Uman City Coat of Arms Uman , Sister City of Davis Davis, California

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Uman, Ukraine became a sister city to Davis, California on May 17, 1988. Citizen exchanges foster goodwill and greater understanding between our cities. The Uman-Davis Sister City Project and the Davis Joint Unified School district sponsored a teacher exchange this spring. My name is Lorraine Visher. I teach second grade at North Davis Elementary School and visited Uman as an exchange teacher from March 31, 2001 to April 16.

Ukraine has a rich history, and numerous natural resources, yet borders on third world poverty. It is currently struggling as an independent republic to enter the market economy and develop a democratic society. Uman has a population of over 100,000. Older model cars and buses and an occasional horse and cart are seen on the wide flat steets. Surpisingly, there are few bicycles. Cars are a sign of status. I was often driven from one location to another. Large, block buildings, six to nine stories high filled with small apartments called flats are the most common residence. Most of these flats were built during the soviet occupation to provide equal housing. I stayed in a cold water flat with my host Irena Orenchuk and her husband Vova.

Most of the buildings in Uman are quite old, made of brick and several stories high. Within the city there are several small museums. The Museum of Fine Arts is located in a former Polish palace almost 300 years old. Another museum exhibited historical Ukrainian handcrafts, architecture and tools. A beautiful park named Sophievka is also proudly owned by the city. It was created over 300 years ago by a Polish count to honor his wife, "the most beautiful woman in the world".

There are 13 schools in Uman. Students in grades 1-3 have the same teacher each year. Each subject is taught by a different teacher in grades 5-11. Students have the same teacher in a subject area each year. Oddly enough, there is no 4th grade. Kindergarten begins at age three It is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. like our preschool/daycare programs. They enter First grade at age 7.

Students who school at the end of grade 9 may enter a training college. Completion of grade 11 is required for a University Education. The Teacher College is one of the training schools available in Uman. Classrooms here are referred to as Labratories. Displays surround the room. Desks and chairs fill the center. At the Laboratory for National Ukrainian Crafts Lopushan Vladimir Pyliporych invited me to help create a traditional Ukrainian vase. The preservation of traditional Ukranian art is highly valued.

Most schools are large concrete buildings three stories high. A staircase goes up the center with classrooms around the outside. One full wall is windows. Sunlight streams in. Little or no electric lighting is needed. Classrooms are small and sparsely furnished. The desks are 1950's vintage. Many amenities we take for granted, clean toilets with running water, books for all students, computers and media equipment are almost non-existant. The walls are decorated with, bright murals, stencils, and wallpaper. The value of artistic expression as encouraged in the Teacher Training School is evident. Needlepoint, paysanka eggs, woodcraft, song and dance is displayed in every school.

I visited 8 public schools in Uman. Each school has a unique focus such as a superior English or athletic program. One school has a 10 year project to improve student health using holistic practices including posture exercises, and massage for hands and feet with chestnuts. I was greeted with "Dobre Daynya" by standing students in many classrooms. Older students with more experience in English interviewed me. Their questions were descriptive of their perception of American life. Do you have pets? A car? A computer? How many rooms are in your house? If you do well in school in America can you get money to go to college?

Performances by students were part of every visit. I enjoyed traditional Ukrainian folk songs, nursery rhymes, old Beatles tunes, skits, and poems. I usually reciprocated with a song accompanied by my guitar. This resulted in photos and "autograph signing". I also attended a weekend school performance of ballroom dances, and a citywide competition of dance and music.

Meals were generous and always included potatoes, some form of pork, bread, cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage salad, borsht, tea, coffee, sparkling mineral water, wine. I would have an opportunity to visit with the teachers. It was during these visits that I learned about their difficulties, disappointments and discouragements. Many conversations became quite emotional. The best I could do was provide someone who would listen sympatheticaly.

The most difficult school to visit was euphemistically called The Children's House. Other names included The Children's Asylum and The Orphanage. Many of these children have physical disabilities and learning disabilities. Some are deaf and mute. I couldn't help but wonder how many were suffering the after effects of Chernobyl. Numerous pictures were shown of children who have been adopted. A plea was made to spread the word in America about these children.. One little boy sang a song about a mama in a voice so sweet and pure I didn't need to speak Ukrainian to understand its meaning. I wanted to take him home on the spot.

It is impossible to go on such a journey and leave personal values, opinions and experiences behind. I was painfully aware of my lack of knowledge about the history of the area. I have no experience of what it might be like to live through soviet occupation or the re-structuring of an independent republic. Despite my best efforts I could only see things through my American eyes and then try to put that aside and see life through the eyes of my Ukrainian hosts.

That life is extremely difficult and becoming more difficult each year. Unemployment is high and the population is declining. The country has not created the infrastructure needed to support the towns and citizens. Many people in public office are the same people who were in positions of power during soviet rule and very little has changed. Public services we take for granted; street cleaning, refuse disposal, public toilets, water, electricity and telephones are scarce and sometimes not available at all. I have a much deeper appreciation for America and the good fortune I experience by being a citizen here.

Teachers in particular seem to have moved from optimism to despair. Most public school teachers make about $180 hrivni a month. At 5.5 American dollars to one hrivni that translates to little more than $30 American dollars. Even in comparison to pay for other jobs in Ukraine this is very low. Like California, many educational reforms are being made but teacher working conditions and pay have not improved with them. Teaching is given little respect. Bribes are common and almost a necessity for entry into higher education programs.

Personal friendships are also touched by the political/economic trials of Ukraine. Irena Orunchuk, my host, translator and dear friend has been denied a visa by the US Embassy in Kiev. Ukrainian citizens are currently considered too great a flight risk. The Davis Sister City Project is working to have her visa approved so she can visit Davis soon.

My most valuable experiences in Uman did not come from the school visits. Conversations around dinner tables, in staff rooms and in private homes showed me the tender, personal side of Ukrainian life. Living with Ira, her husband and mother, created a personal connection. Despite hardship, teachers in Uman offer an education of surprisingly high quality. I am impressed by their efforts and hold them in very high regard. As one of them said, "We don't teach because of the money, we teach because we have to, it's in our heart".

Lorraine Visher
2230 Lassen Place
Davis, CA 95616

(Editor's note: Elisabeth Sherwin is a reporter at The Davis (Calif.) Enterprise (see This article in a slightly different form was published in The Enterprise on Sept. 19, 2000. She also is the secretary for the Davis-Uman Sister Cities Project and a longtime resident of Davis.

(Davis first got involved with Uman in 1983 with the first group of Americans visiting there in 1985. Davis and Uman became official sister cities in 1988. Scroll down for more stories and photos regarding Davis-Uman exchanges and visits.)

Sherwin visits Uman in fall of 2000 to select women for political institute

By Elisabeth Sherwin

UMAN, Ukraine - When the Davis-Uman Sister City Project received a grant to bring eight women from Uman to Davis, Calif., to take part in an intensive grass-roots democracy program, I volunteered to go to Ukraine to help select the candidates.

Seventeen women applied for the Women's Political Campaign Management Institute, which will be held at International House in Davis Oct. 30 to Nov. 10, 2000, made possible by a competitive $16,000 State Department grant.

The Davis-Uman Sister City Project board of directors agreed that I, as a board member, should to fly to Uman.

Boy and Cat in an alley in Ukraine
A little boy in Uman plays with a stray cat outside the pharmacy.
One of the women we hoped to include was Tatiana Suhomeilo, a translator and English teacher at the Uman Academy of Agriculture who frequently assists Davis visitors in Uman, but we also wanted to be sure that the group would represent a wide spectrum of attitudes and interests.

I left Sacramento on Aug. 24 and arrived in Kyiv the next afternoon. Tatiana was at the airport to meet me.

I visited England last year and recalled having a pleasant, albeit brief chat with the customs agent who looked at my passport and waved me along with best wishes for a good visit. The customs agent in Kyiv reminded me that Ukraine has been an independent nation for less than 10 years and the old Soviet style of greeting visitors still remains.

After checking my passport, the young man said curtly: "You may go" and I scurried away, grateful to avoid jail. Tatiana and I spent the weekend in Kyiv, a city of 3 million and the capital of Ukraine. The city reminds some people of San Francisco, but I think that's a stretch. Kyiv sits on the Dniper River and parts of it are hilly but you'd really have to use your imagination to bring to mind San Francisco.

Instead, Kyiv has its own sights to offer, like an amazing World War II museum, a tribute to those who lost their lives in the Great Patriotic War, including 8 million from Ukraine alone. The Ukrainian State Museum of the History of World War II was built by Soviets and is fashioned in that certain Soviet style of architecture that is designed to awe and inspire visitors with its size and bulk. This it does. Beyond that, however, displays describing the war with Germany 1941-1945 are skillfully and even beautifully represented. One drawback: the museum notes are all in Ukrainian or Russian. But you'll get the drift.

Children outside the museum play on decommissioned tanks that have been painted with flowers. This is a nation that does not want to endure another war. In fact, to say that Germany lost the war and the former Soviet Union won the war is a bitter joke. It doesn't look that way today with Germany enjoying a comfortable domestic standard of living and Ukraine struggling to make ends meet.

("That's what 40 years of communism did," a wealthy German businessman told me, assessing the difference between Germany and Ukraine. "I thank God every day that I live in Germany," he added. I met this man on the plane coming home. He told me Germans have no interest in visiting Eastern Europe. He and his wife and daughter were on their way to New Orleans.)

Tatiana and I left Kyiv on Monday and took a van to Uman, which is about two hours to the south. We drove through fields and past tiny villages. The famous black soil of Ukraine is saving its people from hunger. Nearly everyone who has access to a little piece of land grows something either to augment their own dinner table or sell or both.

I noticed several people along the side of the highway selling tires and what looked like 100-pound sacks of sugar.

"The tire factory doesn't pay its employees in cash, but in tires," Tatiana said. Same with sugar.

The city of Uman, Davis' sister city, has twice the population of Davis and a completely different set of social and municipal problems. Some people in Davis objected fiercely to the introduction of water meters. People in Uman would love to have water, period.

But for unknown reasons it was built on a stone plateau, so the city has running water for only four hours per day - two in the morning and two in the evening.

Svitlana Lipinsky, Uman's sister city liaison and adviser to the mayor, says even when the engineering infrastructure is complete and water can be moved to Uman more readily, the city will still have to pay for it. And that means the city probably won't use a lot more water than it does now. This also serves as an obvious barrier to tourism.

Lipinsky also said the most important part of the sister city relationship is the teacher exchange in which a teacher from Davis visits Uman, and vice versa. Although the exchange has not taken place for several years, she was hopeful it would continue and said an Uman teacher could be selected at a moment's notice. It's now up to the Davis Joint Unified School District, which for unknown reasons has decided not to support this crucial exchange. The district is only being asked to pick up a substitute teacher's salary for two weeks.

Over the next few days, Tatiana and I took in the local sights. Under communist rule, the Catholic cathedral next door to City Hall was turned into an art gallery and museum and remains that way today, with one difference. On Sundays, a group of perhaps a dozen Catholics comes to the church and arranges a makeshift altar for a prayer service while the art gallery employees look on. No priest attended the service I witnessed on Sept. 3, but I was told that an itinerant priest sometimes comes by to say Mass.

The great tourist attraction in Uman is Sofiyivka Park, a park designed and built by a Polish count in honor of his wife, Sofia. A busload of touring Americans visited the park and had lunch at the park restaurant but then left for their next destination without spending the night in Uman.

Jennifer McGuinness
Jennifer McGuinness, 24, from Marietta, Ohio, is a Peace Corps worker assigned to Uman. Here, she's looking at a marble sculpture in the Uman art gallery, which used to be a Catholic cathedral.
Another Uman site of tragic interest to Davis visitors memorializes a terrible event - a Jewish massacre. It was in occupied Uman that up to 25,000 Jewish residents of the city were massacred by Germans during World War II.

While the city had erected a memorial, the plaque on it refers to "Soviet citizens" who lost their lives. In 1991 the Jewish Federation of Davis commissioned a solid brass plaque to be placed at a memorial in Uman. The plaque, hand-carried to Uman in 1992 by former Davis Mayor Maynard Skinner, identified them specifically as "Jewish citizens."

The Jews were slaughtered over a three-day period and the bodies of men, women and children were left in a ravine, Sukhy Yar, just outside of town. I visited the memorial in the ravine and laid some roses at the base. Then I walked around the memorial looking for the plaque. Then again. But the brass plaque on the memorial was gone; it had been stolen. No one I talked to believed the theft to be anti-Semitic; rather the plaque was likely taken for the value of its brass. Thieves had industriously worked at removing the Russian language and Hebrew plaques on the monument, too, and although several screws had been removed, those two plaques remained in place for the time being.

The next day Svitlana and I, with Tatiana acting as the interpreter, began interviewing the women who applied to take part in the Davis institute, conducting half the interviews on one morning, half the next.

It's no exaggeration to say that each applicant had her own fascinating story to tell. These women are sincerely interested in improving life for people in Ukraine. Ukrainians are eager to experiment with democracy - perhaps too eager. There are 98 political parties in Ukraine today.

Finally the difficult selection was made: In addition to Tatiana, we invited a radio journalist who works for Radio Free Europe, the city public health director, a young student who recently graduated from the university, the head of the city's social services department, a woman who hosts monthly readings for poets and writers, the curator of a university museum, and the assistant editor of the Uman newspaper. Several of these women already hold positions in city or regional government, and others might be interested in running for office in the future or helping to manage someone else's campaign.

They will be in Davis at the end of October 2000 for what I hope will be an interesting and educational look at democracy in action.

Citizens of Davis, California, and citizens of Uman, Ukraine, have shared a unique relationship since 1983 when the Uman/Davis Pairing Project grew out of a peace movement called Ground Zero. Much effort was put into attempting to solidify this relationship culminating in 1988 with the final agreement for an official sister-city relationship. Visitors from Uman admire produce at the Davis Farmersí Market.
Visitors from Uman admire produce at the Davis Farmersí Market.

On May 17, 1988, the Uman/Davis Sister City Project was established as a nonprofit corporation by the state of California.

Students from UC Davis and Davis High School stand outside Sofiyivka Park in Uman.
Students from UC Davis and Davis High School stand outside Sofiyivka Park in Uman.
The two cities have carried out many exchange projects and activities that have produced wonderful visits and warm friendships. More than 100 individuals from Davis have visited Uman and 95 visitors from Uman have visited Davis in more than 50 different exchange efforts. Early visits focused on primarily cultural exchanges and more recent visits have focused on economic development.

Exchanges have involved artists, musicians, high school students, teachers, government officials, politicians, business representatives, Jewish citizens, private citizens and official delegations. The California National Guard also has acted as a host agency helping to coordinate civilian exchanges.

The ongoing goal of the Uman/Davis Sister Cities Project is the enhancement of the quality of life in both communities. We believe that people-to-people diplomacy contributes substantially to world peace.

Oettingen Visits Ukraine

Nursing students

Andre von Oettingen , president of the Uman-Davis Sister City Project, visited Ukraine Sept. 29 to Oct. 13, 1999. Oettingen was received by the mayor of Uman, Yuri Bodrov, as well as his counterpart, Svetlana Lipinsky, chair of the sister city organization in Uman.

Oettingen with studentsSince Oettingen had never been to Uman before, he visited schools in the city including the Agricultural Academy and spoke to several English classes. Oettingen, whose parents were from Ukraine, speaks fluent Russian and was the first visitor from the Uman-Davis Sister City Project who did not require an interpreter.

He visited the nursing college in Uman where the students wear distinctive caps (see photo) and the city orphanage. He is shown in the accompanying photo reading a fairy tale to some of the children in the orphanage. (Later, upon returning to Davis, Oettingen arranged to have clothes for the children and textbooks for the English teachers shipped to Uman.)

The Davis store in UmanThree of the English teachers also are photographed here standing outside a store in Uman named "Davis."

Since the inception of the sister city relationship, 95 people from Uman have visited Davis and more than 100 people from Davis have visited Uman.


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