Earlier this week I was asked by one of my best friends to go to Lviv for a wine festival. I was really tempted because Lviv is one of the most beautiful cities in Ukraine and it is a great place to let loose. However, I had just got back from a long journey to Vinnystia and I promised one of my friends I would go to an event with her and her husband the same weekend. It is strange, but I am more than glad I chose not to go. It led to two unforgettable experiences.
The first unforgettable experience was the engagement dinner for my host sister and her fiancé. It was an honor for me to be a part of this tradition because this is only for the couple’s very close family. It was interesting to see this unfold. One of the most interesting parts of this situation is the exchange of a special cake called “Коровай” (Kor-o-vii). What happens in this situation is both families bake this cake and exchange it in good faith. It is a symbolic moment where the two families first acknowledge the conjoining of the partners and the families. Then, in Ukrainian fashion we sat down to homemade vodka and many dishes of food as the two families discuss the wedding plans.
From that lunch I headed home very quickly to change into a suit and headed off to the opening of a photo gallery honoring wounded soldiers who are living with a prosthetic. This was a very emotional event which highlighted the struggle Ukrainian soldiers endure after service. Not only was it a time to honor those wounded in the line of duty, but it was also a time for those who are currently serving in the war to network with civilians and other community activists.
One of the most emotional photos was a man with a prosthetic holding his baby tightly. This was an emotional photo because it spoke to the future of Ukraine. It is easy to get caught up in the present war. We rarely look forward to what the end of this conflict could mean for future generations of Ukrainians. What would a peaceful and prosperous resolution mean for this little baby in twenty years?
One of my favorite parts about this event was that the captions accompaning each photo was written in English and Ukrainian. This allowed for a more impactful experience. One of the captions quoted a veteran saying, “Do not be afraid to fall. Not everything in life goes the way we want it. The losers are the ones who do not try, not the ones who fall, but get back up again and move forward.” This quote came from a 25 year old. I was in shock as I stepped back from this caption to view the larger photo. Here is a 25 year old man who had fought for his country and almost died. Yet, he continues to persevere. Unforgettable and inspirational.
*These are the ideas of Richard J. Roman and are not affiliated will the Peace Corps or its affiliates.