Elon University / Today in Elon / Robert Minton ’18 shares his time in Ukraine as a Peace Corps volunteer and teacher, and his evacuation earlier this year
Robert Minton 2018 and Assistant Professor Jennifer Eidum discuss his time teaching English in Ukraine until the Russian invasion.
On Tuesday, April 12, Robert Minton ’18 discussed his time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine and then his time living there as a private citizen, a discussion moderated by Assistant Professor Jennifer Eidum.
Minton started with the Peace Corps in August 2018. He lived and trained in a small village in the Zhytomyr region of western Ukraine with a host family who spoke Ukrainian and Russian. His training consisted of learning Ukrainian and becoming a teacher. Minton was then placed in a school in Mukachevo, a city in western Ukraine, where he taught English and helped train teachers.
He spent most of his time in Ukraine and said Ukrainians were very hospitable. People were happy to give him directions or help him when he looked confused.
“I had very positive experiences in Ukraine, I was afraid to butcher their language, but they were very happy that I spoke Ukrainian,” Minton said. “Most of the time they were trying to help me and were very supportive.”
Responding to questions about views on Russia in Ukraine, Minton said that in his experience Ukrainians in the western region were either indifferent when it came to Russia or very anti-Russian. He said there were more nationalists in the west and more people who only spoke Ukrainian, instead of both languages.
Eidum, who served in south-central Ukraine as a Peace Corps volunteer, said the central and eastern regions of Ukraine are culturally more closely tied to Russia and that many have family in Russia. She described the complexity of Ukrainians who have family members in Russia who do not believe Russia is committing war crimes.
“They are deeply saddened, disappointed and horrified by family members who live in Russia who have listened to Russian propaganda and they call and say, ‘wait, is this true?'” she said.
When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, Minton’s cohort was told they had 24 hours to evacuate and get to kyiv airport. In all the confusion at the start of COVID-19, they got stuck at the airport, but the US State Department was able to get them out about a week later.
Minton spent four months in the United States but decided to return to Ukraine to be with his girlfriend, who is now his wife. He continued to teach English lessons online as a private citizen.
As there was a lot of skepticism about the war earlier because Russia had already threatened similar actions against Ukraine without follow-up, Minton did not leave just yet. He decided to leave after US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said war could potentially break out in 48 hours. On Valentine’s Day, Minton and his wife traveled to Kladno, a small town outside of Prague, where they have been living ever since.
“We packed up our whole lives and put them in these bags,” he said, showing a picture of the things they took with them.
Minton continues to teach English online to his students, most of whom he says are internally displaced. He talks to 15 Ukrainian students about once or twice a week. He also teaches English to a Ukrainian boy who lives in his building in Kladno, who otherwise does not go to school due to the crisis.
He also offered his observations on Ukraine on his blog, “Overview of Ukraine.”
Although Minton had no guesses on how the war would play out, he said “the Ukrainian people are now incredibly nationalistic and the occupied towns will be very difficult to occupy, if that even happens”.
Minton hopes he can eventually return to Ukraine, as he misses many aspects of his life there, from his apartment back home at peace.
“Imagine being told that you have to leave your home immediately and you don’t know when you’ll be back,” he said. “You’re going to want to go back.”