Delegation from Ukraine visits City; A glimpse of life through the wide eyes of visitors from overseas

By Dee Longfellow

For The Elmhurst Independent


Delegation from Ukraine visits Last week, a delegation from Ukraine visiting the Chicago area took time to stop at the City of Elmhurst to learn more about local government and how it relates to the state and federal gov-ernment. Pictured are (back row, from left): George Palamattam, executive director for CIP Chicago; Taras Kremin, Ph.D, language profes-sor and candidate for Ombudsman of Ukrainian Language; Elmhurst City Manager Jim Grabowski; 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Dunn; Karol [pronounced: Carl] Nowak, program coordinator for CIP Chicago; (front row): Roman Oleksenko, U.S. Peace Corps-Ukraine, which boasts the largest number of American Peace Corps volun-teers in the world; Oleksii Mushak, economic ad-viser to the Prime Minister of Ukraine; Olena Matuzko, owner of IIS Marketing, Public Rela-tions and Political Consulting; and, Irina Hobbs, a language interpreter for the group. (Not pic-tured is Valerii Karpuntsov, who was ill.)
There is nothing that expands one’s horizons quite like traveling to foreign lands, but the next best thing is meeting people from other countries.

Horizons were broadened on Wednesday, Nov. 20, when City officials hosted a delegation of people visiting Chicago from Ukraine through a program hosted by the Council of International Programs (CIP). CIP Chicago is the nonprofit group that organized the delegates’ activities in Illinois.

The visiting delegates include Olekshii Mushak, the Prime Minister’s Advisor on Economic Affairs; Taras Kremin, Commissioner for the Protection of the State Language; and Olena Matuzko, co-founder of the Institute for Information Security.

Roman Oleksenko, Community Development Program Manager from the Peace Corps in Ukraine, served as the program’s facilitator. With them was Irina Hobbs, who acted as the interpreter to keep conversations flowing. They were joined by George Palamattam and Karol [pronounced: Carl] Nowak, both from CIP Chicago. Valerii Karpuntsov, who is a prosecutor in Ukraine, was unable to attend because he was ill.


At Elmhurst City Hall

After introductions all around, the delegation gathered around a table in a conference room at Elmhurst City Hall with City Manager Jim Grabowski who, along with Second Ward Alderman Bob Dunn, led a discussion about city government as well as how it relates to county and state government.

“What makes us a desirable city to live in is the close proximity to Chicago and our Metra station,” Grabowski said. “What also strengthens a city is its school district. We have a very strong school district, as well as a good park district.”

He explained some of the things the city is responsible for such as strategic planning, encouraging new homes and businesses, storm water management and the Explore Elmhurst campaign. One of the delegates was curious about the school district and how it is structured.

Grabowski noted the services of the city such as police, fire, water and sewer, local roads and zoning control. He pointed out that Elmhurst has 300 employees and explained the city manager form of government with an organizational chart with the residents at the top.

The residents elect the Elmhurst Mayor and City Council, which then hires a city manager, who manages the city’s operations. A visitor asked if that changed often. He seemed to think perhaps every time we elected a new mayor, a new city manager was hired. Grabowski noted he was only the third city manager to ever serve the community so the job doesn’t change that often.

As the conversation drifted to the county and the state, Grabowski talked about the state pension system. It raised several eyebrows among the delegates when he said that the state sets the pensions, but communities have to pay for them.

A delegate also asked about the city’s revenues. Grabowski explained that sales tax was the #1 source of funding, bringing in about $13 million per year; that the total budget for the city is about $150 million of which $50 million is in the operating fund. From what delegates shared, Ukraine has a lack of blue-collar workers so the country is looking for ways to not only stimulate economic development, but to attract a workforce.

The delegation spent the afternoon visiting the Elmhurst Police and Fire Stations and then gathered at the DuPage Mayors & Managers Conference in Oak Brook. The Independent was able to catch up with visitors for a more lighthearted interview to get to know them better.


Impressions of America

Asked for their general impressions of Americans, one person said he found the people to be very “free inside,” meaning not afraid to speak up and tell how they think or feel about something. Some commented that the air and water were better than what they have in Ukraine. On the other hand, one noted that people in Ukraine walk more, that Americans seem to use their cars for almost everything.

“You just don’t see people out walking around,” he said. “We see it all the time in Ukraine, people walk everywhere.”

Sharing how they live, a delegate said most people in Ukraine reside in apartments, rather than houses. Some of the visitors had children and were asked what they were taking back as souvenirs. One of the gentlemen said that, while in downtown Chicago, he had purchased a princess dress for his daughter that included a shoes and a magic wand. Another bought a big Lego® building set for his two boys who are 6 and 13.

Among the things the delegates did while in Chicago was take the Riverwalk, visit the sky deck at Willis Tower, eat lunch at the Signature Room at the top of the John Hancock building and attend a Chicago Bulls game (unfortunately they lost). They also went to the Christmas Market going on right now in the plaza where the Picasso sculpture is located. The delegates enjoyed seeing it.


The upcoming holiday season

The Ukrainians said their communities don’t have tree-lighting events like we do here in Elmhurst, but they begin the holiday season on Dec. 1 with the Advent Calendar. They hold a big celebration for the New Year, and they do decorate their homes with Christmas trees and other holiday trimmings.

Mentioning how Christmas is a time of charity in America, the visitors said they take up collections for their soldiers and veterans. Ukraine is just now beginning to recognize how important it is to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for those who have served in the armed forces.

Finally, a lesson in cultural differences revealed itself when a man in the room was studying a business card with a furrowed brow.

“I have a question about Mr. Grabowski,” he said. “Is his first name Jim or James? He introduced himself as Jim but his business card says James. Which is it?”

It was explained that “Jim” is commonly used to shorten the name “James.”

It was just another small cultural difference that makes the world go around.