Ukrainians Come to Maderia

Contributed By: Susan Hill, article 6/21/10

If the Iron Curtain were still hanging, these six would not be in Madeira. Oleksandr Bezuglyy, Olena Bozhenko, Olga Fedchenko, Maryna Kotsura, and Anhelina Rusanova are young Ukrainian community leaders participating in the Open World Program in Cincinnati this week. Vasyl Romanyuk is the delegation’s facilitator. The goal of the Open World Program is for emerging Eurasian political and civic leaders to work with their U.S. counterparts to experience American-style democracy at the local level.

Their visit to the United States began with meetings with Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio, the staff of Senator George Voinovich, and District 2 Representative Jean Schmidt in Washington, DC earlier this week. Later in the week, they met the staff of District 1 Representative Steve Driehaus in his Carew Tower office in Cincinnati.

The Open World Program is a unique, nonpartisan initiative of the U.S. Congress to build mutual understanding between the United States and Eurasia. Over 15,000 Open World participants have been hosted in all 50 states since the program’s inception in 1999. Delegates range from members of parliament to mayors, from innovative nonprofit directors to teachers to experienced journalists, and from political party activists to regional administrators.

The Cincinnati-Kharkiv Sister City Partnership hosted the Cincinnati portion of the trip. The organization has facilitated the exchange of some 3,000 Ukrainians and Americans between the two countries. Accountable Governance and Non-governmental Organization (NGO) Development is the theme for this particular exchange.

The Ukrainian visitors met with Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory, Madeira City Manager Tom Moeller, and Columbia Township Administrator Mike Lemon and were able to ask questions through Sasha Etlin, a professional interpreter who lives in Anderson Township and the facilitator, Romanyuk. They also visited non-profits to understand how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) enhance the health, productivity, and lifestyles of local communities. Sites included Media Bridges, the Cincinnati Zoo, Save the Animals Foundation, Xavier University, Nativity School, Lighthouse Youth Services and United Way of Greater Cincinnati.

According to Romanyuk, one highlight was witnessing actual arrests being made by Cincinnati Police officers on a two hour ride along in a police cruiser. For Olga Fedchenko, whose husband is an ex-intercontinental professional boxer, it was visiting a golden gloves gym. She talked to boxing promoters about her husband’s interest in a week long boxing exchange where boxers from both countries would train together then compete in a championship. Fedchenko spoke on the live radio program Real Talk 1160 with Andy Furman about boxing.

Following the meeting with Madeira City Manager Tom Moeller, Olga Fedchenko presented Moeller with a personal invitation from her father, Vlodimir Bulba, to visit the city of Kharkiv for a symposium with managers and mayors of small cities. Bulba visited Cincinnati last October. See photo.

Jay DeWitt, of Madeira, who coordinated the host program, believes “The world is growing smaller every day. It is imperative that we learn to understand the cultures of other peoples and help them to understand ours.”

According to Romanyuk, who studied in Pennsylvania and in Edinborough, that is exactly what the program is doing.

“This program has Ukrainian civic and public servants acting as envoys of goodwill. They bring pride of their culture to the American people. They bring a human touch. They are experiencing what is noteworthy in the lives of average Americans while sharing the Ukrainian experience with them,” Romanyuk said.

Jay and Sue Hanson are hosting Oleksandr Bezuglyy and Vasyl Romanyuk in their Madeira home. Staying in an American home, rather than a hotel, allows the delegates to experience American family life.

“I went to Ukraine as teacher and stayed with a family,” Jay Hanson explains.

“I realized it was important to get to know people in their own homes. It’s been fun. These guys are really great. We took them to Red Lobster for dinner last night because they had never had lobster before. My wife is from New England and is an expert lobster cracker so she showed them how to do it. They got dirty and loved it.” Hanson said.

The delegates and their host families will attend a final farewell dinner hosted by Dominick and Sandy Ciolino in their Madeira home. Though they are were not involved in the program before they were asked to host the dinner, they say they are excited to share Madeira’s spirit of goodwill with the Ukrainian guests.

“We aspire to hold a vision of a world without borders or boundaries. As American neighbors, we share an openness to the world and trust that hosting this event is an expression of hospitality and a desire to build cross-cultural relationships,” the Ciolinos said.

At a wrap up discussion held Thursday night in Wyoming at Ascension Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, the Ukrainians unanimously judged the experience a success, Romanyuk stated.

“It was full of fun professional development and personal improvement with a good deal of emotional charge. Everyone is ready to go back home to do something that they would like to do. The beauty of this program is that it triggered some of the long range plans that they long dreamed of trying. They now have the strength and courage to embark on activities and long-dreamt plans,” Romanyuk said.