most kids just stare unabashedly at me until I pass.  I greet them with some inevitably accented salutation and they only gawk greater.  This little guy, however, pays me no mind.  He’s busy practicing.  I hear him before I get a good look at what he’s doing.  It sounds something like a kitchen parrot trying to get the attention of a recently arrived house guest.  Or a first grader who’s just discovered the musical instrument created after the loss of her two front teeth.

It’s the overgrowth that prevents me from seeing him right away. Unaccustomed as I am to the sounds of farm animals, I briefly consider whether or not this noise could be some other species of turkey with whom I have yet to make an acquaintance.

But no – I turn the corner and confirm – it is a little boy.

And the best kind of little boy I know – all bundled up like a late-blooming butterfly. So darling is he that for a moment, I don’t begrudge his mother for keeping him wrapped up for as long as possible in the polyester-silken safety of his chrysalis snowsuit.

The little boy stands beside his own gaggle of ducklings. He stares at them – he in his spotted yellow shoes and they in their spotted yellow down.  He puckers his lips and – loud like Gabriel – kisses the air in their direction.  It sounds like he’s participating in a candy-sucking contest – trying his damndest to finish the hard lemony rock in his mouth before the next kid.  He stares over at the fuzzy, yellow animals and then, again, sucks in his lips and smacks.  He’s improving – slow, sloppy kisses become quick, sharp ones.  And soon it seems as though he is conducting them all with his two little, puckered and pink lips.

He’s got it right – this little cigar of a Don Juan; he’s gotten right down to the business of spilling his affection out onto these first evidences of life alive again.  The objects of his love declarations are frenetic with excitement and a little muddy, too. The ducklings peep and squeak in response. I vow to be more pleasant in the mornings and enjoy the icy walk to school. I promise to take advantage of the sunshine and launder my clothes more often. I will finish that book and spend more time outside. I also consider taking up Astronomy.  I resolve to be a better American.

Some orchestra, I marvel.

And some spring.

I know it’s early yet, but I do think it’ll be a good one.  Not just because the snowdrops will start growing and the marshrutka trips will be faster and less jostling.  Or even because I’ll get to see my friends and wear more dresses.  But because it just aught to be.  After all, what manner of thing could deign to be dismal when it starts out with such an act?


Krakov Square from Wikipedia

Take the Blessing and Run!

You know it’s true, you really can get used to being the square peg in a circle town.  It might have taken a year, but hearing my name on the street finally feels ordinary.  Groups of “We Real Cool” teenagers greet me in German or Japanese, in any foreign language they know.  Gazes and stares blink out “Incredulous!” in some Ukrainian Morse code when I ask for strange spices like clove and ginger at the shop.  Little starfish-shaped children all bundled up for winter yank at babushka’s coat sleeve and whisper, “Missamanta, tse missamanta.”

Yes, that’s right, here I am.  And here, in Ukraine, that is what I am: Miss Samantha, the rootless and forever smiling foreigner-in-residence.  With her excessive use of ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ her USDA-approved toothpaste, and a checkered coat that just screams, “I’M FROM AWAY!!” With all that noise, it’s a wonder I can hear myself think.

Considering the frequency with which I write about running in Ukraine, you may have been persuaded to believe that it is a national pastime, that Ukrainians are a lot who take to the streets in sneakers and tracksuits on the daily.  I assure you, this is not true.  So, if you are sitting there fancying Ukraine to be such a place, please accept my humblest apologies.  It seems you have been misled.  It seems, what with all my talk of running on icy patches past grazing goats, I have led you astray because a runner’s country Ukraine is not.  In fact, I’d bargain that there are more people running around the Charles River in Boston on any given day than there are running in the whole of Ukraine.

Any takers?

No, seriously.

I’d bet my last jar of peanut butter on it.

Needless to say, here I am running again in a place where people don’t run.  The truth of it is, though, that’s why I love to do it.  When I’m running in Ukraine, it’s not me who’s foreign but what I’m doing.  It doesn’t matter that my coat is checkered or that I’ll never properly pronounce the word for love, it doesn’t matter that I’m an American; I am a runner and that is foreigner enough.

Now, while Ukrainians may not be wind-sprinting down Carl Marx Street, that’s not to say they aren’t active participants in my physical training. (You may, oh diligent reader, remember a previous incident wherein I participated in a pas-de-deux with an inebriated fellow I encountered while out running in the fields.)

“Here’s another one,” I say to myself, looking ahead down the road.

A man in a bright pink, green and blue MembersOnly jacket rides his bicycle toward me.  In his limp, fish lips he dangles a cigarette. He has the kind of hair that people sported to look cool back before I was born; nappy waves to the shoulder – distant listlessness in his eyes.  Just the kind of character I try to avoid when I’m out running on my own.

But, I’m so intrigued.  It’s the jacket that really gets me – especially since here, in Ukraine, the color spectrum usually dies out somewhere between dark purple and black.  This jacket would have been Thrift store find-of-the-semester in college.  He rides the way you imagine people riding in places that don’t allow cars – like Fire Island or Put-In Bay,  like some college kid who’d started riding one day and never quite figured out where he was going.

Despite the jacket,  I brace myself for another unpleasant interaction on the road.  I clench my jaw a little, stare straight forward and speed up, annoyed that yet another drunk ne’er-do-well is messing with my runner’s chi. As we draw closer, I plan escape routes, ways to avoid his attempt to engage me in another two step.  He’s getting ready to do something, I can tell, and I practice my…er, yoga moves in my head (and promptly make a promise with myself to do more kickboxing).  Just a few feet ahead of me, I catch his creepy, off-the-deep-end eye and immediately wish I’d been born a boy. I’ve got chills and not just because it’s below zero.

And then, out of the blue, it happens just like that.

“God Bless ya, young one!,” he says.

Say what?

“May God give you health!” He shouts again, almost toppling sideways off his bicycle.

Yup, definitely drunk, but not nearly as harmful as expected; in fact, kind of sweet in his own way.  More “Weekend at Bernie’s” than Freddy Kreuger for sure.  My gate slows and my fists unclench; I’m nearing the end of my run anyway.

And here I am smiling because that’s the thing about Ukraine – when you learn to take the good and trust that the rest will right itself eventually, it becomes a pretty amazing place.  Sure, the sun sets at 3:30pm but have you caught the blaze in which it goes?

Let’s just say, these days, I’m learning to take the blessing and run.

“You too!,” I shout back, though I doubt we’re close enough anymore for him to hear.


ps – Sam is currently serving in the Peace Corps in Ukraine.  You can follow her blog at: