The eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk is about 30 miles from the war’s front lines and houses one local library. At the library, an American flag hangs on the wall beside a poster of the Statue of Liberty and the New York City skyline. The shelves are lined with books about U.S. history and geography, as well as GRE prep books, U.S. college application guides and a DVD collection of Rocky Balboa movies.
The Mortales team during the last visit met a group of teenagers, who range in age from 13 to 15 years old, are members of a voluntary study group called Access in Sloviansk, which meets a few times a week to practice English and learn about American culture. Access in Sloviansk is one program among many at the Window on America center at the Sloviansk library. Participants in the center’s various programs range in age from 5 to 60. This center is one of the 29 Window on America centers across Ukraine which are a diplomatic outreach project organized by the U.S. Embassy to “promote mutual understanding between the United States and Ukraine,” according to a statement on the program’s website.
Sloviansk’s Window on America program was a true grassroots initiative launched by area residents. The Sloviansk center is actually a transplanted version of a Window on America program that existed in Donetsk before combined Russian-separatist forces took over that city in 2014. Today, Donetsk remains the capital of one of two breakaway separatist territories in eastern Ukraine.
In April 2014, pro-Russian separatists, supported by Russian special forces and security agency operatives, took over Sloviansk. In July 2014, Ukrainian military units launched an operation to liberate the city of about 100,000 people. The residents of Solviansk have seen some of the worst violence in the three year old conflict. These are the people who need our help the most. In the summer of 2017 Mortales will be providing much needed books and educational supplies to the students and volunteer instructors. This is our chance to demonstrate the American support for the Ukrainian people as they look to a brighter future that points to the west.