‘Ukrainians Are Very Brave’ But Need Our Help

Olena Jacobs bustled around Ukie Style on a recent Saturday afternoon, fielding questions from shoppers and others at her increasingly busy store in Preston Valley Shopping Center.

The store, catering to all things Ukrainian culture, has drawn new attention in recent weeks.

“Believe in us. This war will end someday, and you are welcome any time here.”

Andrey

Many come to buy yellow and blue signs of support and pick up photocopied lists of medical supplies Jacobs and other Ukrainian immigrants are collecting. Her fellow Ukrainians, some Americans, and “even some Russians” come to help pack everything up for shipping.

Olena Jacobs PHOTO: Courtesy Ukie Style

As Jacobs spoke with Dallasites eager to help, her friend Oksana Toporina also fielded calls and questions.

Toporina has anxiously watched the news and social media and talked to family and friends back in Ukraine when she can.

“Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. I just start crying when I see how much people are trying to support our country and our people.”

Iryna Fedorets

“I couldn’t get a hold of a couple of my aunts for a couple of days, and that worried me a lot,” she said. “I have friends all over Ukraine — some are on the move, and some are afraid to come out. Ukrainians are very brave.”

An Airbnb host in Ukraine echoed that sentiment when we spoke about renting his spare room. I had no intention of staying there but, like many others, wanted to support Ukrainians directly.

“We are stronger every day,” Andrey said. “Believe in us. This war will end someday, and you are welcome any time here.”

ILLUSTRATION: Alexandra Fedorets/HandmadebyIrinaToys

Iryna Fedorets, another Ukrainian I reached, had to take down her crochet stuffed animals from her Etsy shop, HandmadeByIrynaToys, when the war began because shipping from Ukraine became impossible.

She pivoted to offering digital prints that buyers can download. Her daughter, Anastasia, created a painting before the war that she felt embodied the “free and independent” Ukraine she loves.

“There are many people here in Ukraine who have suffered from the war,” Fedorets said. “They lost their homes, relatives, children, friends — everything they had. All that is left is a backpack with documents and essentials.”

“We’re overwhelmed, but American people are good people. We’re doing what we can to help, and I think it’s great that people are coming together on this side of the world.”

Oksana Toporina

She said her family was OK, “but the situation is very unstable and changing very quickly.”

“Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow,” she added. “I just start crying when I see how much people are trying to support our country and our people. I hope this awful war ends soon and everyone can come here and see our beautiful country and people.”

Kateryna Kachur, senior researcher at the National Center of Folk Culture Ivan Honchar Museum in Kyiv, and Oksana Lyachynska, a freelance journalist based in Kyiv, have been working with Alissa Ambrose, a visual editor based in Boston, to draw attention to the needs of the arts community in Ukraine, too.

The three have compiled a list of Ukrainian artists selling digital prints and goods on Etsy in hopes that people will make purchases that support them during the war.

“Among those suffering are the hundreds of Ukrainian folk artists and craftsmen Ukraine is so proud of,” the three said in a letter. “They have had to leave their workshops, often without any materials and instruments, which make them unable to create and earn a living. Whether their homes will survive this unfair war when they return is not yet known.

“In these difficult times, the people of Ukraine have to survive not only physically and emotionally, but also preserve its economy and vibrant culture,” they added. “Ukrainian artists know the secrets of traditional folk crafts that are endangered in many other parts of the world. Handmade goods are not only beautiful but also ecological. They are aesthetic and made with love.”

The three also said that artists who sold their work on other platforms have not been able to open stores on Etsy during the war. A petition has been started to ask Etsy to begin allowing Ukrainian artists to start new stores so they can support themselves.

Jacobs and Toporina continued to collect medical supplies during those first weeks of the war.

“It’s very fluid right now — but for right now, it’s only medical supplies that can be shipped,” Toporina said in early March. “We’re overwhelmed, but American people are good people. We’re doing what we can to help, and I think it’s great that people are coming together on this side of the world.”

By March 18, the store — along with the Ukrainian Culture Club of Dallas — announced that it had accepted and processed more than seven tons of physical donations and $180,000 in monetary donations over a three week period. Organizers also said it was time to shift from physical donations to monetary contributions instead.

“Ukie Style is very proud to have been a hub for the humanitarian aid activity in DFW during this difficult time,” the store said on its Facebook page. “In the last three weeks, the store has seen more visitors than in months since opening. We are extremely grateful to all our incredibly kind supporters and tireless volunteers. We continue our efforts to help Ukraine as best as we can.”

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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