Liv­ing in par­adise in the mid­dle of hell

The Ukrainian Week - - SOCIETY -

Olek­san­dra Star­o­dubt­seva has two daugh­ters who live on a dif­fer­ent con­ti­nent with their fam­i­lies. She also tried to move there and live in the com­fort, love and wealth. But she re­turned to Ukraine when the war started. “It's im­pos­si­ble to live in par­adise when your home is in hell,” she says. Her tiny apart­ment in down­town Bakhmut, for­mer Artemivsk in Donetsk Oblast, looks more like a museum or an art gallery. Olek­san­dra has been do­ing em­broi­dery since she was 4. There is no free spot on her walls. A pro­fes­sional tour guide, Olek­san­dra speaks about her life based on the em­broi­dered im­ages on the walls. “This is a fam­ily tree. And here is a mov­ing vi­o­lin with a rose – it's the story of my daugh­ter Inna mov­ing up the mu­sic lad­der,” she shares. “She now teaches kids mu­sic in Que­bec. Here is an image of Venice for my younger daugh­ter Mila. Trav­el­ing had been her dream since early child­hood; she learned for­eign lan­guages. When she en­tered the univer­sity, she trav­eled to var­i­ous coun­tries and met her hus­band in one of them. They now live in Wash­ing­ton. I lived with them for three years. But I re­al­ized that I can't live with­out Ukraine. Here is an image of a lonely tree. It's about nos­tal­gia and my life in em­i­gra­tion.”

To­day, Olek­san­dra makes hand­made folk rag dolls and em­broi­dered shirts for her 4-year old grand­daugh­ter in the United States. That's a tra­di­tion that spans gen­er­a­tions. Her grown-up grand­son speaks for lan­guages. To chat with his gradma over skype he uses Ukrainian only.

As the war raged close to her home, Olek­san­dra could not bear to sim­ply stay at her lav­ishly dec­o­rated apart­ment. She de­cided to wage her own, very orig­i­nal war. For over six months, un­der the sum­mer sun or in the win­ter cold, she would go out to the cen­tral trol­ley­bus stop every morn­ing with a hand­made poster. It fea­tured Vladimir Putin toast­ing with a glass of cham­pagne and a slo­gan: “To id­iots! With­out you, I wouldn't be here!” Olek­san­dra's friends begged her to stop: this is not ex­actly safe in a town that's a dozen kilo­me­ters from the front­line. The poster fu­eled heated ver­bal bat­tles: Olek­san­dra re­calls that the peo­ple she ap­pealed to rec­og­nized them­selves mo­men­tar­ily. The po­lice was forced to put an of­fi­cer next to this oneper­son protest to make sure that the woman is safe. One time, how­ever, some­body pushed her badly. Olek­san­dra got sick and quit her at­tempts to ap­peal to the lo­cals.

Mean­while, she has many other im­por­tant things to do. She has just fin­ished an em­broi­dered por­trait of Dmytro Ch­er­ni­avsky, the first res­i­dent of the Don­bas killed at the pro-Ukrainian rally in Donetsk in 2014. The por­trait is now go­ing to the lo­cal museum where a sec­tion on the on­go­ing war is be­ing set up. She now fo­cuses all of her en­ergy, con­nec­tions and op­por­tu­ni­ties on help­ing the chil­dren whose par­ents sac­ri­ficed their lives to pro­tect their coun­try. It has been over a year now that Olek­san­dra has been help­ing the fam­ily of a vol­un­teer killed near Bakhmut in 2014. His part­ner was not of­fi­cially mar­ried to the de­ceased vol­un­teer, so their lit­tle son Olek­siy has no as­sis­tance from the state. Mean­while, the fam­ily is poor and needs help, es­pe­cially be­cause the child has dis­abil­i­ties. Af­ter the military doc­tors serv­ing in Bakhmut hos­pi­tals have helped send the boy for di­ag­nos­tics, he is re­ceiv­ing monthly al­lowance for treat­ment that Olek­san­dra col­lects. Thanks to this care, the fam­ily man­aged to find and rent a place to live in Dnipro Oblast af­ter flee­ing their home in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory. Olek­siy's mother works at a kinder­garten. Al­most every month, the kid gets good­ies from “grandma Olek­san­dra”. The warm win­ter clothes, toys, books and paint­ing kits may be a small thing, but this is an im­por­tant bonus for the young boy.

Also, Olek­san­dra writes let­ters to the front­line. Her health con­di­tion no longer al­lows her to go any­where be­yond her apart­ment. But it can't keep her in­dif­fer­ent: “My dear chil­dren,” she writes to the sol­diers. “I want to shel­ter you in my arms and pro­tect you from the en­e­mies! I want to help you some­how but I'm so old that I only have en­ergy for words. My dear chil­dren! Thank you for keep­ing the old and the young alive. You should know that you are shed­ding your blood for our land, the best land in the world.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ukraine

© PressReader. All rights reserved.