Guest Post- Life in Ukraine

The following blog post is written by my sister-in-law Kaylene Rhodes who is currently serving as a missionary in Ukraine.

Welcome to the beautiful land of Ukraine! This country has earned the title “Breadbasket of Europe” because of it’s rich, fertile soil. Much wheat is grown here. There are also many sunflower and canola fields. When the flowers are blooming it is a spectacular sight!

I’m serving at the Shipintsi mission under MIM. My job description is teaching. This doesn’t consume all my time because I have only a few students.  There are many things around though to help with, so sometimes I’m a cook, hostess, or seamstress. I find my life very fulfilling!

This year I have 2 full time students, Nastya and Katya, in grade 9.  They are learning English, and also have some lessons with a Ukrainian teacher in Ukrainian language and history. Last year was their first here, and they started in CLE language and reading. They knew some English and were able to rapidly work their way up. This year they started in 304.  Their sister Anya is starting in level 500, and does her work at home. She comes to school to have me check her work and then do her tests and quizzes. Their brothers, Misha and Bogdan, come as it works in their schedule.

One day a week 2 preschoolers come. Our interpreter is sending his little girl, Solomiya. He sees the need of a Christian education, but their Baptist church doesn’t have a private school. She came knowing basically no English (her mother doesn’t know it well) but is picking it up quickly. Makayla comes from a mission family and doesn’t know Ukrainian. They aren’t able to communicate much with words, but actions and gestures can speak volumes!  We all enjoy the days they come, it adds spice to our small school.

First day for the preschoolers!

I will give you a little glimpse into our village and location. We’re in southwestern Ukraine, only about an hour from the Romanian border. The gorgeous Carpathian mountains are close to us, and we often take drives and enjoy picnics in the fresh mountain air!

Our village is a typical Eastern European one. Village sounds include barking dogs, crowing roosters, cargo and passenger trains rumbling down the tracks multiple times a day, and cathedral bells ringing to announce a death or holiday.  Weddings and parties can last far into the night, and if you happen to be a neighbor sleep may elude you until things settle down.

There are many interesting sights as well. Every so often a funeral procession will go by school on their way to the cathedral. Special assigned people will go first carrying crosses and other Orthodox emblems. Singers chant mournful songs, the hearse drives slowly, and the people walk behind it.

If it’s a nice day you will probably see a farmer taking his cow to fresh green grass. It may be in some field on the edge of the village , or a patch of grass by the road works as well. They lead the cow by a chain or rope that’s tied around her horns. I’ve never seen one tied around the neck.

Mama goat has access to the road as well as pedestrians and drivers! The kids weren’t tied up, I’m supposing the owners thought they won’t wander too far from mom.

The garbage ‘truck’ goes through the village 2 times a month. They drive a tractor pulling a wagon, and have several men on the back to load and arrange the trash.

The culture is somewhat different than ours. I will give you some examples. In doing this I’m not trying to belittle either culture, I only want to give you some interesting insights.

It’s considered very rude to blow your nose in public.  They will sniff and sniff, but not blow their nose until they can get away to the bathroom.

People aren’t very friendly with strangers, neither are they quick to smile. On the flip side, they are very loyal to their friends. Hugging, kissing, and walking arm in arm are very common sights.

Smoking and drinking are chronic problems. If you know a man who doesn’t do either, you can pretty much assume he is a believer. Woman do less, but it’s not at all uncommon for them. There are a number of drunkards in the village who live from day to day, and drink to drink. Their families suffer from hunger, unheated houses, and other discomforts.

Folks take life in stride and are laid back. Time doesn’t mean as much to them as it does to we Americans. That’s something I have to constantly try to adapt to, as I’m more of a scheduled person.

Gardens consume much time and energy. Every one who is able, plants a garden. And they aren’t small either. They harvest and store loads of potatoes. Fruits and vegetables are canned or dried. Every property has multiple fruit or nut trees. They rarely plant trees just for shade or beauty.

Properties are not large. They may use most of their front yard for a garden if they don’t enough room elsewhere. Each house and its outbuildings are surrounded by a fence and gate. An open gate is a sign that someone has died. I’m guessing most natives know by now they can’t figure that for the Americans!  We leave our gates open frequently, it’s much easier to quickly come and go.

There are no such things as personal space bubbles. People cram into buses (before corona virus came on the scene), stand right behind you in line, etc. It took me awhile to get used to this, but I soon learned you can’t leave a big space between you and the next person in line. Otherwise you’ll lose your spot! Now when I go home on furlough I have to remind myself not to ‘tailgate’ people.

Our region is the most religious one in Ukraine. There are a number of Pentecostals, Baptists, and Seventh Day Adventists. But by far most people are Orthodox. There are two cathedrals in our village, and a number of little shrines on the corners of properties. They will cross themselves whenever they go by any of these. Some will even cross themselves in front of Mennonite ladies because they think they’re nuns.

Orthodox cathedrals are often extravagant.

The elderly are highly respected and cared for. Most often the parents will live with one of the children or maybe in a small house in the same yard. If their children are drunkards or died before the parents, the neighbors will step in and help care for them.

Here are a few other ideas and customs that are deep rooted. Women aren’t supposed to sit on concrete, especially if it is cold, because it will hinder them from having children. Opening windows in the winter time is taboo, even if it’s stifling hot. Air drafts (even in the summer) and cold water will make you sick. You must never give a bouquet with an even amount of flowers, unless it is for a funeral. Recently there was a holiday to remember the day John the Baptist was killed. You aren’t supposed to cut an apple or onion on that day, because it is round like a head.

This past Sunday we had our annual Harvest service. This is a Ukrainian Evangelical Christian custom. People bring fruits, vegetables, and flowers to church. We set up a display. There are 3 other important things to include on the display; the Bible, a pitcher of water, and bread. We have a special service of thanksgiving and singing.  There is a fellowship meal and more singing. The display is then taken apart and the items distributed among the people.

My older girl students posing at the harvest display. Some of the items had been taken away before we got the photo taken.

Kaylene sends out email newsletters once or twice a month, and every so often a Ukrainian recipe. If you would enjoy getting the newsletter, recipes, or if you wish to reply to this blog post, you can send her an email at

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