Peace Corps volunteer describes time in Ukraine

DeKALB — St. Charles architect Mike Dixon told a group of DeKalb Kiwanis Club members Monday that his time in Ukraine was abruptly cut short.

Dixon returned March 1 to the United States after he was among more than 200 Peace Corps volunteers who were forced to evacuate from Ukraine because of the country's civil unrest. He had been in Ukraine since March 2011 for preservation and recovery of Ukrainian culture. He was supposed to be there until July.

He described his early departure as emotional.

"There were big hugs, saying we'll be back," Dixon said. "I don't know if that is ever going to happen."

The DeKalb Kiwanis Club presented Dixon a certificate of appreciation Monday for his presentation in which he detailed the revolution taking place in Ukraine as well as his work there.

Ukrainians began protesting the corrupt government in November. Peaceful demonstrations took place, some of which involved civilians taking turns playing piano, the country's symbol of the revolution, Dixon said. Governmental snipers then took to rooftops, turning the situation violent, Dixon said.

Since then, Russia has invaded Crimea, an autonomous region of Ukraine where residents voted March 6 to become part of Russia.

Dixon spent the majority of his time in the city of Vinnytsia, about 500 miles northwest of Crimea. Things are calm now in Vinnytsia, but people there are wary Russian soldiers will invade, Dixon said.

"I got an email from a friend yesterday, and she said, 'All we can think of is Russia and our border,' " Dixon said. "It's a fear that never goes away."

Former DeKalb Kiwanis Club president Tarryn Thaden is familiar with that fear. Her daughter volunteered with the Peace Corps in Uganda until 2012. Peace Corps volunteers were housed in a secure facility at one point because of the possibility of civil unrest, Thaden said.

Dixon's presentation provided a rare opportunity for DeKalb residents to learn what is really going on in Ukraine, she said.

"We're learning so much about the country and its frailties and abilities to grow," Thaden said. "It's quite different than what we're used to in the United States."

While in Ukraine with the Peace Corps, Dixon designed many buildings and restored historical buildings. He is still working on a restoration project for Lubart's Castle in Lutske, Ukraine.

Some protesters in Ukraine are toppling statues and burning buildings, an area of concern for the St. Charles architect. However, because of Ukrainian children's poor knowledge of the country's history, Dixon is hopeful the revolution will educate people.

"They've taken away the culture and nationalism. Some things are being destroyed," Dixon said. "Hopefully, a new nationalism will come out of that."

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