This information is an attempt to answer some of the most common questions asked by potential Peace Corps Ukraine Volunteers and their families. Although it may not answer every question, this list addresses many aspects of volunteer life and service in Ukraine. The answers are based on policies of Peace Corps, specific policies of Peace Corps Ukraine and on the experience of currently-serving volunteers in Ukraine. Policies are subject to change without notice, and every volunteer's Peace Corps experience is unique. Prior to the arrival of each new group of trainees, the content of this section is reviewed and modified in order to provide useful and current information. The last review and revision took place in October 2010. If you are a Invitee to the Peace Corps Ukraine program, and have questions or concerns not addressed here, consider signing up to have a Peer Advisor! This program matches Invitees with currently-serving Peace Corps volunteers in Ukraine. Scroll down to the bottom of this page for more information.
The agreement between the United States and Ukraine was signed in 1992. Group 1, a Business Development Group, arrived on 15 November of that year.
There are three programs in Ukraine: Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), Youth Development (YD), and Community Development (CD).
Groups are numbered sequentially starting with the first group that arrived in Ukraine in 1992. The type of program has no correlation to the group number.
Currently, training groups arrive twice each year, with YD and CD Trainees arriving in early spring and TEFL Trainees in the fall. In September 2010, two TEFL groups arrived a week apart, group numbers 39 and 40.
You can expect your 27 months in Ukraine to be filled with a mixture of wonderful personal experiences, professional challenges, as well as frustrations and opportunities to learn what you are really made of. Following is an general time line for key events you can expect during your time in Ukraine:
Peace Corps Trainee, 11-12 weeks of Pre-Service Training
Peace Corps Volunteer, 24 months of service after Swearing-In
Staging is the assembly of a new Trainee group in the United States immediately prior to departure for Ukraine. It usually occurs over two or three days, and is when Invitees officially become Trainees. Trainees will begin learning general Peace Corps policies, discuss cross-cultural apprehensions and become acquainted with one another. Staging is also when paperwork and administrative matters are handled, as well as required vaccinations given. Peace Corps No Fee passports are distributed, and at the end of Staging, the entire group departs for Ukraine.
PST is the abbreviation for "Pre-Service Training", an approximately twelve-week period of training that takes place in Ukraine prior to swearing-in as Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs). During this period, you are a Peace Corps Trainee (PCT). You will study language, cultural matters, and other subjects that will prepare you to be more effective at your assignment. It is also a time to make sure you are committed to the upcoming two years of Peace Corps service. It provides Peace Corps Ukraine staff members time to observe and evaluate your abilities and skills, as well as your attitude and commitment. The training staff works with you to develop your skills, confidence and cross-cultural understanding, oriented towards making your Peace Corps service in Ukraine successful and rewarding.
During PST your job is to become comfortable with language, culture and customs. You can expect to work hard. You and your cluster-mates (4-5 other trainees) will spend many hours a day in class with your language instructor or out in the community with your technical instructor. You will meet many community members and tour local schools and community organizations as you learn about life in Ukraine. You will have a service project and do some internship work either in schools (for YD and TEFL Trainees) or with community organization (for CD Trainees). There will be some free time, but the pace is fast and the demands are tough. You might consider this the 'boot camp' part of your Peace Corps Volunteer service. This is also a time when you will bond with the other trainees in your training cluster and your host family. Keep your sense of humor and hang in there for these twelve weeks!
During PST, you live with a carefully selected local host family in their house or apartment. The other trainees in your cluster will live in other homes throughout the community. This family is responsible for housing you during training and providing morning and evening meals. They are not responsible for your laundry, although they are responsible for providing clean sheets every 2-3 weeks. Privacy is limited during this period, but living with a host family provides an excellent opportunity to work on your language skills as well as learn about daily life in Ukraine. Many Trainees develop close bonds with their host families during this intense training period. Living with a host family also provides Trainees with personal insights into how people in the host country live their private lives. Depending on the availability of housing at site, some PCVs might live with a host family for the entirety of their service.
You will study either Ukrainian or Russian. Each cluster is assigned to one language, and during the site assignment process the language you are learning is considered. Although there are exceptions, generally, trainees who studied Ukrainian are assigned to the western or west central part of Ukraine, and those who studied Russian are assigned to east central, southern, or eastern Ukraine. As the country is bilingual, you will be exposed to both languages as you work, shop and travel in Ukraine. Many PCVs close their service with fluency in one language and proficiency in the second.
In Ukraine, it is traditional that a guest in someone's home with bring their hosts a gift, and your host family will enjoy receiving small gifts from the US. Although you will not have any idea of the number, gender, or ages of the members of your host family before you arrive, previous trainees have found that photo books, calenders, or small household items (pot holders, shot glasses, dishtowels) with US- or state-themed images are universally appreciated. Whatever you decide to give, your gifts should not be expensive or very personal in nature. Additionally, bringing photos of your family, your house, your pets and your friends in America can provide an icebreaker for your first week in Ukraine.
Since you are not officially a PCV during this time and because your host family provides the majority of your meals, you will not receive the standard Peace Corps Ukraine Living allowance. However, you will receive a Walk Around allowance to cover personal expenses and one meal a day for training days. Additionally, your Readjustment allowance accrues for the period of training if you complete training and are officially sworn in as a PCV.
PST is a very challenging and potentially frustrating time. You experience not only a new culture and language, but you are away from friends, family, and your support network. It is important to remember the purpose of this time is to enable you to be the best possible PCV, and you are not the first or the last PCT to experience the roller-coaster that is Peace Corps Ukraine Pre-Service Training.
PCVs do not earn a salary. Instead, all PCVs are provided a monthly Living allowance, a stipend designed to allow them to live at the level of their local community. The Living allowance covers living expenses such as food, communication, basic clothing repair and replacement, personal care items and other monthly expenses. Housing costs are paid separately. In addition to the Living allowance, each PCV will receive a monthly Leave allowance and Travel allowance. You will also accrue your Readjustment allowance for each month of satisfactory service (pro-rated for partial months of service) from the enter-on-duty date as a Trainee to the date service with the Peace Corps ends. However, in most circumstances this money is not accessible until a Volunteer terminates or closes service. Please see below for more information regarding the Readjustment allowance.
These funds are transferred to PCVs' individual bank accounts electronically on a monthly basis, and can be withdrawn at ATMs using the Peace Corps Ukraine-issued bank card.
The Readjustment allowance is an amount credited to you for every month of service (pro-rated for partial months of service) from the enter-on-duty date as a PCT to the close-of-service date as a PCV. Your Readjustment allowance is paid to you following completion of your Peace Corps service. These funds are not available to you during your service. More information regarding the Readjustment allowance is available during Staging and PST. Currently, the readjustment allowance accrues at a rate of $275/month.
Yes, although it's recommended that verify with your bank in the US that your cards can be used in Ukraine as well as confirming the costs, if any, of transaction fees. Additionally, many banks recommend or require notification of overseas travel for transactions made outside the US to be successfully processed.
Yes. Thomas Cook or American Express traveler's checks can be cashed in Ukraine for a commission varying from bank to bank.
While some organizations have a workweek that correspond to that standard 40-hour workweek in the United States, many others work outside of this schedule. A PCV's working hours will depend on their project assignment (TEFL, YD, or CD). Standard hours for teachers in secondary schools, according to Peace Corps Ukraine guidelines, are eighteen classroom hours per week. CD Volunteers generally work thirty five to forty hours per week with their organizations and communities. YD Volunteers teach up to six hours per week and work on various extra-curricular activities and community projects. Most PCVs have secondary projects - activities with people and organizations in addition to their primary assignment – that take additional time. As a PCV in Ukraine, you are expected to work hard.
A PCV earns two days of annual leave time for every month of service, beginning after your swearing-in date. PCTs do not accrue annual leave days. You will also most likely have opportunities to travel within Ukraine working on various Peace Corps projects such as summer camps or business seminars. These work-related activities do not count against your vacation time.
Yes, there are procedures that must be followed:
All travel that includes a night spent away from site requires the advance notification and approval of your Regional Manager, and travel that will cause you to miss work for any reason also requires approval of your counterpart or supervisor. Current Peace Corps Ukraine policy allows PCVs to leave site after 5 p.m. on a working day and return before 9 a.m. on the next working day without needing to use annual leave days. For example, a TEFL PCV who leaves site at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, and returns to site at 7:30 a.m. on Monday morning will not be required to use annual leave days for their trip. However, they still must notify their Regional manager of their travel plans. All travel policies are designed to comply with the safety and security requirements of Peace Corps Washington, as well as ensure that each PCV can be contacted and/or located in case of emergency.
The Peace Corps, and Peace Corps Ukraine specifically, takes the health and safety of PCVs very seriously. During training, you receive an standard Peace Corps medical kit with over-the-counter items, as well as instruction on use of the kit and treatment of common injuries. Peace Corps Ukraine also issues each PCV prescription antibiotics, to be used at the direction of the medical staff. Each PCV is required to have a mid-service medical exam, complete with TB test to ensure their health while in Ukraine. The Peace Corps Ukraine Medical unit consists of five Peace Corps Medical Officers (PCMOs), a medical assistant and medical secretary. Peace Corps Ukraine Medical keeps standard office hours at the office in Kyiv and a duty PCMO is on call 24/7. In cases of injury or illness, PCMOs will instruct the PCV on the proper steps to take, which can include using local health care facilities, a visit by the PCMO to the PCV's site, or bringing the PCV to the medical office in Kyiv. For routine illnesses and injuries, PCMOs will either perform the necessary procedures or accompany the PCV to a local facility for treatment. For more serious injuries and illness, PCVs in Ukraine can be medically evacuated to facilities in Europe or the United States.
Some vaccines, such as the seasonal and other flu vaccines, are usually offered at staging. Other vaccines will be given during orientation in Ukraine or during visits made by Peace Corps Medical Officers (PCMOs) to training clusters. Any necessary boosters or additional vaccines are provided by the PCMOs in Kyiv during a PCVs service. Immunizations received in the' United States that are up-to-date and documented will not be repeated in Ukraine, with the exception of tetanus. PCVs can also receive a seasonal flu shot each winter.
Peace Corps Ukraine will provide prescription medications that Volunteers require. While Peace Corps Ukraine does maintain a supply of commonly prescribed drugs, it is impossible to stock all the medications PCVs may need. All Trainees are required to bring a supply of their medication with them (current recommendation is 3 months). This allows Peace Corps Ukraine to establish a supply of prescription items required by current PCVs.
Peace Corps supplies Vitamin C, multi-vitamins, and calcium to PCVs upon PCV request. However, other vitamins and supplements are not provided. While some supplements may be available in Ukraine, Peace Corps Ukraine discourages use of locally-purchased supplements because of differences in the manufacturing processes between what may be available here and in the US. You may want to bring these with you from the US.
The Peace Corps recommends that PCVs, regardless of country of service, do not wear contact lenses during their service and PCMOs worldwide do not support nor replace lenses. Instead, Peace Corps recommends that PCVs bring two pairs of glasses with the current prescription, and will repair or replace broken pairs. However, many of the PCVs who require vision correction do wear their contact lenses in Ukraine without difficulties. Saline solution is available in most pharmacies, and many Ukrainians wear contact lenses. However, replacement lenses can be difficult to obtain, especially for PCVs who have severe astigmatism or require other specialized lenses.
The government of Ukraine has an exclusion zone around Chernobyl in which no one is allowed. There is another zone in which entrance is limited to only those who need to be there. Peace Corps Ukraine does not assign anyone to areas close to these zones. In the remaining areas of Ukraine, radiation is no more of a problem than elsewhere in the world.
Ukraine is no different than other countries in that there is street crime, including pickpockets, scam artists, and robbery. You will need to take the normal precautions you would take in the US or other places you might travel. However, you should not let this rule your life and activities. In many ways you may be safer in Ukraine than you might be in the US since at many sites, you will be the only American living there. A key part of the Peace Corps Ukraine experience is community integration. Volunteers who know their neighbors and are well-integrated into their communities are less likely to experience crime or harassment while in their community. In Ukraine, people will be concerned about you and watch out for you. Additionally, if you live in an apartment on the first floor of a building, Peace Corps Ukraine will pay for steel bars on the windows. Peace Corps Ukraine will also pay for a steel door for your apartment, regardless of the floor on which you live.
HIV is a significant and growing problem in Ukraine. Peace Corps Ukraine has a program in which PCVs can become involved with HIV/AIDS education.
No. Although stray dogs are common in Ukraine, the majority are afraid of people and do not pose a threat.
You can jog, but jogging is not common in Ukraine. In the winter, low temperatures, snow and ice can make jogging outdoors hazardous and there are few indoor tracks in Ukraine. Gyms and exercise facilities are uncommon, as well, and primarily located in larger cities. However, there are many informal and organized sport leagues, with soccer, volleyball and basketball being the most popular, and both men and women participate. Bicycles are very common in Ukraine, especially in towns and villages, where everyone from students to grandparents can be seen riding a bike. Peace Corps also provides bicycle helmets to PCVs who wish to purchase and ride a bicycle, either for transportation or exercise. Many PCVs also use workout videos on their laptops or develop an indoor exercise routine to use, especially during the winter. Some PCV's start aerobic or yoga classes in their communities, and almost all PCVs walk more in Ukraine that they did in the US. Many PCVs leave Ukraine fitter and healthier than when the arrived, because of the changes in their diet and daily routine.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will need to establish and maintain professional behavior. This can be challenging for PCVs since alcohol use is very common in work and social settings here in Ukraine. Alcohol abuse and drunkenness are not consistent with professional behavior and will not be tolerated by Peace Corps Ukraine. It is wise to decide ahead of time how you will cope should you be in a setting where people are making toasts or drinking. You may indicate you prefer not to drink or you may simply substitute water for alcohol. If you choose to drink socially, you must remain responsible. Do not drink to be polite. Whatever your approach is to handling responsible drinking challenges, it is important that you are consistent in your behavior. Responsible use of alcohol is key for the safety of the PCV and for the image of the Peace Corps and the USA.
During PST, all Trainees live with a host family in their house or apartment. Your accommodations are modest during this period, but meet basic standards for safety outlined in Peace Corps policy. After swearing-in and arrival at site, the living accommodations of Volunteers depends on the local availability of housing. Some PCVs live in one- or two-room apartments or houses, some live in university dormitories, and others live with a host family for their entire two years of service. All accommodations, regardless of type, must satisfy the Peace Corps minimal housing requirements as outlined in Peace Corps Ukraine guidelines.
In Ukraine, the bathroom and kitchen do not count as rooms so when you hear someone speak of a "one room apartment" or a "two room apartment", they refer only to living and sleeping areas. A one room apartment has a kitchen, bathroom and one room for sleeping and living. In Ukraine, more than one generation often lives in the same apartment so rooms are used for multiple purposes. It is common for a room in which people live during the day to be converted to a sleeping room at night.
Generally, PCVs who live in dormitories work at that college or university. Even in those cases, the PCV usually has the same type of accommodations as those who live in an apartment and not simply a room as you might have had in college in the US. However, it is a dormitory with much the same type of activity as a dormitory in the US.
The organization to which you are assigned is responsible for providing your living accommodations and Peace Corps Ukraine has housing guidelines that organizations are expected to follow. If there are concerns about housing that you cannot resolve once at site, your Regional Manager will provide assistance. In certain cases where your assigned organization does not have the funds to provide housing, Peace Corps contributes money toward or pays for your housing. Your basic rent and an allowance for the cost of gas, water, and electricity should be included in what you are provided. If your utility usage is above that allowance, you may be required to pay for the additional consumption. If the apartment has a telephone, the PCV is expected to cover his/her own telephone expense.
While a telephone is desirable and strongly suggested by Peace Corps Ukraine in the housing guidelines, there is no guarantee you will have a telephone in your residence. If you are fortunate enough to have a phone, long distance service within Ukraine and international long distance service may be restricted or not available. If a telephone is not available in your living space, Peace Corps Ukraine requires that your work site provide a telephone at work for your use. Of course, you will be charged for any calls you make, just as you would pay for the calls made from your residence.
The housing guidelines provide for a minimum of furniture and utensils for cooking and eating. The guidelines are modest, and many PCVs have more furnishings than specified in the housing guidelines. However, PCVs are expected to live a modest lifestyle, and the guidelines reflect that.
In larger towns and cities, “central heat” is generated by the local administration and turned in late October or early November, then turned off in late March or early April. In smaller communities without centrally-generated hot water, houses can be heated with wood, coal or gas. In many cases, windows and doors are old and drafty and living accommodations will be colder than PCVs were accustomed to in the United States. The Peace Corps also provides all Volunteers with an electric radiator that can be used to warm up individual rooms in an apartment or house.
Depending on the location of a PCV's site, Volunteers use gas or electric ranges or electric burners for cooking.
Peace Corps Ukraine recommends that PCVs do not drink tap water, and many PCVs find that unfiltered tap water has strong mineral taste that they dislike. You will receive money in your living allowance to purchase bottled water, and water pitchers with filters are also available in many larger towns and cities. You may, however, use tap water for cooking, brushing your teeth and washing dishes.
At sites with municipal water, water may be limited to approximately three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening. Additionally, the water may unexpectedly be turned off for a period of several hours to several days. Many PCV sites are in locations without municipal water service, and instead PCVs get water via a pump that draws water from a nearby well or directly from the well itself. Many PCVs keep a supply of water in bottles for times when the water is turned off.
In some locations, hot water is limited to the length of the heating season. Some apartments have gas hot water heaters (called kolonka or kotel). Kolonkas work by heating the water as it flows through the pipe over the gas on the way to being used. Some apartments have small electric water heaters, while others have no hot water system and therefore PCVs simply boil water on the stove.
Electricity in Ukraine is 220 volts (V), 50 cycles (Hz), although sporadic power outages are more common than in the US.
Two types of outlets are commonly used in Ukraine. The older style outlets accept the two narrow round prongs used in the former Soviet Union, but the grounded German round type common to most of Europe is becoming more popular in newly remodeled apartments. Adapters are readily available at Ukrainian shops, generally costing between 3-10 UAH. You may wish to bring along one European style adapter to use until you get settled and can shop for more.
Check to see if your appliance switches automatically from 110/120 to 220/240. Some appliances have a switch that allows you to change voltage manually. If yours do not, you can purchase appliances here in Ukraine, either during training or once you arrive to site.
Computers and most other electronic equipment have a built in transformer included in the power supply which transforms the wall current to the needed voltage. To be used in Ukraine, these devices only require a plug adapter to allow the plug to fit in European-style outlets. Look for a label with a line like “INPUT: 110-220V AC 50-60Hz”. If the “V” includes 220, and the “Hz” includes 50, the device will work with just a plug adapter. However, many appliances – especially those containing a motor or heating element such as hair dryers, curlers, and razors – can only be operated with the help of a voltage converter which coverts the 220 volts from the outlet down to the 110 volts needed by American appliances. Forgetting to use a converter will cause these appliances to overheat and break. Bringing appliances that will requite a converter is not recommended, since converters are bulky and it is easy to purchase a replacement once you are in Ukraine.
Home telephone service in Ukraine varies between analog and touch-tone service. A lot of phones are still rotary dial. Connections are not always clear and it is not unusual to be disconnected in the middle of a conversation. Cell phones are very popular, and many Ukrainians own more than one phone to use with different carriers' services. Most Volunteers purchase cell phones in Ukraine and many use their cell phones as their primary phone.
Local, long-distance within Ukraine, and international long-distance are all individual services that must be applied for separately. Since the phone number is assigned to the apartment, the apartment owner must apply for any additional services that may be needed. To make a long distance call within Ukraine, you must dial 8, wait for a new dial tone, then dial the city code followed by the local number. The local number may be five, six or seven digits, depending on location. To make an international long distance call, dial 8, wait for the second dial tone and then dial 10 followed by the country code and the local number. In some instances, only local service will be available in your apartment or you will be required to use an operator to make calls beyond the local area.
Each PCV is responsible for paying his or her own telephone bill.
How the bill is actually paid will vary with the arrangement you have with the organization supplying your housing and/or the apartment owner. Most cities and towns in Ukraine do not have an unlimited, flat rate calling service. After a certain limited number of free local minutes, you are billed for any additional minutes for each call. Long distance calls are billed separately, but you should request a copy of the bill prior to paying it. This bill shows local minutes and long distance calls by city. Detailed bills showing the number of minutes of each call, whether local or long distance, are available for an extra charge. If you pay your bill directly to the telephone company, it must be paid between the 5th and 19th of the month following the month of service, i.e., for October service, you pay the bill between the 5th and 19th of November.
There are several options for calling the United States with certain methods being much more expensive than others. From your residential phone, you must first have international access. From your mobile phone, different carriers offer packages for international calls, although it is usually cheaper for your family to call you, as received calls are always free.
In most cases, it is cheaper for your friends and family in the US to call Ukraine than it will be for you to call the US, and if you have regular Internet access, Skype or other similar services can be used for only the cost of an Internet connection.
Although Peace Corps Ukraine does not require Volunteers to carry and use a cell phone, all Volunteers in Ukraine have at least one. The majority of PCVs use a cell phone as their primary phone. Because of the way cell phone operators work in Ukraine, many PCVs have SIM cards from more than one operator, and some even have multiple phones.
Maybe. Cell phones operate on different frequencies in Ukraine than in the US, but many American models will work in Ukraine. Check in your phone's manual or on the Internet to see if your model is a "tri-band" or "quad-band" GSM phone that uses a SIM card. If it is, call your cell phone service provider before you leave and ask them to give you the unlock code for your model. Once in Ukraine, you'll save money when you only have to buy a new SIM card and not a whole new phone.
Cell phones are widely and cheaply available in Ukraine, with the cheapest basic models beginning around 275 UAH (approximately $35, at current exchange rates). All phones are sold independently of mobile service. There are three primary operators in Ukraine (Kyivstar, MTS, and life:)), and phones will work with SIM cards from any operator. Although contract service is available, and works similarly to that in the US, most Volunteers have pre-paid accounts. Starter packages are available from all operators, which includes a SIM card and a small amount of initial credit/minutes. Credit is added to your account by using pre-paid “scratch cards”, which have instructions for use on their backs. All of the operators have tariff plans that allow “free” calls within their own network, and some plans also include free text messaging in their networks also. Incoming calls and texts are always free – only the person making the call or sending the text message pays. During your first few days of training, your language teacher will usually help walk you through purchase and set-up of a cell phone.
Yes. PCVs who bring laptops appreciate them, and many who don't bring laptops wish they did. Even if you do not have regular Internet access, a laptop is very useful when preparing documents, lesson plans, grant applications, keeping a journal, etc. Printers are available to purchase, and many towns and villages have at least one place where documents can be printed for a fee. Many Host Organizations will allow Volunteers to use their printers for work-related business. Laptops are also good for watching movies, listening to music, and storing pictures from a digital camera, and if you have regular Internet access, it is a good way to communicate with friends and family back home.
No, it is no. The electricity supply voltage is 220 volts, 50 Hz in Ukraine. The power adapters that come with most computers switch automatically from 110/120V to 220/240V. To check your power adapter, look for a label with a line like “INPUT: 110-220V AC 50-60Hz”. If the “V” includes 220, and the “Hz” includes 50, then all that is necessary will be a plug adapter. If the power adapter is not rated for 220V, then you might be able to purchase one from the manufacturer before leaving the US.
Surge protectors designed for general use are readily available in Ukraine, although ones manufactured specifically for laptop computers are more difficult to find. Most PCVs plug their power adapters directly into the wall without experiencing problems.
Desktops, both custom-built and pre-manufactured can be purchased in Ukraine for approximately the same cost as in the US although the brand will be local. Laptops are available in electronics stores in many larger cities, although more expensive than in the US. Apple-manufactured desktops and laptops are very hard to find and will cost significantly more. Computers purchased in Ukraine will generally run a Russian-language version of Windows, although Linux is available on custom-built models and will come with a local warranty. If you are planning to use a laptop during your Peace Corps service in Ukraine, it is highly recommended that you buy it in the US.
Many PCVs do have Internet access at home, although the speed and quality of the connection can vary widely. Volunteers with Internet access at home use cable/fiber-optic modems, DSL, mobile modems and dial-up, depending on the availability and prices of such connections at site. If everything works properly, what kind of speeds can I expect? Speed depends on the type of connection. A broadband connection (via cable or fiber-optic) can be between 24-100 Mbit/s; DSL between 256kbps-24Mbit/s, a mobile modem connected over 3G up to 3.6Mbit/s, mobile modem connected over EDGE/GRPS up to 256kpbs, and dial-up between 28kbps-56kbps. A 4 megabyte file will download in approximately 5-10 second over broadband, 5 seconds to 2 minutes over DSL, 20-30 seconds over 3G, 1-2 minutes over EDGE/GRPS, and 10-20 minutes over dial-up. The slower connections are more common and generally less expensive than faster connections.
If a Volunteer does not have Internet access at home, in many cases they will have access to the Internet at work. Many libraries in regional and oblast centers will have computers and Internet access available for the general public. Internet cafes are found in most towns and cities, although those are primarily used by Ukrainian teenagers and young adults for playing games. Almost every Volunteer in Ukraine lives in an area with cell-phone coverage, and a mobile modem will allow you to check your e-mail, although the connection might be slow and tariff plans expensive if you're using the modem frequently.
Some cafes and restaurants in cities and larger towns will have WiFi, and the Peace Corps Office in Kyiv recently installed a wireless network for Volunteer use.
During PST (and only during PST) mail should be sent to you at the following address:
Your Name, Training Group Number
Peace Corps Ukraine
P.O. Box 298,
All mail sent here will be inspected by the US Embassy mail room and forwarded to your at your training site.
No. All mail sent to PCTs is routed through the US Embassy in Kyiv, which will only accept letters and flat envelopes. Packages will be refused and returned to the sender.
Peace Corps Ukraine recommends Peace Corp Volunteers rent a post office box at the post office serving their city/town. Other PCVs receive mail at their organization or school. All mail from family and friends in the US should be sent directly to your mailing address at site, instead of to the Peace Corps office in Kyiv.
Letters sent airmail normally arrive within 7 to 21 days. Letters to the US take approximately the same time.
PCVs are not authorized to use the Department of State Pouch mail.
The important thing is to insure that the envelope is strong enough to hold the contents. It is important to remember that being in a padded envelope will not prevent the contents of your envelope from being examined by Ukrainian Customs.
Once you have an address at site, your family and friends can send packages to that address. Packages must always be picked up at the post office, and you will need to show ID. All packages sent to Ukraine go through customs, although not all packages are opened for inspection. Packages containing money, jewelry or medicine CANNOT be cleared through Ukrainian customs, and will be returned to their senders in the US. Packages should be addressed in both English and Ukrainian or Russian, and should not list any official title or project name. Packages with a declared value of less than $200 values may be picked up without paying an additional customs duty; although some post offices may charge a small fee when you claim a package. Additionally, Ukrainian customs officials are authorized to change the declared value on any package; if you receive a shipment of 10 baseball bats, with a declared value of $199, the official inspecting the package may change the value to $250 and you will be required to pay customs duty Depending on the size and weight of the contents, USPS Priority Mail Flat-Rate boxes might be the best value for sending packages from the US to Ukraine. Packages shipping Priority Mail generally arrive within 7-14 days.
Yes. However, recent changes in Ukrainian custom regulations mean that all packages sent by freight carriers, such as UPS, FedEx, DHL and others, are subject to mandatory Customs inspection, irrespective of declared contents or value. For this reason, it is recommended that your family and friends use the USPS. Generally speaking, only a small percentage of packages are opened and fully inspected; this seems to happens more frequently when the packages contain electronic devices. Some PCVs and their families recommend MEEST (www.meest.net), a frieght company based in New Jersey. MEEST offers rates that are significantly cheaper than the USPS, although delivery can take as long as 6 weeks.
Grocery stores similar to those in the US are appearing all over Ukraine, but most PCVs shop in open-air markets and small shops that sell produce and all the other necessities of life, from wonderful black bread to carrots, cabbage, beets, and potatoes to live chickens, sour cream, cheese and clothing. These bazaars allow you to taste many items before purchasing them. It is unlikely you will find fresher products anywhere else and they open early so you can shop before you go to work for the day. In bazaars and small shops, you will need to ask the shop keeper for the items you would like, as they are generally kept behind a counter.
Part of the experience of being in Peace Corps is learning about a new culture and food and Ukraine is no different. In the small shops and bazaars, selection might be more limited and seasonal than Americans are used to. If you experiment a bit, you will find products you like or suitable substitutes. You may find products you like better than those you find in the USA. It is likely you will find certain vendors you prefer and will deal with regularly. Once you develop rapport with them, they will often make sure you get products. The family of one PCV came to visit in June during strawberry season. They went to market several days in a row to buy berries for freezing. On the last trip to buy strawberries, the vendor they had been dealing with told them her berries were not very good that day. She personally took them to another vendor who had better berries. This kind of treatment is not unusual. Another PCV went to their regular bread vendor and was told the bread they normally buy was not fresh that day and to buy something else. This is typical of how Ukrainians will take care of people they know. Many PCVs come to prefer the taste of Ukrainian condiments such as ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard and others, over their American equivalents.
Ukraine operates on the metric system and therefore, things are purchased in full or partial liters or by grams/kilograms. (One liter is equal to 1.06 quarts and one kilogram is equal to 2.20 pounds.) At restaurants and cafes, you order portions and drinks in grams. Eggs are not purchased in dozens, but in tens.
Coke products are generally available everywhere, but not the variety found in the US. In Ukraine, you will find Coke and Coke Light (similar to Diet Coke). Pepsi is more difficult to find. Mars candies are readily available (Mars, Snickers, M & Ms), but Hershey products (Hershey bars, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Kisses) are not. Ukrainians love sweets, however, and even the smallest shops will carry a variety of local brands. Peanut butter and popcorn may be found in modern supermarkets that are becoming more popular around the country.
Ukrainian shops do not follow the same restocking patterns you may be used to in the US. Unless the product is very common, you probably should not count on seeing it every time you go to the market. You may want to stock up on non-perishables when you find them available. Fresh produce is seasonal so you may want to try your hand at canning and preserving items for the winter months.
One thing you will notice in Ukraine is how seasonable things are. Fruits and veggies are here for a period of time and then gone until the same time the next year. Western-style supermarkets are becoming increasingly popular, and one can often find frozen, canned, and imported fruits and veggies for a price. Certain canned veggies, such as corn, peas, and certain kinds of beans are available even in village stores year round. You can also normally buy things like potatoes, cabbage, onions, carrots, and beets year round in the market.
Pork is the staple meat in Ukraine. Chicken is also used in many dishes. Beef is more difficult to find. There are few standalone butcher shops, but you will find that meat is readily available in markets, albeit recently butchered and unpackaged. Chicken parts and boneless chicken breasts and are often maintained in meat cases similar to what we see in the US. You can even find rotisserie chicken kiosks and trailers in many communities. There are all kinds of sausages available and you can find hot dogs everywhere.
Yes, although you might not be able to find a specific product from a specific brand. Colgate, Gillette, L'Oreal, Garnier, Pantene, Dove, Kotex and Tampax products are all common in Ukraine. There are also a variety of European and local brands, many of which are less expensive than the familiar American brands. Don't be afraid to ask your host family or other Ukrainians for recommendations, or to try a different brand.
All Volunteers in Ukraine were invited to serve in a professional capacity. CD, TEFL and YD Volunteers work with community organizations, schools, orphanages or social-service organizations. Personal appearance is very important in Ukraine, and dressing professionally helps PCVs make good first impressions during their initial weeks at site. For women, appropriate and professional work attire includes dress pants or skirts paired with blouses or sweaters, or dresses, paired with dress shoes. Although the majority of Ukrainian women wear high heels, flats are also appropriate. For men, dress slacks or khakis paired with sweaters, polo or Oxford shirts are appropriate. A jacket and tie are usually not required for daily wear, however they are important to have for more formal occasions. In the winter, boots are an necessary substitute for dress shoes for both male and female PCVs, and many of your colleagues will wear heavy sweaters indoors. It is also important that clothes be clean, ironed or free of wrinkles, and that shoes are kept clean and polished or shined. Ukraine styles are somewhat different than in the United States, but clothing acceptable as business or professional dress in the US will be accepted as such in Ukraine.
Ukrainian casual dress is typically less casual than the American equivalent, especially for women. Women's styles tend to be shorter, tighter and more revealing. Jeans are popular, although tighter and flashier. T-shirts and shorts are appropriate, however less commonly worn by Ukrainians. Sneakers are popular among youth, but bright athletic shoes aren't worn casually. It is important that even casual clothes be kept clean, wrinkle-free and in good repair. You will likely see your colleagues and students outside of work, especially in smaller towns and villages, and maintaining a neat appearance is important even when you are not working.
Many PCVs find that their daily wardrobes in Ukraine are significantly smaller than in the United States, or find themselves not wearing many of the items they brought from home. Ukrainians frequently wear a single outfit for multiple days in a row, or rotate between 2-3 outfits over a week, and many PCVs adopt a similar strategy. When selecting items to bring to Ukraine, try to choose quality over quantity. Plan to wear pieces multiple times before washing, mixing and matching to create a variety of outfits. Do not forget to bring casual clothing, again aiming for quality over quantity. Many PCVs (adopting a Ukrainian custom) will change out of work clothes after work, and spend most of their time in casual clothes. Bring your favorite sweatshirt and sweatpants to wear around the house. Many PCVs find that the selection of underwear and bras in Ukraine, especially men's underwear and women's bras, is significantly different that the selection in the US. If you prefer a certain brand or style, or wear a larger size bra, it is recommended that you bring extras, to replace items that wear out. Hand washing can be especially harsh on these items.
Ukraine, generally speaking, has hot summers and cold winters. In some regions of Ukraine, the temperatures in July and August can reach over 90 degrees Fahrenheit while average temperatures in January and February can be between 0-10 degrees Fahrenheit. Very few PCVs work in air-conditioned buildings, and in winter, thermostats are generally set lower than they are in the US. For summer, clothes made of cotton, linen or other light, breathable fibers will help keep you cool. Many PCVs find that they are unprepared for the summer heat, and buy clothing in Ukraine during their first summer. For winter, bringing thermal long underwear and undershirts will allow you to layer clothing. Wearing long underwear under pants, or wearing sweaters over shirts can help you stay warm, especially as you walk to work or ride on public transportation. Additionally, multiple pieces of lightweight layers are easier to wash and dry than a single heavy item.
The majority of PCVs hand wash their laundry, although some do have access to either agitators or “regular” washing machines. Clothes are dried on clotheslines outside or on balconies, or on drying racks indoors. Irons can be purchased in Ukraine, although it recommended that you bring clothing that will not need to be ironed. It is helpful to bring clothing that is easy to wash and that dries quickly. Cotton items are good for summer, but heavy cotton jeans and sweaters are difficult to hand wash and take a long time to dry in winter. Pants, sweaters, and underwear made of polyester, acrylic and other man-made fibers generally resist dirt, require no ironing, are easy to wash and will dry quickly. Wool or silk long underwear can be worn under pants and sweaters in winter, and will be easier to wash and dry than the heavier items.
Dry cleaners can generally be found in larger cities and towns, although many dry cleaners in Ukraine only wash linens and towels. Where service for clothes is available, the price may be high and it make take several days. However, many clothes labeled as dry clean only can be safely washed in cold water and dried on a flat surface or line dried, although it is recommended you test this before bringing these items to Ukraine.
All but the smallest villages in Ukraine will have an area of the bazaar where clothing is sold, either new or second-hand. In larger towns, there also might be clothing stores, selling either new or second-hand items or department stores with clothing sections. In Kyiv and other larger cities, you will be able to find many of the same brand names as you would in the US or Western Europe, although these items are expensive on a PCV budget. Many towns also have a tailor, who can make, alter or repair clothes for very reasonable prices. Many PCVs purchase clothing at second-hand shops, where the items available are generally from Europe. The condition of second-hand clothing is generally very good, the quality is usually high, and the prices can be very low. Many PCVs find that they leave Ukraine without all the clothes they arrived with, as pieces wear out and are replaced during their two years of service.
You will most likely be doing much more walking than you did in the US. Roads in Ukrainian towns and villages are frequently dirt, and sidewalks are generally only found in town centers. Shoes for work should be sturdy, comfortable, and also stylish. There is little difference between men's dress shoes in Ukraine and those in the US, but women's dress shoes are usually high heeled. Female PCVs find that dress flats are not only appropriate, but allow them to more safely walk in mud and on uneven surfaces. Shoes are an important part of appearance in Ukraine, and keeping shoes shined, polished and in good repair will help you make a good impression at your workplace and in your community. Shoe repair shops are common and affordable, with almost every village and town having at least one. Waterproof boots, especially those lined for warmth, are important for winter. Female PCVs may want to purchase and bring their own waterproof winter dress boots, as Ukrainian boots usually include high heels and over-the-top designs. Sneakers and sandals are useful, especially during the summer and at camps. Many PCVs buy slippers soon after arriving in Ukraine, as shoes and boots are always removed when entering the house, and slippers can help keep your feet warm on cold floors.
The Country Desk should forward you the latest information about size and weight restrictions on luggage, which can vary with airline policy. You are generally expected to handle your own luggage, so make sure it is manageable. Wheeled luggage and backpacks are helpful. Large luggage that collapses or compresses when empty will be easier to store in apartments where storage space can be limited. It is a good idea to bring backpacks for traveling around Ukraine. A large pack is useful for longer trips, while a smaller backpack or duffel bag is essential for weekend travel. Large wheeled pieces are impractical for regular travel on buses and trains, and the uneven roads and sidewalks can be difficult to navigate.
As in many cultures, people in Ukraine respect older PCVs. Older Volunteers arrive with a wealth of experience. Younger people may receive less respect simply because of their age and lack of experience, and they are more likely to have to prove themselves before they are accepted.
Social attitudes toward equal opportunity are not what you are used to in the US. It is common to see employment ads in newspapers specifying the applicant's age, marital status, gender, etc. In some cases, employers may request photographs. While women are active in Ukrainian society and in the workplace, men are generally viewed as more influential than women are. Behavior that many Americans would consider inappropriate may be accepted as normal. For example, casual touching between colleagues is much more common in Ukraine than in the US. However, Peace Corps takes sexual harassment seriously, and PCVs that experience harassment are encouraged to report the incident and get help.
There are public toilets in Ukraine, but the quality is mixed. Public toilets in railway and bus stations will generally charge a small fee, which will allow you to enter the bathroom and take toilet paper from the attendant. In some places, there are public toilets that are free of charge, but you must supply your own toilet paper and the facilities will not be as clean as a pay toilet. Most of these toilets are squat (or Turkish) toilets. Restaurants (including, of course, McDonald's) also have toilets and allow customers to use their bathrooms free of charge.
McDonald's is the largest American fast food chain in Ukraine, with stores in major cites and some large towns. McDonald's in Ukraine serves both the breakfast and standard menus. In Kyiv, there are many local chains that are very good. In other cities, the variety and options are fewer, but there are usually vendors selling hot dogs, pizza, and various traditional Ukrainian fast foods, too.
You can find Kodak, Fuji, and Konica film available in speeds ranging from 100 to 400 ASA. Eight hundred may be difficult to find. Throughout Ukraine, developing is readily available in either one hour or next day service. In Ukraine, unless you give specific instructions to make prints, the film is simply developed into negatives, which are in the form of a continuous strip. You view the negatives and select which ones you wish to print. Developing of panoramic film is not available at present. Most mid size or larger towns will have a store set up to print digital prints directly from your memory stick, CD, CD-RW or floppy disk.
It's a good idea. Many PCVs live in apartment buildings with staircases that are unlit at night, and some PCVs use outhouses that are unlit at night. Many Ukrainians carry cell phones with built-in flashlights. A good flashlight is also useful during power outages.
This is not necessary since PCVs worldwide are prohibited from driving in their country of service. Public transportation is readily available almost everywhere in Ukraine, and trains and buses will get you from city to city.
Everyone hopes that emergencies will not arise, but the correct procedure during working hours (8:30 AM until 5:00 PM) is to contact Peace Corps in Washington at 1-800-424-8250, extension 1470. After working hours, contact the Peace Corps Duty Officer at 202-638-2574. They will provide information on the next step and contact Peace Corps Ukraine. By contacting Peace Corps Washington first, necessary steps for action are expedited. If your family contacts you first, you will still have to notify Peace Corps Ukraine before you can take other actions.
Search Facebook for Peace Corps Ukraine Group pages, as this seems to be where the most lively pre-arrival discussions take place. If you have questions for the office in Ukraine, you can contact them directly. Also consider participating in the Peer Advisor program, a system that matches Peace Corps Ukraine Invitees with currently-serving Peace Corps Ukraine Volunteers. The training coordinator will be in touch with you to inform you how to sign up. Good luck!