By Gari Voss
The People to People Student Ambassador Program was founded in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a diplomatic alternative to the wars he had witnessed. The vision was to provide opportunities for middle and high school students to learn about other countries by doing extended visits to build understanding of cultures and their people.
President Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev conferred after a Geneva summit to reduce the tensions of the Cold War. With people like Bob Hope and Walt Disney as conference participants, People to People became a reality.
It was into this program that Delora Andrus entered when she was a Freshman at Gilbert High School in Gilbert, Arizona. Before traveling with other high school students, future ambassadors attended Saturday classes in Phoenix. While learning some Russian language, the students became familiar with the places they would visit.
From July 11 – August 1, 1990, the People to People Ambassadors traveled around Russia, which included Ukraine. After landing in Moscow, the students experienced their first day visiting sites in the city. Andrus remembers that Moscow seemed like an old, rundown skyscraper town. As a 15 year old, she reflected on her view of the people. “People were doing normal activities like swimming and laughing. The city seemed old, but was clean.”
The students headed to Odesa, Ukraine, a beautiful area on the Black Sea. As part of the cultural development, the group attended a Russian opera. “I had never been to an opera before. Even though it was in Russian, it was extremely emotional and I cried.”
Andrus learned that at that time, Odesa had the second highest crime rate in the Soviet Union, so the team had extra safety precautions. “The area was beautiful and the buildings stunning. I wrote in my diary, ‘I will really miss Odessa’s beautiful climate, greenness and old Gothic buildings.’”
“While we were in Odessa, Ukraine declared independence.” Andrus did not realize the significance of this proclamation at the time. “At first, we thought that we would have to leave the country.”
The next stop was Kyiv (Kiev), the capital of Ukraine. Andrus holds fond memories of the Bread Museum. Ukraine was known as the “Breadbasket of Europe” because of its fine wheat. Other remembrances were the cultural dance and outdoor garden areas where people were harvesting fruit. “It was a large city with industrial areas, cathedrals and a war museum.”
Kyiv’s Bread Museum evidenced that Ukraine was known as the Breadbasket of Europe.
The young ambassadors spent time in Lviv in the mountainous, western part of Ukraine near Poland. The city became part of Russia in 1939, then in 1991 became part of the independent nation of Ukraine. The city center is noted for its history with Street Markets and the Lviv Theater of Opera and Ballet.
Street Markets brought the Young Ambassadors in contact with the people of Ukraine, including some Black Market vendor that intrigued the students.
In contrast to the busy port city of Odesa and the capital Kyiv, the group stayed in Simferopol. “This quiet, small town had only places to sleep and eat. Everything we visited was outside the town.”
As Andrus reviewed pages in her Journal, there were other places of importance like the Livadia Palace that held the Yalta Conference, or Crimea Conference from February 4-11, 1945. World leaders including Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, Winston Churchill from the United Kingdom, President Franklin Roosevelt from the United States and other allies met to determine how to handle liberated and defeated countries after World War II.
While learning about the history of what was Russia in 1990, the goal was to interact with the people. The interactions with the youth of 1990 Russia were in the Young Pioneer Camps. These summer camps were founded by Lenin to teach children from 6 to 15 about Marxist ideology. “We were able to play games and perform skits. Though the kids did not speak English, our translators helped facilitate conversation and swap items. I took Bazooka gum, comic books and pins.”
The experience at 15 years old increased Delora’s love for travel. Memories of the ornate cathedrals with golden domes, the diverse cities and breath-taking panoramas, and people she met along the way makes the current situation in Ukraine personal.
“Ukraine gained full independence on August 24, 1991, about a year after we left. Now, over 30-years later, I’m horrified watching the news detailing the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the destruction of that beautiful country and its people. This should not be happening.”
Delora continued, “I am devastated. They have been on a long road to freedom. I hate thinking of the beauty, the history and the people being destroyed all for one man’s ego. It is heartbreaking.”
Andrus has been a member of Allegan Jaycees. One way anyone wishing to assist those fleeing the Ukraine could ber to donate with the Allegan Jaycees who will match funds. Donate with the Friends/Family option so there is no service fee percentage taken out. Paypal: @allleganjaycees or contact firstname.lastname@example.org, check https://www.paypal.me/AlleganJaycees, or go to Save the Children: https://www.savethechildren.org/us/where-we-work/ukraine…