Teaching Divorce Mediation
in the

By Martin Kranitz

In the beginning…..

It all started in 1942 (sorry I think that is too far back)… in April of 2008 Professor Marshall Botkin , Ph.D. (from the Sociology Department at Frederick Community College) became interested in conflict resolution and contacted Kate Palmisano of CALM …Frederick County Conflict Resolution Center (you all know Kate). Subsequent to this he attended a conference on conflict resolution in L’viv, Ukraine sponsored by the L’Viv Polytechnic University where met Dr. Nina Hayduk, the Chairman of the Social Work Department. Upon his returned he invited Dr. Hayduk to visit him in Frederick in July 2008. She accepted his offer and spent two weeks with Kate and Marshall who showed her around the state and introduced her to a number of people of importance both inside and outside the ADR community. One of Nina’s goals was to find out all she could about family/divorce mediation (victim offender mediation had been ongoing in the Ukraine for approximately 8 years).

Kate organized a one day family/divorce group role play and demonstration at CALM. As part of the day I was invited to do a role-play with two volunteers to demonstrate a divorce mediation session. I was of course, not told that I would be doing the demonstration until I got there but, hey, it seemed to work out any way. After the demonstration, Nina asked if Kate and I would be interested in traveling to the Ukraine to participate in a two day annual international conference on divorce mediation topics and then present a five-day divorce mediation training program to instructors, professionals and graduate students from the University and other people who were interested in learning the process. We indicated we would consider this and that if wecould find funding we would be glad to come.

It was at this point, that Kate, with her fantastic administrative skills began the task of finding out what was required for a trip to the Ukraine. Fortunately, she had been to Siberia the year before on a jazz band trip with her son (how's that for a band trip). She also undertook the task of looking for funding for the trip. As time went on we had numerous conversations with Nina about the conference and the training and became more and more committed to providing this much-needed information. It is of interest, and importance to understand that in spite of their strong religious culture, the Ukraine has a higher divorce rate than the U.S. They were hungry for information about divorce mediation.

As (bad) luck would have it we were unable to get any funding for several reasons which follow: the short timeframe in which we were working, several local organizations did not see this as a useful endeavor; and, because of the economic downturn in our country which screwed everybody pretty good. Nonetheless, we had committed to going and we decided we would go… and we did so, along with Marshall and his wife, Sharon.

The trip

Again, because of her experience, Kate organized the travel. Suffice to say that the trip to L’viv took over 23 hours and the trip back 24 hours. Prior to the trip I purchased several Russian language programs which I studied studiously for many hours. While I did not get as much help as I wished, I didlearn several words and phrases which were useful during the training. We flew from Baltimore to New York, from New York to Kiev (nine hours on the plane… two major meals… some reading… some talking … and a lot of sleeping) and from Kiev to L’viv (a very small plane). When we arrived at L’Viv airport, we were greeted by Nina and a group of professors from the University and other professionals who would be attending the conference and the training. We were given flowers, hugs of welcome and bottles of a special water which, we were told was very healthy and would solve all of our health problems as long as we took a sip every 30 minutes (the stuff didn't taste very special to my palate and I stopped drinking it very quickly). After our warm welcome we were taken to a shed where luggage from the plane had been piled upon a cart. The luggage handlers simply stood back and watched as we dug through the pile to claim our luggage.

The city of L’viv

The day after we arrived, Nina and her friend, Natalia took us on a tour of the city where we sawapproximately 900 churches (well, it seemed like 900 to me, Kate says in was really only 10 but….) plusother beautiful buildings in the downtown area. One of the places we visited (the outside) was their very beautiful opera house located in the center of downtown; it was very lovely. It is adorned on top by a statue of a muse (I presume) who, if one looks closely, is pregnant which seemed to my way of thinking quite unusual. Another interesting adornment on a nearby buildinglooked very much like a seated version of our statue of liberty, with the pointed crown and the torch held high. Our guide, an administrator at the University, made sure to mention that this statue was much older than our statue. And, as my sister would say… " hey statue?" Answer… “yea that’s me!”

In order to get downtown wehad to take a tram. We were guided in the use of the tram by Nina the first few times and after a while were able to go back and forth on our own. One of the interesting behaviors of tram riders is that when the tram is very full, which is most of the time, if someone gets on the back car and cannot get up to the driver to get the ticket they simply pull out their money, tap the person on the shoulder in front of them and hand them the money, who in turn taps the person in front of them and taps the
person in front of them and so on. Three or four or five minutes later the ticket arrives for the person who gave the money in the first place. I tried this on several occasions, with great trepidation knowing that in our country the money would disappear before it hit the third person. I was concerned about this until I realized that with the rate of exchange their dollar (the cost of the ticket) is equal to about $.13 for us and so if I lost two Ukraine dollars I was out about a quarter.

Once you receive your ticket you are expected to punch it yourself. There are punches mounted on the walls of the tram. You slide your ticket into the slot, slam the handle and it punches out a set of holes in your ticket. I had wondered why people did this since I never saw a conductor come by to check tickets … until that fateful day…. when I tried to punch our tickets and the punch wouldn't work. I tried several times to no avail. I shrugged my shoulders and sat down thinking what difference does it make no one's going to check, but of course on that day someone did come to check. A short, wide, angry looking Russian woman came down the aisle asking for tickets and tearing them to make sure they could not be re-used. When she saw that my tickets were not punch she began to berate me in Ukrainian. I of course could not respond because I did not have sufficient knowledge of the language. I tried to pantomime that I had tried to punch the tickets several times and that the punch was broken. She kept on yelling at me until a woman behind stood up and talked to her clearly saying that she had seen me try to punch the ticket. That didn't seem to help. A woman stood up in front of us and again said something that, I imagine was,”… he tried to punch the ticket”. With that, the conductor grabbed the two tickets from my hand, slid them into the punch, made a fist and slammed it down on the lever with a force that would have made Casius Clay proud. She pulled out the tickets, waved them in my face showing me the holes and stomped away. A very exciting trip.

Marshall and his lovely wife Sharon arrived the day after Kate and I. Having visited the Ukraine and Russia several times and L’Viv on prior trips, they acted as our tour guides on several occasions. On one such occasion they took us to the old Jewishsection of the city; a very small area. On many of the doorframes of the buildings we could see the spots where a mezuzah had been located. There were two buildings in particular that they wanted us to see. One had been a Jewish school and one a Jewish hospital. Both of these buildings were adorned with different representations of the Star of David (the Jewish Star). We could see numerous (too many to count) bullet holes in the brick in both buildings where they had been shot at during the World War II (the war to end all wars). In some of the bullet holes we could still see the end of the bullet sticking out!!

Marshall is an Orthodox Jew and had attended Friday night services in the synagogue (the only one in town … with 900 churches) on previous visits. During these visits he became friendly with the Orthodox Rabbi, who came to L’Viv from Brooklyn via Israel. So, we all attended the Friday night service in this very lovely synagogue where the men prayed in a very active and rapid manner while the women were seated above and behind in a balcony behind a curtain (where they belonged). After the service we were invited to join the Rabbi and his wife in their apartment for a Sabbath dinner. We sat at their table (it looked to me like a sheet of plywood on sawhorses covered with a tablecloth) in white plastic chairs (the type which you keep on your patio). The Rabbi had nine children all of whom attended the evening meal. The advantage of plastic chairs, it turns out, is that because they stack, a number of chairs could be stacked until the smallest child could reach the table. Each of the children had a suitable number of stacked chairswhich put them all at the same height for easy access to the table. The meal was quite nice, a combination of classic Sabbath dinner and Ukrainian food (chicken soup, challa, gefilte fish, Ukrainian style fried chicken [see below] and lots of vegetables and salads).

During and after the meal the Rabbi waxed eloquent on anumber of topics related to Judaism. He used a lecture technique which I found quite interesting. As he began talking about one topic, he would reach a point where he had to change directions slightly to explain the previous point. During that part of the discussion he would then change again to explain the most recent part and again to explain the most recent part and again the most recent part. There came a time when he was talking about something that seemed to me quite unrelated to where it started. In mediation we would have refocused that conversation back to the original topic of discussion much, much earlier. However, there came a point where he stopped expanding his explanation, and started closing each point, in its turn, connecting it to the previous point until he was right back where he started without having missed a beat. There were, at least seven layers (and possibly more) which he connectedin a most interesting, if lengthy (verbose) way.

The conference

The conference was attended by approximately 80 people from the Ukraine, Poland and Germany none of whom were lawyers. There were opening remarks from a number of important people (or as in this country, their representatives... “…sorry the boss couldn't be here today but he wanted me to say…”), followed by a wonderful opening statement read by Marshall in Ukrainian. I don’t know what he said but he received a standing ovation for his presentation. For the remainder of the day and the next Kate and I did some presentations together (an overview of mediation in Maryland, and to a smaller extent the United States) and individual sessions on different topics related to separation/divorce and community mediation.

All of our presentations and, in fact almost all of our conversations had to be translated. Nina was the primary translator. However when Kate and I were doing separate presentations other people helped as well. Two of the instructors at the university were able assist with translations; this was very helpful to both of us. The problem was, however, that the way these ladies translated was to listen to what we said and then translate. Listen to the response or question and then translate. While this worked reasonably well it was quite time-consuming. There was also the issue of language. There were numerous times throughout the course of the day when the translator, Kate or I would struggle for a word that the other person would know. I think that for the most part we were successful in our communication and in our selection of word usage. We stressed from the very beginning, that language is an important part of mediation and words had to be chosen carefully and thoughtfully. I know that here I am preaching to the choir, so I will stop. Since they already had an eight year history of mediation, we presumed that they would understand the importance of language.

The conference presentations were well received. We received many compliments on our various presentations. We then had several days to rest before the five-day divorce mediation training program. During this time we met with Ukrainian and L’viv officials to discuss the usefulness of mediation in a variety of settings and did more site seeing.

Of interest to us as Americans was that culture of the country seems to be that people start working around 10 a.m. and continue until 6 p.m. rather than the way we do it. So the conference times were the same even though we arrived at 9 each morning things did not really begin until 10 a.m. Both days a luncheon was provided between one and two p.m. Several interesting things occurred at the luncheons. There were two long very narrow tables each holding approximately 40 people (20 to a side). We were treated to traditional Ukrainian food (lots of vegetables and salads and several kinds of meat) with wine and alcohol served (which are served during the meals). After the meal it is traditional to offer multiple toasts. Fortunately Marshall had educated (warned) us about this tradition prior to our trip, so we were prepared for the toasts. This occurred on both days. Since I'm not much of a drinker, having several drinks and then doing several presentations was not that easy for me. However, I'm much too sensitive (ha) to cultural differences to consider not participating in every available toast. We did notice that we seemed to be a little more relaxed in the afternoon when doing our presentations.

After the conference Nina took us out to a buffet style restaurant where I recognized several of the foods that were offered… beet soup (borscht), stuffed cabbage (golabki) and pastries filled with potatoes or ground beef (pirogues), all of which I ordered by name. Nina was surprised that I could order these by name and commented that she thought I didn't speak Ukrainian. I laughed and said that while I didn't speak Ukrainian I did speak the language of food and these were foods I had grown up with because my grandparents were originally from this region. One of the foods I saw in many restaurants (at the conference and in Nina’s home), that seemed to be very popular was a thin breaded chicken breast* which is very good and quite similar to the Southern style chicken at McDonald's which has been available for about a year (I know most of you don't eat at McDonald's but I do). * Chef’s note… this was not the classic “Chicken Kiev” in which the breaded chicken breast, once pounded flat, is then rolled into a log around garlic butter and herbs, then baked… it really is more like the McD’s southern fried chicken although the breaded chicken fillet was quite thin and may have been pounded.

The next few days after the conference, we were taken around to see some more churches and museums and had an opportunity to visit several of the outdoor markets. Some of these sold tourist items while others sold fresh produce and meat. I was quite comfortable in buying and negotiating prices with the tourist items (Marshall helped quite a bit in this endeavor) and produce but somewhat skeptical of purchasing meat or fish that had been sitting in buckets out on the counter (flies and all) for who knows how long. At one point I mentioned to Nina that I would like to get some fresh meat and she said she would have her husband purchase it for me. The next day he presented me with two of the most beautiful fresh salmon steaks I've ever seen, a kilo of fresh veal, and two complete chicken breasts (four breasts -- two right and two left) all for $17 American and enough food to feed four for a week.

The Divorce mediation training

The five-day 40 hour, course was held at a very large old educational center (mostly performing arts) built in the Soviet Russian block style (big, gray, cement blocks, circa 1950). The room we used for the training was so large that small groups could each go to a different corner and talk without fear of distracting the other groups while role playing. The room was also cold and dimly lit much of the time. The course was presented as a standard divorce mediation skills training. The training took somewhat more time (it was slower) because of the lag time with translation. It was not until the third day when Kate discovered one of our students (Oxyana) with prior mediation training had spent a considerable amount of time in Canada and was able to do concurrent (on the fly) translation. She was able to translate while we were talking and translate back while they were talking. This made a big difference especially in the group role-plays. Up until that point, our other translators would be translating what the mediator had said while the mediator continued to talk to the clients. If the translation caused some concern (language usage or direction of the conversation) they were already beyond that point by the time we understood what was going on. We would have to stop the conversation ask them to backup to the previous comment and then explain what we thought would be a better course of action or better language usage. They would then try again, then sit and wait while the translator gave us a new rendition of what was being said. Then we had to comment about whether we thought it was more on track or how it could be improved. With Oxyana, we were current with what was being said since she was translating simultaneously. We could then ask them to stop and make suggestions without spoiling the rhythm, to any great extent (any more than we would in this country). It was, I believe, a much more satisfying experience for them and certainly for us.

Each day of the training we were offered very large bottles of the “special water” (because the water lady who had first given it to us was one of the students). Kate being a special person that she is would take very small sips of the water throughout the course of the day. My bottles just continued to pile up throughout the course of the week. They also offered us chai (tea) which I found to be very flowery. My preference when I train is to keep a bottle of diet soda with me and so we had to go out hunting in the stores for soda.

Food Shopping

Let me tell you about the food stores. Imagine a room 10 x 12 feet. Imagine that the entire back wall of the room is covered by a shelf that is only 4 inches deep and runs from floor to ceiling, extends to both side walls and is filled with bottles of alcohol, wine and beer. The two side walls have shelving that are a little deeper and hold cereals, grain, crackers, canned goods and toilet paper (imagine the kind of streamers you used to put up in the high school gymnasium for a dance, light brown in color and twice as wide). In front of the back wall is a counter display case with cold foods like eggs, different types of cheese - some processed and some not, sausage and meat of various types, butter and some plastic bags of milk. The side counter has a freezer for holding frozen meats and frozen pasta (pirogues) sitting in open baskets or bowls (bulk style). Most food is sold by weight. The eggs are $.50/piece (in Ukrainian six cents). If you are lucky there is a cooler against the back wall (the wall behind you, not the wall with all the alcohol) in which there is water, soda, beer, andwine. All of this is kept cool (not cold). I found Coca-Cola but not Pepsi. At first I didn't recognize it because the label was different. It was in English but said “Coke Light”. It tasted the same, came in several different sizes and cost pretty close to what it would cost in this country. It turns out (not surprisingly) that things that are imported like Coca-Cola or Puma running shoes, or a meal at McDonald's are sold for the equivalent of what they would cost here since they are imported. It is only the local brands which are unbelievably inexpensive (by our standards).

Local collaborations in the Ukraine

We were asked to attend several meetings with officials from local and regional government agencies, to describe and explain why we were in the Ukraine. We met with the University President of International Affairs, with one of the regional Directors who oversaw the care of children and attended a local Rotary club meeting that was held in the meeting hall of … the Masons. We were introduced to the president of the Rotary club who was also the director of a Museum housed in a palace of an old king (actually the king had died many years ago... maybe even a hundred of years ago). He invited us on a special tour of the museum a few days later. There were works of art and statuary in the museum. We were also allowed to visit what would have been the king’s living quarters hundreds of years ago. The living quarters were inlaid with very fancy handmade parquet floors, some of the most intricate ivory inlay in several pieces of furniture and plaster ceilings with beautiful handmade plaster moldings. There was also a large meeting room which was originally the king's dining room. It was used for many of the Rotary meetings. In speaking with the president of the L’Viv chapter, we were informed that many of his chapter’s members were in fact people from the arts, either artists of various types or supporters of the arts. There were three other chapters in the area, but we did not have the opportunity to meet with representatives from those chapters. Marshall had several pictures taken of us with the president of the chapter. Since our return Marshall, Kate and I have made presentations to local Rotaries in Annapolis and Frederick about our trip to the Ukraine and conflict resolution. We would be pleased to make such presentations to any other Rotary Clubs in the state.


The day after our training was completed we packed up and went to the airport, with a similar entourage, this time they were saying good bye and thank you. The first leg of our flight was late in getting started (this apparently is pretty typical of flights in the Ukraine and possibly most of Europe). Going through customs was much less difficult than I imagined. They hardly seemed to care. We made our connecting flight in Kiev, and settled in for another nine hours of confinement. As we traveled, we of course talked about our experiences in the Ukraine. After a while we were given the first of our two dinners. This was followed by chai. As dinner started we noticed that some people in the middle of our row had opened up a bottle of Jack Daniels. This was not a small individual (mini), rather it was the fifth of alcohol. We were quite surprised that they were allowed to do this. After a little while, the gentleman who was sitting next to me (across the aisle in the same row) tapped my shoulder and asked if I would like to have a drink. He did this primarily in pantomime since he had very little English, but the message was clear. Not wishing to be insulting (especially around someone who had already gone through half a bottle of Jack Daniels) I of course accepted his kind offer which, I shared with Kate. After a moment or two of enjoying the alcohol, and saying thank you (spaciva), we struck up a conversation. He wanted to know what we were doing in the Ukraine and so I tried to explain that we were teachers bringing new skills to L’Viv. As our conversation struggled on, a woman who was sitting in the seat in front of me offered to translate so that our conversation would go more smoothly. She was quite good and I complimented her on her translation, suggesting that she should be a translator. She responded that she was indeed a translator which is why she was so good. With her aid we learned more about each other. However, as time went on it appeared that she entered into more of a conversation with them and after accepting yet a second offer of refreshment, which I shared (I'm such a nice guy) and proceeded to close my eyes and off I went to sleep until the second dinner was served several hours later.

The end is near (No it's not)

We could simply say that we arrived ultimately in Baltimore, were picked up by our families, and went home. And while part of that may be true, other things have happened since then as well. Kate and I were immediately contacted upon our return by e-mail with many thanks from Nina and her crew. Three or four weeks later we were again contacted and told that several initiatives had already taken place and were moving forward including the development of a nonprofit community mediation center and the development of an exchange program with Salisbury University.

Marshall, with his un-bounding interests and dedication to bringing conflict resolution (divorce mediation) to the Ukraine, maintained close contact with Nina and her associates. He invited two instructors, Larysa (Chair of the School of Sociology and Social Work Department) and Olesia (Professor of Social Work and director of Mediation for Juveniles), from the University (who had participated in our training program) to come to Frederick for three weeks, to learn (as Nina had done in 2008) about ADR in Maryland. A CALM volunteer generously offered to house them and Kate made arrangements for them to visit a number of organizations and associations including a visit to our MCDR quarterly meeting, a visit to MACRO, a visit to the state house where they met the Maryland Secretary of State and his staff and a visit to Salisbury University where they met with Brian Polkinghorn, Director of the Conflict Resolution Center and Program, a visit to Frederick County District Court to gain a sense of the Peace Order Mediation Program staff by CALM, and a visit with the Frederick County Circuit Court to meet with Judges and Masters. In addition, they toured some of the sites which Maryland has to offer such as the Baltimore aquarium, a walking tour of Annapolis along with a boat ride, a brief visit to the Naval Academy, Frederick and even Gettysburg. They also toured parts of Washington, DC. It must be said, that Kate did the lion's share, not only of transporting but also scheduling and making contacts with the various people and organizing contacts with whom Larysa and Olesia visited ( she didn’t want me to put this section in but I insisted). She is to be given kudos for all the work that she did especially in light of the fact that she was trying to get her new CALM office set up in a new city building. She was struggling with moving, permits, insurance, visits with building supervisors and inspectors all at the same time that she was graciously taking “the ladies” around to see the sights and meet people who she thought would share their visions on ADR.

During those three weeks, Kate and I presented a five day 40 hour basic mediation skills training course for future CALM volunteer mediators. Larysa and Olesia were present throughout the entire training program. Marshall made arrangements for several translators to come in and help so they could keep current with what was going on. They participated in the role plays, the debriefing and made many insightful comments about the training.

After the training was completed, during the last week of their stay, Marshall and Sharon hosted a going away party for Larysa and Olesia. People from Frederick Community College who were or spoke Russian/Ukrainian attended along with some other students from the mediation class. It was a lovely event, made lovelier by the toasts from all on the subject of friendship and collaboration and the gifts of appreciation that Larysa and Olesia left with Kate, Sharon, Marshall and me.

It may be of interest to note that during their time here, Larysa and Olesia began to talk of our return to the Ukraine. Discussions are already underway for our return in the spring (we hope). We will soon be doing outreach for grants and other financial support. We will be talking with some of our past students who work at a Conflict Resolution Center in Kiev and contacting a number of local Rotary clubs (here and in the Ukraine) and other organizations that may be able to provide some financial support. If you have read this far it suggests to us that you are interested in what we are trying to do to help the people of the Ukraine. If you are aware of any groups or organizations which may be able to help with partial financial support, please let Kate know who to contact.

And so the story continues. We agree that it has been a great experience for both of us. It is a very special feeling to know that the training that we do on a daily basis, has now been made available to the people of the Ukraine (and in surrounding countries), people who are truly hungry to learn these skills and begin to change the culture of their country. It is as exciting now to help a new group of people begin the process of change, as it was many years ago when we started here in Maryland. They have a long way to go and with our help (all of us) we can help them get there.

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