Diversity and Inclusion
This page contains personal stories from select Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Ukraine. They represent authentic individual experiences. They do not reflect official guidance of the agency nor the experiences of all Volunteers who serve in the country.
The Peace Corps uses first-person stories and personal accounts, whenever possible, to provide a resource for potential Volunteers.
The Peace Corps seeks to reflect the rich diversity of the U.S. and, further, bring diverse perspectives and solutions to development issues in the countries we serve. For the Peace Corps, diversity is a collection of individual attributes that together help the agency pursue organizational objectives appropriately and effectively. These include, but are not limited to, national origin, language, race, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family structures. Diversity may also encompass where people are from, where they have lived, and their differences in thought and life experiences.
We also seek to create a culture of inclusion that connects staff and Volunteers; encourages collaboration, flexibility, equity and fairness, and leverages diversity throughout the organization so that all individuals are able to participate and contribute to their full potential—throughout the Volunteer and staff lifecycle. Any Volunteer or staff member can contact or reach out to any Peace Corps Ukraine staff member with whom they feel most comfortable to speak about any of these issues. Program Managers, Safety and Security Manager, Director of Management and Operations, Director of Programs and Training, and the Country Director are all available to assist Volunteers or staff.
Peace Corps Ukraine prioritizes the safety and security for all Volunteers at all times and in all situations.
Diversity and Inclusion at Your Site
Once Volunteers arrive at their sites, diversity and inclusion principles remain, but take on a different shape in which your host community may share a common culture and you—the Volunteer—may be “the outsider.” You may be the sole American at your site. You may begin to notice diversity in perspectives, ethnicity, age, depth of conversation, and degree of support you may receive based on your perceived identity. During pre-service training, a session will be held to discuss diversity and inclusion and how you might access support, how you can engage appropriately and effectively across cultures, find common ground, and possibly serve as an ally for your peers.
The Peace Corps emphasizes professional behavior and intercultural sensitivity among Volunteers and within their communities to help with integration and achieve successful service. As a Volunteer and representative of the United States, you are responsible for sharing the diversity of America’s culture with your host country counterparts while also learning about the diversity of identities in your host country.
To ease the transition to service in your host country, you may choose to make some temporary, yet fundamental, compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. You may need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping within this new context. During pre-service training, staff will provide training on various strategies for adapting personal choices and behavior to be respectful of the host country culture, and will be available for ongoing support.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
It will be important to absorb and [to attempt to] understand the cultural nuances of gender roles in your host country. During pre-service training, you will receive an introduction to gender awareness in Ukraine and examine your own thinking about gender roles and how they have affected you. You’ll then learn to analyze development projects using a gender lens to better understand gender roles in your host country and how these gender roles can benefit or limit people of all gender identities—both from a personal standpoint and in relation to work and relationships in-country.
Gender roles in Ukraine can be difficult to understand and accept. Although men and women may receive equal pay for equal work, women are underrepresented in positions of power and often are not promoted as readily as men. These disparities/differences in treatment based on gender can present problems for Volunteers in job situations.
Possible Considerations for Volunteers of Color
Because of limited exposure, some Ukrainians will expect all Americans to be white and are unaware of diversity in the U.S. For Volunteers, the range of responses to their skin color may vary greatly. Some Volunteers may be mistaken for a host country national, be questioned about their U.S. citizenship, face behavior and language skill expectations. Peace Corps aspires to support each Volunteer in navigating these challenges in a way that works for them. Depending on the situation, Volunteers may choose to respond in a variety of ways. Sometimes they may remove themselves from the situation. Sometimes they may seek support from fellow Volunteers and/or Peace Corps staff. Sometimes they may practice a particular coping strategy or self-care strategy. Sometimes they may explore if they can turn the situation into teachable moments for themselves and the host country national. All Volunteers should be mindful of histories of race and ethnicity that are present in U.S. culture and within your country of service and should be mindful of being an ally to your fellow Volunteers.
Racial and ethnic minorities in Ukraine, primarily Poles, Hungarians, Crimean Tatars, and Greeks, make up about 5 percent of the total population. Most Ukrainians have not had personal interactions with people of other races. They often assume that African-American or Asian-American Volunteers are university students from Africa or Asia rather than Americans. Thus, these Volunteers may be stopped to show their identification papers more frequently than other Volunteers, particularly in larger cities where they are not known. On its website, the U.S. State Department now warns prospective travelers to Ukraine of hate crimes directed at ethnic minorities. In addition, a number of international human rights groups have expressed concern with the rise in hate crimes and xenophobic activity in big cities in Ukraine.
One Volunteer writes: A majority of the time, people view me with curiosity. Most people I work with love to ask me about my ancestry. They and are polite and respectful. Occasionally, I am mistaken for an Arab or African refugee and I hear some people shouting. Most Ukrainians are embarrassed by this behavior and I have never felt scared for my physical safety. Sharing information about my cultural background as an American of Indian descent has been a wonderful and positive experience for me in the nine months I have lived in Ukraine.
Possible Considerations for African American or Black Volunteers
Volunteer Voices: “'People of color' face many challenges living in Ukraine, as a Peace Corps Volunteer. However, African-Americans will confront far more complicated issues. For modern parts of Ukraine, African-Americans are part of the community and day-to-day life. However, there are many Ukrainians who have never seen a Black person before. Their understanding of African-American culture is fueled by the media and African stereotypes. You will generate lots of interest and curious stares.
So, these stares can make you uncomfortable and annoyed. Ukrainians' initial perception of you may be that you are from Africa; it may not. It does help if they understand that you are an American, and the training in PST will help you consider ways that you will engage with these assumptions."
"It is not uncommon for Ukrainians to refer to African-Americans as “[N-Word]”. Volunteers of color may be called 'a monkey' or may see children’s games with Blackface. Being aware of the history of dehumanization for people of African descent may help inform where this comes from; it does not justify it. It will be at your discretion to determine the intent. No matter the intent, staff recognizes the impact that hearing that word may invoke hurt and anger. If you view it as unlearned [something the person has never been exposed to], it may be an opportunity for you to educate that person. We are here to support your successful service, and these comments and images can be a huge distraction and obstacle to you. Know that Peace Corps staff is here to support and encourage you. Do not hesitate to remove yourself from such situations. You are not expected to be subjected to such treatment. You can also find support and understand from other African-American Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Ukraine."
Any volunteer or staff member who has experienced racism can contact any Peace Corps Ukraine staff member. This can include the Program Managers, Safety and Security Manager, Director of Management and Operations, Director of Programs and Training, or Country Director.
Possible Considerations for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Ally/Asexual (LGBTQA) Volunteers
The Peace Corps actively supports Volunteers and staff of all gender and sexual orientation. Peace Corps encourages Volunteers to serve as allies to their fellow Volunteers in all aspects. Many countries where the Peace Corps serves have more restrictive cultures with regard to sexual orientation and non-conforming gender identities, though some are more permissive. Peace Corps staff will work with Volunteers to provide them with locally informed perspectives. Some LGBTQA Volunteers have chosen to come out to community members while some have come out only to select Peace Corps staff and Volunteers. Many have chosen to be discreet about their orientation and/or gender identity within their host community. LGBTQA support groups may be available in-country, providing a network to support the needs of the Peace Corps LGBTQA community. More information about serving as an LGBTQA Volunteer is available at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Peace Corps Alumni website at lgbrpcv.org.
While sex acts are not criminalized, the Ukrainian LGBT community faces discrimination and civil rights abuses related to sexual orientation. Ukrainian society generally views being gay, lesbian, or bisexual as abnormal. While networks of gays and lesbians have formed in some of the larger cities, LGBTQ life is hidden from the public and kept very discreet. Some LGBTQ Volunteers in Ukraine have found that being open about their sexual orientation at their sites has had a negative impact on their effectiveness. Peace Corps Ukraine staff is there to support LGBT Volunteers with any issues they may face.
Volunteer Voices: “Transgender volunteers are recommended to not disclose their gender identity to host country nationals and INFORM ONLY the Country Director and Peace Corps Medical Officer among Peace Corps staff. For those who are already medically transitioning, the Peace Corps medical team is very willing to assist and will continue your hormone replacement therapy. For transgender individuals who have been on their journey for long enough to feel comfortable passing, it CAN BE easy to blend into the culture.
At the same time, I am leery of saying blend into the culture because I don’t think many PCVs blend into the culture, maybe we blend in as a typical American?
Some gender non-conforming Volunteers on the transgender spectrum OR TRANSGENDER VOLUNTEERS WHO ARE EARLY IN THEIR JOURNEY may face similar issues to gay and lesbian volunteers as well as Volunteers of color due to the fact that for most Ukrainians, this is their first experience with someone with this identity."
Possible Considerations for Volunteers with Disabilities
Peace Corps staff will work with Volunteers with disabilities to support them in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
As a Volunteer with disabilities in Ukraine, you may face a special set of challenges. In Ukraine, as in other parts of the world, some people hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them. Also, there is very little of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities that has been developed in the United States. Staff are committed to exploring creative ways to support reasonable accommodations for Volunteer success.
Possible Considerations for Volunteer Couples
Couples often face pressure from host country nationals to change their roles to conform to traditional ideas of relationships in-country. Host country nationals may not understand American relationship dynamics and may be outwardly critical of relationships that do not adhere to traditional gender roles. It is also helpful to think about how pressures to conform to local culture may be challenging to men and women in very different ways. Considering how your partner is being affected and discussing what, if any, aspects of your relationship should be changed can help.
Volunteer Voices: “While the youth in Ukraine is becoming more progressive, most of the country still believes that you must be married in order to live together. If a couple is unmarried, they should have a good understanding of how they will respond when questioned about their relationship. Men in Ukraine are viewed as the dominant gender and as such the man will usually be the person that all question are directed towards. This can be trying on a heterosexual couple who is used to being viewed as equals and should be something they discuss. Couples without children may also be questioned heavily about why they do not have children, etc. This is another question that is best to discuss prior and decide as a couple how you will respond to questions like this.”
Possible Considerations for Volunteers with Varying Faiths and Belief Systems
Many Ukrainians have little knowledge of non-Christian faiths. There are Polish and Greek Catholic churches and Ukrainian Orthodox churches in most communities. Most big cities have large numbers of Christian missionaries. Volunteers are sometimes mistaken for missionaries, and the Peace Corps is careful to maintain a separation from such groups. Please note that Volunteers cannot be placed in sites according to their religious beliefs.
Volunteer Voices: “A Muslim might face extra hardship because the diet in Ukraine is very heavy in pork and alcohol. It is possible to avoid such foods, but it would be difficult because it is the cultural norm to give guests these things.”
“I hear a lot of Jewish jokes. Sometimes I tell people I am a vegetarian because it is too hard to explain Kosher eating requirements.”
“For me, I have been lucky that I have run into very few problems related to my religious identity besides very few comments that I have also heard in the United States. Nothing shocking.”
Issues related to religion, belief systems and worldviews are also addressed and explored during PST, and we will discuss staff support and ways Volunteers may respond to them.
Possible Considerations for Volunteers 50+ Years Old
Older Volunteers may find their age an asset in-country and will often have access to individuals and insights that are not available to younger Volunteers. Pre-service training can be particularly stressful for older trainees, whose lifelong learning styles and habits may or may not lend themselves to the techniques used. A 50+ individual may be the only older person in a group of Volunteers and initially may not feel part of the group. Some 50+ Volunteers may find it difficult to adapt to a lack of structure and clarity in their role after having worked for many years in a very structured and demanding job.
Volunteer Voices: “Older Volunteers will be able to draw on the reserve of tolerance and understanding that maturity brings. Also, over-50 Volunteers who have friends across the age spectrum may find it difficult to establish similar circles of friends in Ukraine where communities are often much more segregated by age. Close ties and support networks may develop with other older Volunteers. As a member of a small group, it can be doubly hard when a friend must terminate service early due to medical and other issues. On the plus side, Ukrainians often revere their older citizens, and older Volunteers often find that they are treated with particular respect. One must take care to avoid exploiting this status even through it will be a challenge to keep up with the strength and stamina of a host family’s grandmother or grandfather.”