The verdict is...I will continue forward, learning Ukrainian to the extent that I can before I leave. I wrote to the PC Ukraine office and asked for their advice. Here is her reply:
Congratulations on your accepting the invitation! That's a great idea to get a head start on the language before coming here! We strongly advise all the Invitees to focus on Ukrainian first and not to try and learn both Ukrainian and Russian which will only result in a mixture of the two languages. I recommend the Ukrainian Home Prep Program (20 survival audio lessons with script) which is available on My Toolkit. You could also use any book for the beginners. Ideally, it would be great if you familiarize yourself with the Cyrillic alphabet and key survival words and phrases (we covered in the our survival course).
During PST approximately 60 percent of your group will be assigned to learn Ukrainian (with inclusion of some very basic Russian - mostly safety and travel language) while the others will be focusing on the Russian language (with safety and travel Ukrainian). We recommend to focus on Ukrainian first, because it's our official state language and all the street signs, arrival/ departure schedules and official announcements at the train/ bus stations are in Ukrainian. However, you will be exposed to both languages wherever you serve in Ukraine, as Ukraine is a very bilingual country. If at any point of your service you decide to switch to the second language, we'll be very happy to support you with all the resources we have.
You can read more about the language situation in Ukraine in the article "Languages in Ukraine" available on "My Toolkit". Please let me know if you already got access to My Toolkit and if you have any other questions.
Look forward to meeting you in Ukraine soon!
Yes, I've read all of the information provided on "My Toolkit". But having heard from people IN Ukraine, people who have been there, and people who are FROM there, that I should learn Russian, I wanted a little more information than I was provided.
I told her about the progress I have already made (i.e., not only using the PC info but also purchasing "teach yourself Ukrainian" and going to livemocha.com), as well as my frustration with the fact that NO ONE seems to think teaching Ukrainian grammar is important. Side note: Ukrainian is not the first language I have learned. I also learned French and Danish. However, Ukrainian seems to be grammatically tricky. I also mentioned that there seems to be politics behind the "learn Russian" theme. To this she said:
Thanks for your prompt reply and commitment to learning the language. The more you learn before coming here is the better, so it's really great that you already started and are using different resources. You are right, both Russian and Ukrainian are considered more difficult than most of other languages. However, we have wonderful examples of Volunteers becoming absolutely fluent by the time they finish their service. By the end of Pre-Service Training you will be able to use the language to meet your basic needs and to incorporate it un your activities. (this is not something I was worried about...)
You are also right that there is some politics involved in the language question. As a Ukrainian who's been working for Peace Corps for 7 years, I believe that Ukrainian will be more helpful to you at this stage (we are really talking about very basic survival level now). After you arrive, you will learn what language you'll be studying during PST, but even if you are assigned to learn Russian, any Ukrainian you will have acquired by that time will be very helpful to you (as it is the language of navigation here). Many people here believe that if a foreigner tries to learn Ukrainian, it means that this person is here for Ukraine, if it's Russian, than it's mostly for this person's future career.
You may hear different advice from different people, as things are developing here very rapidly and also everyone's experience is very unique. Hope you will have a wonderful experience here.
So onward I will go...