Clarksville resident Peggy Walton was a Peace Corps Response volunteer in Lutsk, Ukraine, teaching English teachers. She left during the current unrest in Ukraine.
Clarksville resident Peggy Walton was a Peace Corps Response volunteer in Lutsk, Ukraine, teaching English teachers. She left during the current unrest in Ukraine. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda)

Eighteen months after her second Peace Corps stint in Ukraine was cut short when a violent political crisis swept through the country, a Clarksville woman is returning to the still-simmering nation to finish the work she started.

"I have found deep meaning in the work that I have had the privilege to do with Ukrainian teachers," said Peggy Walton, 69, a retired Howard Community College teacher, adding that she wants to see first-hand how war and inflation have affected the country she knows so well.


"I am confident that I will not put myself in any compromising situation," she said. "I am confident that Peace Corps and the State Department will not place me in an unsafe environment. So why not return?"

It will be Walton's third Peace Corps stint in Ukraine. The first began in 1994, when she spent 27 months in eastern Ukraine training native English teachers. In September 2013, she began what was to be a 10-month stint doing similar work in the western Ukraine city of Lutsk. But two months into her stay, the unrest that eventually toppled the pro-Russian government there began. When the violence intensified, Walton and all other Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated.

Walton returned home to Clarksville in February 2014, relieved but worried about the future of Ukraine and the many people she knew there — and about the personal belongings she had to leave behind when she left. (They were finally returned, intact, seven months later.)

When asked at the time whether she would return, she told a reporter, "Not right now," but added: "Never say never."

Smart advice. A few months ago, when the Peace Corps announced it would begin sending volunteers back to Ukraine, Walton signed up. She is due to leave Aug. 2 for a six-month stay.

"I'm excited," Walton said of her return. "Certainly there's an elevated risk because of the situation, and I'm aware of that. … But if the State Department says it's safe to go, I trust that assessment."

In early 2014, the unrest in Ukraine turned violent when police fired on demonstrators Russia intervened in eastern Ukraine and seized the Crimea peninsular. A somewhat shaky cease fire was brokered earlier this year between the separatists and the Ukrainian government.

While parts of the country remain dangerous, Walton said, she likened that to the violence that erupts in this country.

"There's still shelling and fighting (in eastern cities in Ukraine) … but it's like listening to the shootings in Tennessee and thinking, "Oh, every place in the U.S. is dangerous.' "

Walton is not yet sure what she will be doing or where she will be posted. But she expects to be either training English teachers, as she was before, or teaching English at a university. As to where she will be, she'll find that out after she arrives, but she knows it will be in western Ukraine — the quieter, safer part of the country.

Her return has drawn mixed reactions from loved ones.

Walton's older son, Jonathan Walton, said he supports his mother's decision.

"She felt very disappointed in not being able to complete her term when it was prematurely cut short last time and so having the ability to bring some closure to her venture is important," said Jonathan Walton, who lives in Wisconsin. "I am confident that the State Department would not be sending her over into a war-torn part of Ukraine."

Walton said, "She is a confident world-traveler and is familiar enough with the culture there to make her way safely through the uncontested portions of the country."


Not everyone is as sanguine. Peggy Walton's younger son, Doug, she said, is for more skeptical than his brother, and most of her friends are "puzzled" by her decision.

But Walton, who has traveled much of the world, is at peace with her choice, and eager to see how Ukraine and its people are coping with all of the recent turmoil. If her situation becomes dangerous, she said, she will simply return home.

"I have lived my life taking calculated risks," Walton wrote in an email further explaining her decision, "and this is yet another one in the canvas of my life."