Villages Friendship Force welcomes Ukrainians on health fact-finding mission

The Friendship Force of The Villages, in partnership with the Open World program, recently hosted its second international group.

Six Ukrainians, selected via a very competitive process, were here to learn more about our processes dealing with HIV, tuberculosis and narcotics addiction.

“We are here to obtain knowledge, see your best practices and then we will go home to work with our legislature to make changes,” said group facilitator Iryna Storozhuk. “We are also interested in learning your best customs and traditions. We want to take these home also. We are a young country; our founding date is 1991. We also want to introduce Ukraine to those we meet here,” Storozhuk added.

From left: Dorothy Dobbs, Mariia Bondarenko, Mary Place and Anton Sokolov.

Friendship Force President Mary Place and member Dorothy Dobbs were tasked with putting together an itinerary for the group.

“It took a lot of phone calls and follow-up, but I think in the end we ended up with a really good program for them,” Place said.

The Ukrainian group included an attorney, directors of social agencies and an operation director for an international company. Their working itinerary included visits to facilities in Tavares, Ocala and Leesburg. And they met with law enforcement, overdose response teams and the medical directors at LifeStream Behavioral Center.

“It is a real honor in their country to be selected for this program,” said Dobbs. “We wanted to put together the best program we could for them.”

In addition to the 40-hours of study curriculum, leisure time was incorporated into their schedule, including a trip to the beach and Homosassa Springs. Before traveling to Florida, the Ukrainians spent two days in Washington, D.C.

Serhii Vanenkov called our nation’s capital “the most beautiful place I have ever seen in my life.” Following the day of official touring, he went out on his own for a run.

“I love history and running past all the monuments and the White House at night is something I will never forget,” Sergio said, adding that he took in quite a lot of the city by running the equivalent of a half-marathon.

Iryna Storozhuk and Anton Sokolov prepare a traditional Ukrainian meal for members of the Friendship Force of The Villages.

One of the leisure activities included the group preparing a Ukrainian meal for their hosts in the home of Debra and Jack Wyland. The meal included Borscht, a chopped meat dish

Violbyuni, dessert crepes called Nalysnyky and lots of potatoes.

“For us, potatoes are like bread. We eat them all the time all different ways,” said Storozhuk.

She also commented on all of the opinions going into the Borscht.

“Every family has their own Borscht recipe,” Storohuk said. “Everyone is giving their opinion. We will call this Borscht a team effort.”

The farewell dinner for the group, given by their Friendship Force hosts, was going to be a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

“We are calling it Thanksgiving in April,” Place said. “We are looking forward to sharing that custom with our new friends.”