A few observations about Ukraine:
1. It feels very much like being in Armenia, only with more Russian. In fact, almost as much Russian as Ukrainian. Though the languages are similar, they are still two different tongues. That said, the southern and eastern parts of the country identify more with Russia, whereas the west aligns itself more closely with Europe and is proud of its uniquely Ukrainian heritage. Here in Kherson, far in the south of the country, all you hear and see is Russian. Svita, my IREX partner in crime, says she seems to be the only one speaking Ukrainian around here. Even the TV station with which we're working broadcasts in Russian. Which brings me to my second observation:
2. I may be fluent in Russian by the end of the week. I've started tuning out our excellent translators as I seem to be picking up more and more words. After two months of media research in Armenia, I learned all the Russian words for media there (redaktor=editor, registor=director, operator=cameraman, montage=editing.) As our partners describe their activities or ask questions of their American counterparts, these common words fly out to me and seem to wave a flag in front of my face as though to say: "See! You know us! You understand us!" It's strangely comforting.
3. Finally, I feel I've really put the knowledge and skills I've built since moving to DC to use. A combination of my research project in Armenia, which led to my master's thesis, and the coursework I chose for my degree have really helped me to shape all the discussions we've had so far about telecommunications, spectrum, the impact of the Soviet Union on its former states' media systems, and geopolitical and other pressures journalists face in this part of the world. In addition, my background as a journalist in the US has been a huge boon for working with the two U.S. partners we're hosting this week from a TV station in Kentucky. I can better explain to them why the standards for journalism that they're used to may not be the norm here.
4. While this experience so far has been totally fulfilling and engaging, I'm still not convinced the NGO life is the one for me. It's also yet another reminder of how much I miss journalism and a life of deadlines. Am I ready to go back to the newsroom yet? Not quite. At least, not while I can still take a few more trips like this one on somebody else's dime.
Stay tuned for more tomorrow...