It's been a little more than two years since I left Kharkiv. I love this city with all my heart and never considered moving anywhere else. I love to travel, but Kharkiv pulled me back every time I left for more than a few months. It was my home. It still is; I lived here for 17 years, most of my life.
I was so afraid to return, but my husband Jon inspired me and shared the courage and passion to help people, especially kids who need it more than anyone else.
While driving in the city for the first few days to run the events with kids, I felt numbness and shock but also excitement for being in my hometown again. I saw the building where my first ceramic studio was, the Georgian cafe that I used to go to every week, the school I went to, and the road to my dad's house that I used to walk almost every day for nearly ten years—at the same time, hearing the sirens telling us to go to the shelter, reminding us that the war is not over and is very much present for everyone who lives there. Almost every day, some of the buildings, some of the memories that people like me created here, are being shattered in pieces by ballistic rockets or bombs. Some lose their lives, others their relatives and loved ones. Some lose their limbs and sanity, and some—future, as their houses, cars, and all the belongings that they worked for most of their lives.
I think that's why I came back here, to do something, to help with whatever I can give, to help my people to cope and endure this war, not to lose hope, and keep fighting—each in their own way, every day they are alive.
While conducting events, I met a few of my friends, those who stayed. Some became volunteers, collecting money for military needs, hospitals, and people in the occupied territories. During their spare evenings, they are crocheting masking nets that help camouflage the troops, doing everything they can to bring victory.
You should see these kids, old and young, some from families with two parents, others are adopted, living in different conditions.
They all have the same needs - to be loved, to be safe, to be heard, and to be children. They need to have a childhood, at least for some time. They need help to process the feelings of fear of the bombings they hear daily. They need to know that somebody cares about them.
I cannot imagine being a 13-year-old girl in frontline Kharkiv right now, going through the same streets I walked when I was her age to dance class or meet her friends in the park. Imagine living in this beautiful city without having a feeling of safety but being used to the sound of air raids and constant fear of being shelled by Russia.
One of the nights, the ballistic rocket hit about a kilometer away from where we were staying, and it was the first time I'd heard an actual bomb. I wasn't scared; I was in a slight shock. There were two hits. It seemed like it was the next building. The next thing I knew, we packed necessities in our backpacks, running downstairs to find the nearest shelter. For us, this happened only once during our ten-day stay in Kharkiv. For my father and the 1.4 million people living in the city for the second year of the full-scale war, it's just a routine—a regular Tuesday or Wednesday.
War should not be part of daily life in the 21st century. It's a scary absurdity that must be stopped. But when it comes to regular people like you and me, we cannot prevent it. However, we can help the younger generation stay sane and survive this war, to have energy and health to rebuild this city, this country. We must help good overcome evil. Our country had peace for 80 years. It should remain peaceful.
Many friends asked me: "Why not Europe? Why did you return from Canada to Ukraine? Did you not like living there?"
No, we were comfortable, safe, and stable in Europe and Canada. But it was not Ukraine, and for me, at this very moment, coming back and trying to do something here is worth more than any safety or stability I had elsewhere.
When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out, ‘Stop!’
Last month, my wife Hanna and I moved to a city called Ivano Frankivsk in western Ukraine after working with Novi for the previous two years