It would have been my Father’s birthday this week – but I haven’t heard his voice since 1989. He didn’t live to see a free Ukraine in 1991 and, thankfully, not to see her attacked in 2022.
My parents were both born near Lviv/Lwów. The beautiful city in Western Ukraine was referred to as “Petit Paris” according to my Mother. She was at the Lwów train station, a 9-year-old child when WWII erupted. The city was a part of Poland then. I will never forget the first time I arrived at the Lviv station on my way to help at a camp for orphans organized by Help Us Help in Canada. By then the city was part of Ukraine. Both my parents had one Ukrainian, one Polish parent. Both identified more with their Mother’s culture (Mama, Polish/Tato, Ukrainian). A difficult history between the two Slavic nations after WWI that included a war, independence for one country long before the other until the fall of Communism opened the doors to forge a new alliance.
My parents were educated; my mother was a dental surgeon in Poland, my father was an engineer. They dressed well, they purchased a property in Toronto. Mom loved to bake and was a master at it. It was her solace, her one escape. Her meringues would put most Parisian bakeries to shame. My engineering friends for years would recall my father’s energy, his strong handshake, a tour around his factory, even if they only met him once. He saw people. They felt it. He wasn’t bitter, he wasn’t angry.
Mom was organized, precise, but she never escaped the memories of leaving her village in flames on a horse-drawn cart under a set of linens, and later hiding in the fields, not only from the Germans. I now understand she had PTSD. I was an only child and trauma resources were not available then. Whenever I needed solace or comfort, the response was “It can’t be that difficult, it doesn’t hurt — it doesn’t compare to my living through the war”.
I was expected to be quiet and achieve near-perfect grades. Personally, I am convinced a lot of bullying in schools happens to and by children of parents who suffer from PTSD. Time does not heal those wounds. They go underground and manifest in social/emotional/physical ways. Outside the home, I felt too often I was defending one of my parents from unkind comments about the culture they had chosen to be identified with.
Enough. Today, I hold my head high.
Standing at République on Saturday I saw Ukrainian flags, Polish flags and a woman with a sign saying, “I am Russian, I stand with Ukraine”. It gave me hope.
Ukrainians are amazing at organizing “benkety” which are fundraisers filled with dancing, singing. Perhaps you saw the Dumka Choir from NY sing a Prayer for Ukraine on Saturday Night Live? Oh, how I wanted to learn Ukrainian dancing, but my Mother wouldn’t allow it. So when I grew up and moved out “West” where Shumka is a legend, I did. No, not with the Shumka company, but with Tryzub, my troupe from Calgary, which closed the Calgary Stampede in 1992. I will never forget the standing ovation after we gave it our all in the cold pouring rain one evening. We all laughed and cried as well as danced.
For those with Ukrainian roots, I am sure we all relate to our grandmothers forever going to a “benket” to raise money for Ukraine. Ukraine has difficult history but a strong spirit. Much has been written about the country being corrupt, and it is supposedly one of the reasons she has not been accepted in the EU. From what I’ve heard, staying alive during Communist times was no easy feat. This followed the two great wars and the Holodomor where millions of Ukrainians perished due to starvation in the 1930’s. Again, hurt people hurt people. This generational trauma will not disappear with the flip of a switch.
Of course, I am writing from my personal experience. It is what makes sense to me. To have survived so much and still have so much strength. Each day my heart breaks and I am in awe of the resistance. I am fiercely proud. And as in a classroom, I believe the best way to make a quantum leap forward is to be very clear where we are and where we want to be. In this case, progress means finally being a part of the EU.
How we can help Ukraine
I am thankful to the American School of Paris where I teach for helping with fundraising, collecting supplies that are difficult to find in Ukraine at this time. All the clubs are coordinating efforts for Ukraine. Donations will be organised by theme on certain days to streamline efforts. Students in the younger grades will be contributing artwork to a padlet (you can think of it as an online gallery) organized by The Pechersk School/PSI (an International School in Kyiv). Later this month there will be a Walk-a-Thon and a silent auction of paintings/photography. Information about these events will be posted on the school’s website.
PSI Kyiv has recommended organizations which are accepting donations and INSPIRELLE has published a roundup on how to help support Ukraine from France and internationally.
My personal take for the hygiene items – if you come across red lipstick, small sachets of perfume, or other little extras that could raise someone’s spirits, please drop them in. From my personal experience, whenever my mom or my aunt was in the hospital, these were the things I knew would bring a spark to their eyes.
We are also organizing a silent auction of paintings. Art by
Olena Zherebetska, a professor at the Lviv National Academy of Arts, with Oleksandra Bilobran photos along with my photos @DarciaPhilipa from Paris have created Lviv / Lwów. Olena Z and I began the Lviv / Lwów Art project where she has been painting my photos and we have worked with superimposing her sketches on my photography. All proceeds will go to Action Humanitaire France. We wanted to stress that the Petit Paris of the East belongs to both cultures … and for people to see her beautiful details through our eyes.