summer in the city.

A handful of photos from our second excursion with the girls.



Ання (Anya) is seven years old.
She is grouped with the 'malankas', like several other girls I have introduced you to this far. She is not, however, as tiny as Olya, Nadya, or Znyjana. My guesstimate is that she is more than four feet tall (mind you, I don't have my dads gift of accurate estimation. I won't be following in his footsteps as a framer, I'll leave that to my brothers). Anya has big, brown eyes that are always laughing, and she is very affectionate. She loves to touch, grab, hug, and kiss. Anya also enjoys biting me, which is really not as violent as it sounds. Her mouth is usually wide open in a look of excitement, sometimes sharing her saliva with the rest of us :) (And for the record, I'm comfortable with slobber, boogers, and various other bodily fluids now. I like to think of it as bonding.)

Anya has limited motor skills. One of the older girls, Marina, usually aids Anya with movement. She supports Anya as she begins to walk, guiding her by the arm. Thanks to Marina's help, Anya is able to spend time at the Internat park with most of the other girls, and is also starting to take steps on her own. Marina will walk ahead of Anya, and keep moving backwards as Anya shakily inches forward. Gradually the distance between Marina and Anya grows, and occasionally is encouraged by onlookers. I admire the patience and gentleness that Marina displays with Anya!

Anya also lacks language skills. She makes loud, happy noises and I interpret them as signs of contentment. She loves naptime, finds comfort in sucking her thumb (as shown), and shows affection to everyone (especially Marina!). Like Znyjana, I have yet to see Anya in a less than positive mood. She is a hard worker, I can see this as she is beginning to learn basic movement skills.



Like Olya and Nadya, Зніжана (Znyjana) is another 'malanka.' And like Olya and Nadya, Znyjana is absolutely tiny! She is six years old, and is almost always a happy little camper. I haven't witnessed her in a bad mood at any point in the last few weeks. She is content to play by herself but at the same time is very social, and is easily entertained. She also loves being outside, and also loves climbing all over Miri, Jessica, and myself (we are becoming regular jungle gyms).

Znyjana has a small vocabulary, so she is more communicative than some of the other malankas. When we arrive, she usually says "Upah! Upah!" in hopes that we will pick her up, and/or tickle her. She tends to repeat what I say, so I tell her that she is "harna, harna" (pretty, pretty!). Another favourite phrase of Znyjana's is "Ni, ni, ni." Meaning "no, no, no." She has a bit of a mischievous side to her. When I notice that twinkle in her eye, "Ni, ni, ni" are usually the next words out of my mouth, and are then echoed by Znyjana.



Надія (Nadya) is also considered one of the malankas (like Olya, below). She is six years old, and, like Olya, looks much younger than her actual age because of her extremely small size. Nadya prefers to play by herself, and often ignores people (staff, the older girls, as well as Miri, Jessica, and myself) who try to communicate with her. She seems to be non-verbal - although I could be wrong, I might not have been around to hear her. She occasionally laughs, and when she does, she's all smiles. Those big toothy grins are rare but beautiful!

Nadya is independent, and is often fascinated by the tiniest objects that are usually overlooked. Some examples are string, scraps of paper, or what parts are left of a broken toy. The picture above displays this! She seems to be happiest when she is outside playing at the Internat park, or when one of the older girls swings her upside down. Maybe we will be able to coax Nadya out of her shell a bit by the end of the summer.



Луба (Luba) is one of the most infamous girls at the Internat. Based on what I had already heard from alum Valerie and Sarah while still in Waterloo, I knew she'd be giving us a run for our money. In the past she had a reputation for being quite violent with the other girls, as well as the volunteers - Sarah had been bitten by Luba more than once.

Luba is 17 years old, and we never know what to expect from her - some days she is nearly manic, wildly trying to catch our attention. This may involve a dramatic scene on the balcony, in full view while we take a minute to eat our lunches in the courtyard, or fighting with someone for using her markers. Yet other days I have been pleasantly surprised after spending an hour or so quietly drawing together (no language barrier there!). Yesterday we sat together when Gayla visited, singing along to an old praise and worship video made for kids, totally relaxed. To say the least, my 'Luba experiences' are lessons in patience.

As I am getting to know Luba, I guess I'm expecting the unexpected. Frankly, some days she drives us nuts and we are unsure how much attention we should be giving her. Other days we may not see her, and still others she will greet us with hugs, beaming and excited. She is a talented artist, she could dance for hours, and has brute strength like no other (push ups happen to be another interest of Luba's). She is expressive, and moody, and rough. She can amaze us with her energy but also worry us with her temper. Luba, like the rest of us, is a complex work in progress.



Оля (Olya) is considered one of the 'Маланкий' (malankas), which is the youngest organized group of girls at the Internat. Personally, I was shocked when I learned how old this 'malanka' (Ukrainian term for little, or baby) is - she is nine years old!

She has koala like characteristics; she is strong (despite being oh so tiny) and can literally "climb" me like a tree. Given this routine, I often refer to her as my little koala.

Olya is non-verbal, and has an adorable laugh. Olya loves tickling, blowing kisses, flapping her arms, and eating absolutely ANYTHING (recent snacks have included grass, crumbs, flowers, paper, dirt, pieces of garbage).

spoiler alert.

A heads up for you: over the next two months or so, I am going to try my very hardest to provide you with an accurate look at what we are doing at the Internat. In particular, who we are building relationships with --- the gang of girls who are providing us with joy, with frustrations, with laughter, and with tears.

Back in Waterloo, I had many conversations with Ruby that were both insightful and inspiring. Thanks to her advice, my head was (and still usually is) bursting with ideas. One such idea was to provide the girls of the Internat with a voice - something which they've never really had. I am hoping to tell their stories, as best I can and to introduce them to the world (even if that world is only made up of curious family and friends back in Canada, it is still a world outside of the Internat walls).

Up until this point, it has been difficult to gather any definite information about any one of the girls. As Jessica has recently explained, the three of us may know the same girl by three different names. Many of the girls are non-verbal, others have little to no communication skills. And then there is the whole language barrier to think about. Plus - each girl has arrived at the Internat under unique circumstances. Some have been there less than a year, while others have been there as long as they can remember - the Internat is their whole world.

Yet after a meeting last week with Irena, the general supervisor (...or, as Miri says, the house matron) we found out (through our translater, Orest) that there are existing records and documentation of each of the girls, which we are surprisingly welcome to go through. This is a pretty big deal - and will hopefully provide us with some answers to our endless questions. Starting next week, Orest will be joining us at the Internat to help us translate the records.

In the meantime - I will post what I can. Bear with me. And fall in love with these precious, awesome, crazy kids.


borsch for breakfast... and other dining misadventures.

I am not an adventurous eater.
If you know me at all, it is probably something you've noticed at some point. It is unlikely that I'll ever give up staples such as French fries or chocolate, or stop eating cereal for supper.
Before I left for the Ukraine, my dear mother would often question me, possibly exasperated at my bad habits. "Jennifer, what on earth are you going to eat when you're there?!" To which I would say, "Whatever they give me," and shrug. The Ukrainian diet was the least of my worries as I prepared.

I once heard someone say that Ukrainian women are born to feed people. And whether or not that is legit, my host баба (grandma) Slava is one excellent example of this myth. From day one, Slava has been offering me food constantly... first thing in the morning: "Jenny! Yiste!" right up until bedtime, when tea is prepared and snacks are laid out. Back in May, my first meal with Slava, Ihor (her son), and Iryna (her daughter in law) was an overwhelming smorgasboard of strange new flavours - борщ (borsch), варенуку (varenyky), and mysterious forms of meat (a combination of pork and beef? I keep telling myself it's just chicken) among several other dishes.

I always know what will be served for breakfast - my morning routine consists of an omelette (I've eaten approximately 42 omelettes here in Ukraine) and a wee cup of coffee (I'm getting an extra large coffee at the first Tim Horton's I see in August! Ukrainians are not big on caffeine). Lunch is typically sandwiches, or Канапкий, made by the Slavster. And dinner, well, dinner is almost always a surprise.It may be any combination of salad (with a healthy coat of vegetable oil? plus salt), veggies (often fresh from the dacha), borsch, a form of potato, and possibly holubtsi and/or varenyky. This is all accompanied by a side dish of sour cream - Сметана!

Even eating chips here has been an edible adventure - I assumed that the blue and green bag with the picture of the octopus on it would be salt and vinegar flavoured, based on the very nautical packaging. Nooooooope. They were calamari chips. Don't think they've made their way to Canada yet, nor have my flavour of the week -- sour cream and cheese. Deeeelicious.

One last yummy anecdote: I was able to sleep in gloriously late this past Saturday. I will not even say what time I awoke, because my parents - especially my dad - would be apalled. All I can say is that it was afternoon. (Side note: I am really good at sleeping.) Anyways, Slava was in the kitchen, pointing out the time of day and giving me a Ukrainian lecture. I know that I was not in trouble because she was laughing. However, to my great disappointment, it turns out it was far too late in the day for an omelette or even some coffee - Slava only makes coffee in the am? Unsure.
Anyways, out comes a heaping bowl of borsch - beets, beets, and moooooooore beets. As well as holubtsi (made of cabbage and other delightful veggies... Mom! I eat cabbage now!) and potatoes and sandwiches to boot. The breakfast of champions. As delicious as this meal was, I don't think I fully enjoyed it because mentally, I just couldn't consider these dishes breakfast-appropriate. Silly, I know. I learned my lesson. I will not be sleeping that late ever again... while under Slava's roof, at least. I value my routine breakfast of omelettes and coffee (precious coffee) far too much.


Па Па, fellow Canadians.

Checking in to simply say farewell to the gang from Saskatchewan and that guy from Calgary.
From that first sleepy bus ride departing Lviv; to our lunches in the nook, praying for French fries; wandering through Ternopil's centre; our regular walks through the парк - it's been nice to get to know you all and even better to have the company of fellow Canucks in this foreign land.
All the best, safe travels as you head home --- you best be keeping in touch. Па Па!


a blessing named Gayla.

Today seemed like any other Tuesday in Ternopil - started my day with Slava knocking on my door ("Jennyyyyy... yiste!"), had an omelette and Кава for brekky, caught the #19 with Jessica around 9, at the Інтернат by 10. My morning with the girls involved a rousing game of Monkey in the Middle, some soccer, a lot more dancing (much to Tamara's delight), cuddling the маланка's, and drawing... Miri and I were in a classroom with a few of the older girls, colouring to our hearts' content, wondering what had happened to our third musketeer.

Jess finally found us after spending some time outside in the courtyard with an American missionary named Gayla and her Ukrainian translater, Lena. Gayla and her husband have been living in Ternopil for the past thirteen years, and most Tuesdays, Gayla and Lena come to visit the girls of the Інтернат. Gayla has been teaching the girls songs, telling them the stories of Jesus, and simply loving them - slowly but surely breaking down their tough exteriors over the past few years.
It was awesome to get to know Gayla this morning, as she is a wealth of information. She knows the stories of individual girls, of how they ended up living here. She knows how to work around the director, to ensure that funds and supplies are beneficial to the girls - not his bank account. And she knows that each girl is of incredible worth, despite the strong social stigma that exists throughout Ukrainian society. She is a sassy woman, matter of fact and clearly full of devotion to her faith. I'm looking forward to her Tuesday visits, and am thrilled to know that we are not the only regular visitors that these girls see.


Carpathian recap.

A week ago, Jessica and I found ourselves stuck in a mini bus with two Ukrainian teachers; a gaggle of loud, sweaty teenagers - one of whom had motion sickness; without any fresh air or any idea as to how long our journey would be. And without any clue as to what we were getting ourselves into!

It took us roughly four hours to drive from Ternopil to a small village in the Carpathian Mountains. We were welcomed by beautiful, lush scenery, quaint cottages plus a tethered mountain goat who later made quite the impression on me. Click the link, Jessica tells the story well. We explored the riverbank behind our cottage before climbing a miniature mountain that afternoon - approximately 900m or so. Zig zagging our way to the top, we admired the colourful homes found along the trails and the incredible views.

Exhausted, we thought our trek downward would be simple... but no. Instead, our guide led us through the forest, explaining the legend of Oleska Dovbush. Apparently, he was the live Ukrainian version of Robin Hood. He and his merry men robbed the wealthiest Carpathians and distributed the goods to their poor countrymen, often hiding out in the forests and caves of the area. Until, unfortunately, he was betrayed by a sly woman and executed - his body parts on display throughout area villages to serve as an example. What a badass.

Exploring caves and roasting delicious food was also on the agenda of our first Carpathian day. We woke early the next morning (Tuesday) and boarded the mini bus, on our way to the Карпатський Аціональний Рииодрий Парк, otherwise known as the Carpathian National Nature Park. Home of the mighty Mount Hoverla, Ukraine's highest peak of 2,061m.

Our Hoverla guide had much more pizazz and personality than our guide the day before, making the steep hike up the mountain that much more enjoyable. We also had the chance to get to know the posse of teens much better - turns out they were excited to practice their English, and were full of questions about Canada. Guess my first impression of them was quite wrong, and they continued to surprise and charm Jess and I throughout the rest of our time together.

Climbing Hoverla has been one of my favourite experiences of the past few weeks - it is incredibly hard to describe just how small and insignificant I felt as I worked my way up the mountain. Completely in awe of my surroundings and Creation in general, I sang to myself as I plugged on up the last stretch... loving life, one hundred percent. We celebrated by building an inukshuk, leaving a little bit of Canada at the top of the world.

The rest of our Carpathian adventure was spent around the campfire, drinking and toasting some mighty strong "Carpathian wine" with students and teachers alike (note - it is disgusting), visiting Bukovel (potential site of the 2018 Winter Olympics... right on), and exploring the waterfalls and Hutsul markets of Yaremche. All in all, an awesome three days spent exploring with new Ukrainian friends.


from the top of Mt. Hoverla...

The view from the top of the world - or at least 2,061m.
An incredibly beautiful day spent in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains.


one month down...

It seems as though I have spent more than just one month here in Ternopil. I have a general grasp of the language - at least, I'm becoming a great little actress... I can sure pretend that I understand most conversations directed at me! I've gotten familiar with the transportation system - schedules are clearly overrated, and my sense of direction has improved. Slava's antics keep me entertained each day - my favourites are her aerobic routines and the "Richku" song (or is it an advertisement?!) that is always on the radio.
And, not surprisingly, I am already brainstorming ways to sneak a child or two into my suitcase home... the girls of the Internat definitely tire us out - maybe even drive us crazy - each and every day, but they are all worming their way into my heart at the same time. I think the growing attachment is inevitable, and leaving this rag tag group of beautiful kids will obviously be difficult. The words "be fully present" were often used in preparation for this journey [see past blog entries, you'll know what I mean], and are words to live by each day - take it as it comes and enjoy it while it lasts.

Miri, Jessica, and I spent some time together this morning listing questions to ask Irena (a supervisor at the Internat) and throwing out a variety of ideas. Definitely a successful brainstorming session, another step taken towards defining our Internat plans. The three of us have distinctly different talents and abilities (not to mention personalities!), and I know that we are all capable of accomplishing whatever goals we set for the weeks ahead - if we remain flexible and maintain a sense of humour. As we plan, we're going to have to live by the words of Ms. Frizzle herself, "Take chances, make mistakes!" (...Magic Schoolbus, anyone?!) ...We've got to start somewhere.


a very brief update, in 200 words or less.

Finishing classes at THNPU and starting full time work at the Internat has meant a drastic change in my Ukrainian routines. To say that our first week of work at the Internat has been overwhelming is an understatement - we are still learning the names, ages, and abilities of each girl, in addition to brainstorming what sort of activities or programming will make the best possible use of our time there.

In addition to introductions at the Internat, Jessica, Miri and I have been busy exploring Ukraine. We spent Saturday in Lviv with the rest of the Canadian students and professors Laryssa and Igor. We climbed to the highest peak above the city (400+ feet above sea level), explored the armoury, wandered through outdoor markets (my personal favourite), had a taste of home - McDonald's, and admired the view from the top of a bell tower.

On Sunday, I found myself at an обід feast with Slava and her family, participating in a Ukrainian festival that I have yet to figure out... involving reeds, branches, and an enormous assortment of food and гарілка! Delicious.

Jessica and I were able to visit the Carpathian Mountains over the past three days with Slava's granddaughter, Irynka (Ira). We climbed two mountains - over 3,000 feet! A whole new sense of admiration of God's handiwork from the top of Mt. Hoverla - absolutely stunning.

[Pictures and a much better description of recent events to be posted in the next few days... ]


look who's in Ternopil!

Visitors?! In Ternopil?!

That's right... SJU's own Scott Kline and his wonderful wife ( Жінка ) Megan are currently exploring Ukraine en route to Germany.

Miri, Jessica and I were able to meet them at THNPU this morning for lunch (обід). Scott and Megan met with university staff before continuing on to the Internat for the afternoon. We were able to give them a tour and introduce them to our girls, who were (of course) thrilled by the new faces!


sickness and health.

My fourth day at the Internat has been unsuccessful... as I have yet to leave Slava's apartment yet today. My time with the girls was cut short yesterday, as I dashed back and forth between the bathroom and the classroom. Not good.
Miri took one look at my pale face and ushered me outside for a breath of fresh air. We decided to pack it in early, and I would head home to rest. I actually think that I had spent more time navigating the Ternopil bus system yesterday than I did at the Internat, which is unfortunate, but just another bump in the road.

Jessica has been ill as well, and my assumption is that I caught a bug from her...? Not really a big deal. Unless it was all the varenyky I polished off the night before! (I hope not - because I'm counting on eating varenyky regularly until I leave Ukraine!)

Whereever this bug came from, I'm kicking it back to the curb - deciding that it was best to stay home from the Internat today, take some meds and sleep it off. This minor setback may have been a blessing in disguise for my sprained ankle as well - to have some quality r&r rather than spending another day trekking all over Ternopil by foot.

Explaining my early exit from the Internat to Slava yesterday was challenging, and she spent a lot of time questioning and fussing over me before I could convince her that sleep would be beneficial. Thankfully Ira (granddaughter, not daughter-in-law... confusing to have two Ira's in the family) has been visiting, once again acting as our trusty translator. I have a feeling there will be some chicken noodle soup on tonight's menu (I have overheard the term "kyrko" more than once... meaning chicken), knowing Slava and how well she has taken care of me in the last month.


Я Говорю по-Українськи Мова.

Here's a quick peek at what I have been studying over the last three weeks... the Українськи Мова, aka the Ukrainian language. I am adding a few words to my Ukrainian vocabulary each day - slooooowly but surely.


still overwhelmed.

Though Jessica and I have been able to visit the Internat twice while taking classes at THNPU, today was our first official day of work. It was also Miri's first Internat visit as well (tomorrow already marks her one week anniversary in Ukraine!). I can only speak for myself, but I am fairly certain that both Jess and Miri are feeling what I'm feeling right now - multiple conflicting emotions, especially the overwhelming sort.

The three of us met at THNPU, as it is a fairly central location from our host families. Oksana Pysarchuk (our former tutor and an overall delightful girl!) was able to tag along for an hour or so - this is always appreciated as her ability to translate comes in kinda handy... We could hear various sounds of laughter, yelling, and crying as we came around the back corner of the Internat - I turn to Miri and say, "Welcome to chaos." Within minutes, all four of us had been swarmed once again by girls of all ages. I was led to a bench, with girls literally all over me - two on my lap, one on each arm, another climbing up behind me. On the other side of the courtyard, the same scenario was unfolding for both Jess and Miri while Oksana was talking with staff.

The girls were called inside to eat lunch (обід) at 1, which gave us a small window of time to take everything in - nice to relax for a minute or two, at least! We talked with a young girl named Улана (Oolana), who lives nearby. She spends a lot of time at the Internat, playing with the girls, and was a huge help to us today in terms of communication and explanations. Hopefully we will be seeing her often. After their lunch, most of the girls head to their rooms to sleep. We spent the rest of the afternoon outside at the Internat park with some of the older girls, playing volleyball, and dancing - Луба (Luba) was an especially impressive interpretive dancer.

We left to catch our bus back into Ternopil around 3, our heads spinning. The three of us (Oksana had left earlier for class) feel that this week will be quite low key, as we'll familiarize ourself with all of the girls and their needs, as well as the staff and the facilities... Hoping to get a better idea of what the girls need most and how we can best serve them in the weeks ahead.