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Sat, 07/31/2010

Long-distance service project

Media Coverage | Community Connections

In the blazing heat as Friday afternoon started to drag on, 10 volunteers worked diligently to clear brush and other debris at Grecian Heights Park in Pendleton. But these weren't local residents - or even citizens of the United States.

Instead, the volunteers were a delegation from Ukraine and their two days in Pendleton are just one stop in a three-week trip to Oregon to learn more about how the state produces alternative energy.

The delegation is in Oregon thanks to Community Connections, a program sponsored through the U.S. Agency for International Development aimed at fostering relationships with Eurasian nations.

"We wanted to head out east to see the wind farms in the (Columbia River) Gorge and the ethanol plant in Boardman. We're in the city of Pendleton to learn about the city's solar power and water treatment plant," said Andrew Neal, a program assistant with the Portland branch of the World Affairs Council. "All their meetings have been on alternative energy and energy efficiency."

The group has been in Oregon for more than two weeks and has already visited Corvallis, Salem and Portland, attending two meetings a day while also taking time to be tourists.

Early Friday morning they got a briefing on Pendleton's solar energy projects before spending the rest of the day volunteering. It is something of a Ukrainian tradition to leave wherever they visit better than it was before.

Oleksandr Krvulin is 19 years old and is studying enterprise economics at Karkiv National Economical University. He also works at a company that deals with renewable energy and was elected to participate in the trip.

"I like America. It's interesting for me," Krvulin said. "Mostly I had already heard about these technologies but it was interesting to hear about Oregon's experience (with alternative energy). Some ideas that we have heard here could be applied in Ukraine."

Krvulin said the hardest part of the trip - which ends next Wednesday - has been living with host families, even though it's also been the most informative.

"Of course it's interesting to find out about American culture from the inside out," he said. "It was interesting but quite hard."

For television journalist Anna Prokaeva, who hosts a show that translates roughly as "Factory of Ideas," the visit to the United States is a chance to share new ideas on energy production with her viewers.

Prokaeva said that how Pendleton finances energy-related projects could have a big impact back home.

"The mechanism of financing these kinds of projects is very surprising to us," she said through translator Elena Werner. "If we start talking about these ways of financing it's quite possible some things may change in our legislature."

It wasn't all work for the Ukrainian delegation, which has been going virtually non-stop since they touched down at Portland International Airport.

The group walked around downtown Pendleton before heading to the park to volunteer, soaking in a very different sort of town than what they're used to.

"It reminds me of the period I became aware of when I (first) watched Westerns in the movie theater," Prokaeva said. "Right here I could feel the local flavor that helps differentiate between countries. After I (return home) I would like to share the information I learned with my viewers. I changed my impression about Americans."

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