So You're Worried About Your Saftey
I've gotten a ton of emails from prospective volunteers and most of them contain some variation of this sentence:
" I want to join the Peace Corps in Ukraine but I am / My Parents are worried about the war and if it is safe."
When I finally announced I was going most people I knew had the same questions for me. I knew this would be such an issue that I didn't tell anyone other than my parents and my boss untill I had been offered an invitation because I didn't want to worry anyone unnecessarily. So I've dedicated today's blog post to the safety and security side of the Peace Corps in the hopes of easing the anxieties of either prospective volunteers and or families of volunteers.
So let's take safety!
The Conflict in the East.
I'm sure most everyone is aware that the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk are currently being invaded and that Crimea has been occupied. (among other places) I've had a lot of people ask me if I feel unsafe due to the occupation. Frankly it is almost easy to forget it is happening. But then I see the pictures of the soldiers who have died in the square and crying grandmothers waving goodbye to their soldier grandsons at the train station.
Ukraine is at war, which obviously comes with risk and uncertainty to volunteers serving here. The Peace Corps's Safety office has broken the country up into regions that have different levels of access. There are parts of the country that we are not under any circumstances allowed to enter. Some regions we can not enter without express permission to do so. All of those requests are properly vetted for our safety. Then the other regions we can travel freely by notifying our managers of any over night stays.
You might be thinking, okay Katie that sounds great if it stays neatly packed into your cute little zones but what if it doesn't. Good point. If conflict in the east were to escalate. Or any other circumstance were to escalate the Peace Corps has a tiered evacuation plan to ensure our safety. This is active in every country and we are briefed on what each stage entails and have a real time drill each year to ensure that all volunteers are comfortable and knowledgeable about the process. We have a whole office of wonderful people who constantly monitor the safety situation in country as well as a division in Washington that monitors threats all over the world for Embassies and volunteers alike.
Likelihood of an Evacuation.
So, you are now aware that we have a system in place that results, if fully completed, with an evacuation. But you might be wondering how trigger happy the Peace Corps is to initiate this.
The Peace Corps in no way takes out safety for granted or views it as anything other than important. The entirety of PC Ukraine was evacuated after the escalation of the protests in 2013/2014. Other countries are evacuated due to weather or other natural disasters and unrest. If our safety is truly threatened they will pull the necessary volunteers. I have never once felt like a second rate citizen and worried about my safety or being left here in an unsafe situation.
Still worried about the safety of the country. Okay, that's valid. What happens if you get robbed on a train, or pick pocketed in a subway, or even worse, followed home? We have 24 hour access to a member of the Peace Corps staff whose job it is to walk us through any dangerous situation and make sure all the volunteers are safe!
Recently I was in Kyiv returning to my site via a train. Myself and another volunteer arrive at the train station around 8:30 at night (so well after the working day was over) to find it totally evacuated and a small perimeter set up. We walked up to the security guard manning the barricade closest to us and asked him what was wrong. He apologized for not knowing much English but was able to literally say two words to us. He just goes um, Bomb, Terrorist. ( which are words I don't know in Ukrainian so I didn't understand his initial explanation. ) Obviously that is pretty unsettling and we were a bit worried. The perimeter wasn't super far away and all the military looked pretty calm so we took that to mean they weren't super worried about the situation. But still, just to be safe we called the number. They answered after one ring ( at 8:30 at night) assessed the situation, walked us through what we should do next and followed up to make sure everything was okay)
Wrapping it Up.
All of this to say, don't expect your Peace Corps service to be a cake walk. But also don't expect your life to be in danger. You are no more at risk here than anywhere else in the world. (Maybe not the most rousing team captain speech but it's the truth. ) It is smart to be worried about your safety because that makes you aware and if you are aware and alert then you can be vigilant. And if you are vigilant then you will be fine.
This is an amazing country at a fascinating point in their history. Don't let fear of the unknown stop you from taking a big bold step. After all, A big outcome required a big risk.