warm fellowship

We are part of a team of people serving in our church’s ministry for those with disabilities. It is a great group of people and we feel privileged to serve alongside them.  Because we are such a diverse group, it is sometimes hard to find a time for us to get together as a group for things other than the afternoon service on Sundays.  Between work schedules, families, etc., we are doing well to effectively do the things we are doing!

But we would love to also spend time with each other, learning from each other, fellowshiping, and being ‘iron sharpening iron’.  The constant question being, ‘Yeah, and when could we do that?!’ Occasionally we’re able to pull off a picnic or a gathering during the holiday season, but not a time of more frequent, informal interaction.

So it was with delight we heard team member Artur’s invitation to come to his house for an informal gathering several weeks ago.  He had understood Sasha’s (leader of the team) desire to do things that would build the team, deepen relationships, also understanding the challenges of doing this with such a diverse group with such varying schedules.

We had a relatively small group, it wasn’t even just members of the team but also some folks who attend the service, and it was really pleasant to see them in a more ordinary, daily kind of setting.

So when Artur asked if we were, in general, busy on Wednesday nights, I had an idea of where he was heading.  He proposed that we could have a small group meeting on Wednesdays, alternating between meeting at his house and ours (and effectively lightening the load of the host – helpful!).  Anyone from the larger team and ministry would be invited.

We recently had the group over to our house and I was marveling at how easily this had come together. After all this time of wishing we could get together more often, here we were enjoying each other’s fellowship, some saying even, ‘I have really needed a place where I can share my heart and I’m glad we can be that place for each other.’  What a thing to look forward to!

the group at our house

discussing a question further


Tanya getting Kolya into Zhenya’s car to go home


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Velika Dimerka

I had the opportunity to drive out to Velika Dimerka (we usually just say Dimerka) to visit with a friend in ministry there recently, and it was so nice.  dimerka-sign-e1446898312255 I’ll admit that I do love the freedom of being able to say, ‘Hey, why don’t I come out on Monday and we can have tea?’, and then being able to hop in the car and do that.  So many people are dependent on public transportation here, and that can make this particular trip take the better part of two hours instead of the 40 minutes it took me.


My friend has been married for three or four years now, but it’s sometimes still a challenge living in her mother-in-law’s home.  We talk some on the phone and both Mark and I have gone out for visits, but it was nice to just make an opportunity to visit for some talk about ‘married-women stuff’.

I’ll admit that my to-some-of-my-Ukrainian-friends-free-spirited approach to jumping in the car and just driving out there still takes some people aback, so I do look for some ‘reason’ to make such trips, whether to help with a project or to deliver some things from mutual friends here in Kyiv or whatever.

We had been looking for a day when I could come out and when I found that she was going to have a large group of people over the next day, I offered to come out and help her get some of the cooking done, just chatting in between.  She’s so wonderful and without blinking said, ‘Of course!’  (It’s so nice to not have that ‘Are you sure?  It’s so far!’ thing hanging in the air.)  She knows her Bible backwards and forwards and would be the kind of person I would go to if I wanted counsel myself, so it is lovely to be able to share deeper talk even though she’s about 20 years younger than I am.

I had explained before I went out that I had some projects in the works at home and so would need to leave at a particular time, which she completely understood.  So we got some cooking done when I said I needed to head home a couple of hours later, she was cool with that.  Her mother-in-law, however, didn’t quite get this strange woman who was leaving just as it was time for lunch!  My friend knew I hadn’t come for lunch (it was already 2:00 anyway!) and as I drove away, I couldn’t help feeling that it was one of those special days.  Nothing big or fantastic happened, just the sweet company of a friend – yep, kind of nice.

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feeling stretched

It is amazing how the feeling of being stretched in too many different directions can sometimes make simple tasks seem too hard.  I hope Donna doesn’t mind me talking about this, but it just was too good of an example of this to pass up.  Donna has been working on a variety of different things in several different spheres lately.  Being a missionary requires you to work in different languages in what feel like different planets. Well, Donna was fixing supper one evening and I came in to talk and help with some things.  She said she was feeling tired and just wanted to sit down.  I looked around and there was a stool near her.   

But this stool had two things on it:  a book and a small basket. I went over to the stool, removed the two items, and said, “Here, why don’t you sit down?” She immediately sat down and said, “Oh that feels good.”

I think probably everyone everywhere has moments when they feel stretched too thin.  In those times even simple things can look really hard.  I am thankful that God brings people into our lives to help us, and I realized that I want be on the look out to help in those situations.

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interesting read from another source

I wanted to post something else here today, but lacking the photo I want for it, I’ll postpone a while longer :-).  But I did read this blog post this morning (http://takingroute.net/2015/10/09/living-overseas-drained-extrovert/) and thought, ‘Yeah, that’s true for me, too.’  I’m not a raging extrovert, but I have seen some significant changes in the 17 years we’ve lived in Ukraine.  Hope you find the post interesting!

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some good classes – hearing from Mark

I just finished a series of classes and they were really enjoyable.  I always hope they were enjoyable for the students, but in any case, I have received some good feedback.  In the different classes I teach some are large, some are small.  One recent class – in Lviv, a city about 6 hours drive west of Kyiv – was pretty large, about 35 students.  Just a week or so ago I taught another class here in Kyiv which was smaller, around 5 students.  I also was invited to guest speak for a few hours in another class which had about 15 students.

At the moment, I am looking forward to another class in December, with several speaking opportunities between now and then.  In the meantime, I’m grading (when you do modular classes, most of the grading happens after the module is over) which I’m not as enthusiastic about (!).  I would really appreciate your prayers as I prepare for the things coming up.  It’s enjoyable, for sure, but it also means using my time well as I go back and forth between several projects, as well as just doing all of the ordinary things that go with the work at the seminary.  But the more I teach, the more joyfully excited I am that the Scriptures give us a profound vision for the meaning of history, for how we can live our lives, and for what the future holds.  I am really thankful for all those who are praying for us and supporting us financially, allowing us to have this ministry here in Ukraine. 

Mark teaching at KTS chapel recently


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far more than vitamins

I took up a new practice a couple of years ago and have, in recent times, become a bit of an advocate on the topic.  I (Donna) had been periodically reading a blog and at one point, the writer there suggested (in coordination with a book she had written) jotting down three things every day that I could consider gifts.

I’m kind of picky about blogs – I’m a little visually OCD – and didn’t read this one very often but this idea sounded good, and, well, fun.  She had published a list of things to look for each day that might fall in the gifts category – I don’t remember them all, but things like ‘three things orange’ and ‘three graces from people you love.’

I liked the creativity of it, not to mention that it reminded me of a sermon I had heard more than a year earlier.  The sermon was about remembering so when I got home, I got out a little notebook and wrote the following on the front page (kind of the main points from the sermon):

Then I decided to print out the list offered from the blog lady that month as a guide.  The list was helpful because it provided some prompts on days when I didn’t quite know what to write down – “three gifts almost gone: time with Benjamin, Abby being in Ukrainian school, time before the summer”.  And it helped with reminders of important things, like giving thanks in all circumstances – “three hard things:  that my computer doesn’t work and may never work, for the uncertainty of that moment, for the uncomfortableness of last night’s conversation…”

Not too many months into it, though, I couldn’t get the list to download.  So I just started writing down three things every day.  After a while, I found that the practice was helping me to either keep perspective or to adjust my perspective, on any number of things.  I can always use help with that.  Mostly, though, I began to see how much my daily life, in little things and in big things, really is directed by the Lord’s personal care.  Which is what led me to say, in the course of time (talking about it to others) that this practice had become kind of like vitamins for me:  a daily thing that was good for me.

And then it came to me that I wanted to share this with other people.  Admittedly my first attempt was a bit bold – I made it a game at a birthday party which I hosted (Ukrainian style!) for my 50th birthday, where I gave out notebooks to each person and they had to write down 50 things they were thankful for.  Whoever gets to 50 first wins a prize!  You have to understand that I was following my friend Lena’s pattern in throwing the party – plus the games and minus the cognac – having invited Lena and our ‘field-trip gang’, all unbelievers.  Because I so much wanted to share some of my Christian life with these friends I’d traveled so often with, I explained to them that this was actually a gift for them, and that it had become a really meaningful thing in my own life, learning to see God’s hand in the everyday things.

Now, well, I find pretty much any opportunity to buy a whole bunch of notebooks and pens and share the blessing – from our various ministry teams here in Kyiv to beach house family madness.  How cool it would be to find a way to send each one of you a nice notebook and a pen!  (There is something personal and powerful about writing versus typing – just saying…)  Maybe we could come up with a little reverse missionary care package scheme!

And you know, I’ve come to think of it as far more than vitamins.  I like to think of it as water.  I have found that it is crucial to my soul that I see the Lord’s active presence in my life every day.  That preacher was right:  remembering brings forth thankfulness and forgetting leads to sin.  Not that I’m merely trying to avoid sin; that would be so small if that’s the main reason I did this.  I just want to see the Lord.  I need to have my eyes lifted.  The difficulties of life on this planet are pretty strong downward magnets otherwise!

So… because I’ve been somewhat inconsistent in our usual monthly updates, especially in not leaving enough room lately for praises or just news, I thought I’d compose a list here of things we see as gifts/things we’re thankful for from the last couple of months (in no particular order):

  1. Mark has successfully completed another one-week intensive class
  2. the students really engaged with and seemed to understand what he wanted to get across to them
  3. all of our luggage arrived without any loss or delay – four times this summer!
  4. the Egyptian lady on the plane wanting to tell me about Jesus
  5. that Anna was able to buy a car
  6. that Benjamin was able to buy a car
  7. some very encouraging people this summer who seemed really happy to see us and hear about what the Lord is doing in Ukraine
  8. Mark’s Lviv class went really well
  9. that they want him to come back and teach some more classes
  10. I was admitted as a student at the seminary
  11. that I have learned so much in the three classes I’ve taken so far
  12. that God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (memory verse for one of the classes)
  13. the cat is home and doing well
  14. our car is in good shape after our being gone all summer
  15. Roma’s kindness in so thoroughly cleaning it for us – what a gift!
  16. that the parking situation is much harder right now
  17. the afternoon service has started back up again
  18. that we had the blood pressure machine to give
  19. the weather has turned cooler
  20. Ukraine is not Russia
  21. that Ukrainians have not given up in the face of dire circumstances
  22. that Brian and Heidi got to full support not having to stay longer
  23. that I could meet with Heidi
  24. her serious commitment to pray
  25. there are new students applying for Mark’s major
  26. Benjamin had two job offers after none for a while
  27. that both jobs have worked out for him, enabling him to pursue some of his goals
  28. KCA’s Fall Retreat went well and that there were no injuries
  29. ragweed season is here and makes things harder
  30. the seminary is financially ok for this semester
  31. continued financial support of so many faithful friends
  32. teammates Eric and Beth have a place to live
  33. teammates John and Stella are back
  34. teammate Josh is finally doing what he has so long wanted to be doing
  35. the floor in the kitchen is fixed and we won’t trip because of the torn place that was there
  36. Volodya’s high standards in his work
  37. the wonderful park next to our building and the refreshing beauty of green and trees in the middle of so many buildings
  38. the piano in the park is played at every hour of the night
  39. Andrei persisted in processing the temporary residence permits even when it was past feasible to get them renewed on time
  40. for the uncertainty after the deadline passed about whether or not we needed to take a trip out of country
  41. the war has not come close to us
  42. that it is still ongoing
  43. that people are profoundly touched by it
  44. being better able to understand the Syrian refugees plight because we know so many here who have also had to leave their homes
  45. that Mary and Abby skype so often and what a delight it is to see and hear Mary
  46. for the ongoing tangled-ness of some bills
  47. for the impromptu invitation to go out to dinner with friends
  48. the government here is really working to make significant changes, it’s not just talk
  49. the economy has not collapsed
  50. the world has really invested in and continues to be interested in helping Ukraine (despite some obvious ongoing unresolved issues)

You know, if you’ve read this far, you’re certainly entitled to a prize at the very least for your perseverance!  How about this?  If you would, indeed, like to take up this practice, send us an email with your name and mailing address and we’ll send you a notebook!  Use this email address:  jmmcdonnel@aol.com and I’ll see what I can do to get it to you as fast as I can.

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city life

We live next to a park.  A really nice park.  Because it’s such a nice park – lots of benches, lots of trees, a nice playground, plenty of long sidewalks – it is quite the magnet.  So we’re pretty used to hearing all of the sounds that come with the park, from kids laughing and playing to local candidates holding rallies before an election, and all of the nice events in between.  Last weekend, there was a group playing some folk music and the small crowd gathered around them were dancing in a circle.

Most of the warm months of the year we open our windows as our air conditioning, so we hear pretty much all of it.  And most of the time, it doesn’t necessarily draw our attention.  When the kiddie train and amusements were set up there for a while, we were ready to go down and disable the choo-choo horn on that train, that’s for sure.  And we’re not sure how to go about putting a nighttime lock on the piano that was put out there sometime last year.

It was inspired by a piano that was downtown during the early months of the protests, so for the most part, it’s seen as a fun thing, and a reminder of the hopefulness in the air.  But unlike in most places we’ve lived in the U.S., people do frequent our park pretty much 24-7, including that piano.  If it were melodies that were more, well, melodic, it would be pleasant… Let’s just say that we are pretty familiar with the fiercely pounded I-IV-V-I chord progression, even as the young drunk belts out his accompanying tune at 3 am.

The other night, though, we had a nice treat.  At first, we thought it was some sort of concert, then we wondered if someone was having a party or something – not unheard of.  But the guitar was really good.  Really, really good.  As were the drums and the bass guitar.  So we went out for a look.

I should interrupt here to say that another pretty common thing in our park is for various musically oriented folks to station themselves on one end of the park at the opening to a passageway that leads to and from the subway station.  When our parents visited once they were looking out the windows and marveling at the sheer numbers of people who pass by on the way to and from that subway station.  Most often, the musician is a lone man, sometimes playing a saxophone, often an accordion.

That night, it was a group of four guys playing some pretty sophisticated guitar.  We enjoyed it from inside, wondering, and then went out and heard them up close.  They were playing everything from ‘Hotel California’ to ‘Pretty Woman’ to ‘Rock Around the Clock’.  It was kind of hard to not start dancing right there on the spot!  At one point, they broke out in a very upbeat version of the Ukrainian national anthem, usually a pretty somber sounding piece.  The video is dark and from one side (otherwise the volume would have been way too loud!) so you can’t see the hilarious star-shaped kiddie sunglasses on the one guitarist, but here’s a little taste for your listening pleasure: park musicians


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kind mercy

 Mark picked these up this morning – it’s official.  We are very thankful!  We have renewed temporary residence permits even though there should not have been time to process them before they expired. 

Ordinarily the process takes a month to complete and we didn’t have that.  Not meeting the deadline should have meant that we would go through the process to un-register, then get some documents to start the process all over again, take those documents to a Ukrainian embassy outside of Ukraine to apply for a visa (needed to enter the country legally if you plan to live here), then return to Ukraine and start the process of applying for a temporary residence permit.  This would have taken time, definitely some expense, and some more time.  That is why we feel like this is Lord showing us his kind mercy in circumventing that process, even when we should have had to do it.  We were prepared to.

We know we are not deserving of his mercy in any way, shape, or form.  He chose to grant it, and we are humbled.  For those of you who prayed, thank you for your kind prayers on our behalf.  Our gracious Lord chose to answer by giving us peace in the waiting, and then with a resounding ‘Yes!’  He is certainly worthy of our praise and all glory just because of who he is, but we magnify his name today for his goodness to us in this – Hallelujah!

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soon these won’t be necessary

If you want to make a foreigner here deflate before your very eyes, just say this one word:  “Documents.”  That one word conjures up a whole range of experiences, processes, memories of time spent in lines and offices related to many, many – ok, pretty much all! – aspects of life here.

Because you never want to be caught without formal documentation on your person, we made copies of our passports and existing temporary residence permits before handing the originals over to apply for the residence permit renewals.

 “Never”? – are we being hyper-cautious?!  Well… Although we haven’t heard of this in a good while, it has happened in the past that foreigners here were stopped by the police – it’s permissible to stop a person without specific cause – they were asked to show their documents, and when they answered that the documents in question were being registered, let’s just say that their next 24 hours were unexpectedly ‘interesting’!

So we have a healthy respect for having everything properly in hand, as well as for doing things by the given deadline, and which is why we asked you to pray about the renewal of our residence permits.  We’ve done some extraordinary things in the past in order to make the deadlines for certain things; it’s really that serious.

So how did it turn out?  Yesterday was the deadline and I kind of wondered all day what the answer to that question was.  Mark had submitted some more things the day before, following the counsel of the man who is submitting the paperwork.  He was proceeding as if it was going to happen and we were following his lead.

In calling him yesterday afternoon, we got a firm, ‘It looks like the process is going ahead’ (irony intended 🙂.  He and we translated that to mean that they have not closed the door on the renewal and are processing them anyway.  So… we think we have renewed temporary residence permits!  Thank you for praying with us.  When we have them in our hands, we’ll let you know, but for now, we are very thankful for the Lord’s kindness to us.

Lord willing, soon those copies won’t be necessary!

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Fall is here

 Mark is on his way to Lviv this morning, going there to teach for a week.  This is the view out of our living room window as a fine drizzle envelopes the city this morning.  Just four days ago we had 90-degree heat and bright sunshine, so we are thankful for the cool the rain has brought.

Pray for Mark as he teaches this week, and pray for Abby and I as we do our school thing here (my session starts tomorrow so we’ll both be students!).  Pray also with us for our temporary residence permit (TRP) process.  I’ll not belabor the details but ours need to be renewed and there’s not enough time – according to the normal way of doing things – to get it done before the deadline on the 15th.  We are not only looking for the Lord’s provision, but his working out his character and showing his glory in us in the process.  Oh that he would be reflected in us, and that we would be faithful image-bearers!

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It’s transition time

If transition were a place, I’m sure we’d have near permanent residency there!  Please don’t hear that as complaining.  It’s just a stopping-and-taking-a-breath moment and acknowledging that transition is a bit of a whirlwind where the familiar, tied-down things of non-transition life take on a nostalgia-like quality.

Our summer furlough has, for all intents and purposes, basically come to an end and we are nearing the end of a long stretch of transition.  Even though one of us (me, Donna) is not yet back in Kyiv, the normal life we live in Kyiv has started back up, and people in the life we dropped in on in the U.S. are continuing on their merry way.

One dictionary defines transition as, “Movement, passage, or change from one position, state, stage, subject, concept, etc., to another; change.”  A summer furlough is an extended time of transition for us in that it is a change from one position to another, but then back again.  We spend some time (not as much any more; we just don’t have time!) getting prepared to leave, whether it’s cleaning and clearing out the apartment so someone else can house sit while we’re gone, or wrapping up the things we’re involved in in Kyiv for a short break, or just packing and putting a few things in place for the return.

We spend time getting our heads and our bodies into the new place, both time-wise and in relationships and the various issues that are part of the new place.  Somehow, though, we don’t stop interacting with or thinking about the other place, it just takes a little more of a back seat.

I don’t know if it could be considered transition to visit a different church and a different set of wonderfully interesting people each Sunday, but it is definitely a lot of movement from one place to another!  It is both fascinating and a bit overwhelming to interact with so many different kinds of people in so many different places.  I see it as a window into what God is doing in a lot of different places, which I love, but we sometimes feel like our heads are spinning considering so many individual lives and stories.

And almost about the time we feel kind of like we’ve sort of hit our stride in some of those things, it’s time to start splitting our attention in order to effectively prepare to leave the one place to go back to the other (while staying thoroughly engaged in the present!)… transitioning.

I’m actually enjoying delaying some of the transition/planning/prep thinking for a little while longer, trying to relish the fact that I can, but I suppose with my own leaving just a few days away, I should probably kick into gear and just get things done.  Plus my family might appreciate that I’m helping more in the transition process (those that have moved from one place to another).

I’m not quite sure why I started to write on this subject, mostly just wanting to stay more current with this blog, but also to share a little of what we’re thinking about, what we’re doing right now.  That, and several of us are feeling more than a little nostalgia for our ‘regular’ life, much as we have loved this whole summer furlough.

If you think to pray for us, we’d sure appreciate it.  Just because three of us will have returned to Kyiv won’t mean that the transition has ended.  Yes, we’ll need to re-find the rhythm of life there.  And we’ll need to learn the new thing of Abby being in high school. We’re still feeling that it’s a not-yet-finished transition of having our older children live somewhere other than with us.  And although I’ve put off thinking about it more directly as I’m sure it will undo me when I finally do, but Mary is still transitioning to this new life outside of Ukraine, and we are still transitioning to life without her nearby.

Yeah, we probably ought to apply for a visa to this place called transition; we sure do visit it a lot.

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Beach house-ness!

This is Mark with nephews David and Zack, talking about some special something with that Lego there…  Actually, this is just a tiny taste of the richness we are experiencing with Mark’s extended family as we take this week away at a beach house – we are so blessed!


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camp is happening now!

We are in the U.S. at the moment, but our church’s annual camp for those with disabilities is happening in Ukraine right now!

camp 2015

camp 2015

Sasha just wrote to say that it’s close to 100F this year and without air conditioning, it’s even in the 90s in the rooms.  Even so, everyone is excited about the baptism ceremony planned for tomorrow.  Pray for Nadia, Tanya, Sasha, and Tatiana as they make this public profession of faith.

If you’d like to know more about the ministry in general, our friends put together a video about it and you may watch it via this link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9bTxdXsgak

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Ukrainian Christmas

I just read this and it is a lovely, lovely description of the traditions we have heard about all these years, but bringing them all together – what a rich tradition!


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we all looked on in incredulity

A year ago today, everyone here in Kiev, indeed in all of Ukraine received a huge shock.  A few hundred people had come out to protest then President Victor Yanukovich’s refusal to sign an association agreement with the EU, which was widely viewed as a means of improving a number of things here in Ukraine.  The initial enthusiasm of those first few days was already faltering, especially as Ukrainians once again watched their president fumble around in international gatherings saying silly things, and generally making Ukraine look rather pitiful on the world stage.

Each year, the city of Kiev erects a massive Christmas tree downtown, which becomes the focal point of the city’s and the country’s New Year’s celebrations.  In theory, it was time to begin the process of assembling the tree, although it’s not typical to do this before the end of November.  So when the city cited the rationale for what later happened – that they needed to clear the streets in order to start putting up decorations – it had a ring of plausibility to it, even though it was a rather flimsy explanation for the way the police behaved.

As it turned out, around 4:30 in the morning of November 30th, the police went to the small crowd of demonstrators and instead of calmly, peacefully working to disperse the crowd, they chose, inexplicably, to use violent force against a group of people who were literally standing around, peacefully so.  They used stun grenades and tear gas, beating both protesters and nearby citizens with batons.

And as was so indicative of the administration’s approach to the people up to that point, it was apparently assumed that the wee hours of the morning would hide the fact brutal, illegal force was the means chosen to clear the square where the people were standing.  That the people would cower and run, and the job would be done.

Someone seemed to have forgotten a few key things, namely that this is the 21st century complete with mobile technology and instantaneous publishing potential via the internet, as well as the fact that a good percentage of those first protesters were young people, the likes of whom have become known worldwide for their eager use of mobile technology and the internet.

Instead of putting out the fire, it was exploded in a few seconds to something 100 times more than it had been just minutes before:  People whipped out their phones and started filming the whole debacle as it was happening.  The footage is hard to watch, because men and women are seen and heard screaming as they are being beaten, unarmed people who had just been standing there.  There is no sense of order, there are no police carefully doing their job.  This was 500 special forces police beating and chasing citizens to beat them further.*

By late afternoon, more than 10,000 had gathered, with thousands gathering in other cities in solidarity with those who’d been beaten in Kiev.

Looking back, we can mark November 21st as the first day of the protests following the non-signing of the association agreement, but November 30th marks the first of many, many days where we all looked on in incredulity at what was happening before our very eyes.

It isn’t over yet.  While we watch the snow fall and think of the soldiers fighting to protect Ukraine from further aggression from Russia, we wait with heavy expectation of what deadly games the Kremlin will decided to engage in today.

*some of this information is from the Wikipedia page, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_Euromaidan#30_November_attack_on_protesters  although most of it is from personal memory, having been here watching it ourselves via local media.

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