February 3, 2005: Headlines: COS - Ukraine: Scituate Mariner: Peace Corps Volunteer Gregory Mullen is returning to Kiev where he had an opportunity to share in what he called the "greatest experience" of his life

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ukraine: Peace Corps Ukraine : The Peace Corps in the Ukraine: February 3, 2005: Headlines: COS - Ukraine: Scituate Mariner: Peace Corps Volunteer Gregory Mullen is returning to Kiev where he had an opportunity to share in what he called the "greatest experience" of his life

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Peace Corps Volunteer Gregory Mullen is returning to Kiev where he had an opportunity to share in what he called the "greatest experience" of his life

Peace Corps Volunteer Gregory Mullen is returning to Kiev where he had an opportunity to share in what he called the greatest experience of his life

Peace Corps Volunteer Gregory Mullen is returning to Kiev where he had an opportunity to share in what he called the "greatest experience" of his life

Back in the USSR

By Jillian Fennimore/ jfennimo@cnc.com

Thursday, February 3, 2005

Gregory Mullen's parents encouraged him to study abroad during his time in college.

Three years after graduating, he has a world of experience under his belt.

A University of Richmond graduate and a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, Mullen has been spending recent years in Ukraine, trying to break the language barrier and learning to adapt to a culture far from what he was used to in his hometown of Scituate.

"I wanted some kind of struggle," he said of his Peace Corps assignment to the former Soviet Union nation.

According to Mullen, the Peace Corps is a two-year commitment, but on Jan. 30 after spending a month at home with his family, he boarded a plane to take 11-hour flight back to Ukraine for another year after spending a month at home.

For Peace Corps volunteers, some leaving lives of luxury, the change they experience is vast living in a new country and an unfamiliar culture. Volunteers are expected to embark on a project to benefit their new community.During his time in the Ukraine, Mullen made contributions in the field of education.

Through teaching economics classes to students at the local Kryvyi Rih Economic Institute in Kiev, Ukraine, Mullen found a great need for supplies like textbooks and an even greater need to inspire and motivate students.

Mullen said he came in with high expectations for his classes which ranged in size from 25 to 50 students, but he found disappointment instead.

"There are such bright kids; but some of them just don't care," he said.

Part of that could be linked to the tough living conditions many of them face in the country, with poverty numbers increasing and retail prices on textbooks too high for even the average student to afford, according to Mullen.

To bring new hope and drive to his students, he has taken on a project to open a bookstore within the institute to provide proper resources for its 3,000 full-time students. And by working in the community for another year, Mullen hopes to secure such a project for the future of the school's education.

"I didn't go to throw money around," he said. "I came to build something that is sustainable. The aim of the Peace Corps is to not have to come back again."

"I would have been happy had I left," he added. "But I felt there was more work I could do."

With the help of his students, Mullen's funding endeavors have begun to help stock the shelves with Ukrainian texts and help replace the tattered out-of-date volumes.

"Such available textbooks are notably old and in disrepair," he said. "These archaic texts simply cannot supply these economics students with the obligatory information and crucial learning of the discipline."

Mullen has sought financial support at home to help his cause in the Ukraine.

So far he has raised about $800 and has a goal of about $2,300 for the completion of the bookstore. Mullen said the institution will provide the project with 25 percent of the funds.

During Mullen's first days in Kiev in October 2002, Mullen went through three months of training and spent time with a host family, learning to deal with the vast difference between the life he had left in Scituate and the new life he was facing in the Ukraine. There were some bumps along the way through his transition but every part of the experience has been valuable to Mullen.

"I can write Russian better than I can speak it," he said, adding that the Ukrainian language was also dominant in the area where he stays.

So far, Mullen said his time there has been well spent and full of surprises.

During his first year in Kiev and the first day with his Ukrainian family, Mullen said he took part in a wedding ceremony that went from 11 a.m. until midnight.

"We would eat, dance and then we would eat and dance again," he said, adding that drinking alcohol was a large part of their culture. His first words in Russian were conveniently English for "a little" and "enough."

"They welcomed me with open arms," he said about the people he met and lived with.

But Mullen's mother Ann said his family wants him in the states for good.

"I want my baby home," she said with specific concern for their distance apart. "But I am very proud of him."

Mullen's family came to visit him last June, and Ann admitted she was shocked by his living conditions.

"He has no water, no oven and only uses a hot plate," she said. "I thought after having all these nice, hot showers (at home), he wouldn't be going back."

During his respite in Scituate, Mullen made several visits to his doctors due to the affects the poor air quality in the iron-mining region of Kiev has had on his health. Mullen has had difficulty breathing when he exerts himself.

That hasn't dissuaded him from returning to Kiev where he had an opportunity to share in what he called the "greatest experience" of his life. Late last year, Mullen was witness to what is known as the "Orange Revolution" - a demonstration held in the streets of Kiev to protest a corrupt government, he said.

"A bogus election on Nov. 21 called forth the people to stand up against the corruption in their government," he said of ousted Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, who was initially re-elected by "rigged" presidential elections controlled by the media.

A month after the peaceful revolution took to the streets, protestors wearing orange and waving orange flags to represent their chosen candidate - Victor Yuschenko - the people's choice won the election.

"It was sober and articulate," he said about what he witnessed first-hand. "Ukrainians were giving themselves a voice."

Mullen soon came to understand that to Ukrainians the color orange came to stand for honesty in politics, free speech and for the country, true democracy.

"I have not been a part of anything so empowering, nor witnessed a scene as powerful," he said about the revolutionary spirit.

And now that he's back in Ukraine, Mullen said he looks forward to getting his project off the ground within the next year and making his own impact on the community.

For more information on Mullen's project for the Kryvyi Rih Economic Institute in Ukraine, email him at gregory_mullen@fastmail.fm.

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When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Scituate Mariner

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ukraine



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