The Evacuation Post

On February 24th, all 230 Peace Corps Volunteers were safely evacuated out of Ukraine. It’s hard to believe that we’re all back in the United States, and it is still somewhat surreal to be home in Wisconsin.

In the past three weeks, I’ve had many opportunities to talk about my experiences in Ukraine. I will post briefly here on evacuation and possible future options, highlighting some of the common questions I’ve been asked.

Why were you evacuated? Were you in an unsafe area?

The Peace Corps evacuated us due to safety and security concerns about Ukraine as a whole. Nearly all volunteers felt safe in their own communities, including me. In fact, the day we left Sumy felt like any typical Saturday. Less than a week after we evacuated, tensions began to rise in Crimea, the southern peninsula of Ukraine. You can check any number of news sources about what has happened in Crimea over the past few weeks (for a Ukrainian newspaper that is written in English, I suggest Kyiv Post).

Can you go back to Ukraine?

Currently, I am on an “administrative hold,” which means that I am still a Peace Corps Volunteer. During a 45 day window, Peace Corps will evaluate the security situation in Ukraine and determine if it safe for us to return. Our 45 day window ends on April 14th. If the program is not ready to re-open by April 14th, my service will automatically terminate and I will no longer be a PCV. There is a possibility that the 45 day window could be extended by 15 extra days, if the situation warrants an extension.

Can you transfer to another country?

If I request a transfer to another Peace Corps country, I would need to do the full 27 months of service in my new country. This is not an option I am interested in pursuing. My heart lies in Ukraine, and my deepest desire is to return to Sumy to finish the work I started with my colleagues, friends, and fellow volunteers.

What will you do if you cannot return by April 14th?

I will look for jobs in the international development field. There is also the option of looking at the newer branch of Peace Corps called “Peace Corps Response,” which offers short-term (3-12 month) volunteer assignments. I would possibly look at these volunteer positions. They are competitive, and you apply for each position separately, like a normal job process.

How do you feel?

It’s a roller coaster of emotions. I was certainly not mentally prepared to come back. So I’m sad, happy to see friends and family in the U.S., exhausted, frustrated, worried about my Ukrainian friends and family, anxious to know what will happen, enjoying the favorite foods I’ve been missing for a year, annoyed with the cold Wisconsin weather (we had a more mild winter in Sumy!), feeling out of place in American culture, thankful for the generosity of my family and friends here, and hoping 1,000 times per day that I get to return to my Ukrainian home. I miss it, so much.

So this is my quick re-cap of evacuation and the assorted emotions involved in the process. Of course, I wouldn’t be my optimistic self without sharing something inspiring or happy, so I have a few videos to share.

First Video: all evacuated Ukraine PCV’s attended a 3 day transition conference in DC. During the conference, we all gathered together for a candlelight vigil in honor of our beloved country of service. You can check it out here – the trumpet solo is the Ukrainian national anthem, and the chant at the end is “Glory to Ukraine” with a response of “Glory to Heroes,” spoken in Ukrainian.

Second Video: a few days before I evacuated, I was asked to participate in a video montage of Ukrainian and international students at Sumy State University. It was in celebration of the famous Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s 200th birthday. We each read a line (in Ukrainian) from one of his poems. The down side: I had not showered that morning, so I’m not looking quite my best. ;) I will take this as a lesson to be more prepared next time! You can check out one poem here and the other here.

I will update again soon with what I have been doing during my unexpected time in America!

Here is a final snapshot we took as we evacuated – all of the volunteers in Chernihiv and Sumska Oblasts. We hope we are back soon!




Happy to take any comments!
  1. Hi Ashley,
    Amazing what you have gone through….Oh the stoeies you will have for your children and other future family members some day…..Dan