Ukrainian artists unable to return home form a new community in the US – 71Bait


Judy Woodruff: The humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Ukraine extends far beyond its borders.

Days before the war began in February, two Ukrainian artists boarded a plane to Tennessee to exhibit their work and run workshops. Seven months later, they still cannot return home.

WTCI PBS in Chattanooga shares the story of this resilient couple and the support they’ve received from halfway around the world.

It’s part of our arts and culture coverage, Canvas.

Victoria Kalaichi, Artist (via Translator): My name is Victoria Kalaichi. My husband Denis and I are artists from Ukraine.

Peggy Townsend, Co-Owner and Director, Townsend Atelier: We probably got in touch with Denis and Victoria four or five years ago.

The suggestion was that we have a show and then we would also have a workshop led by Victoria with Denis as co-teacher.

Marina Peshterianu, Interim General Manager, Bridge Refugee Services: Everyone was talking about the family coming to Chattanooga to take part in an art exchange.

Denis Sarazhin, Artist (via Translator): On February 22nd we drove from Kharkiv to Kyiv. Knowing nothing, we arrived in Chattanooga. And at that moment I connected to Wi-Fi. And I got a picture of my dad pulling up at a gas station. And on the horizon were explosions and black smoke.

Everything was clear what was happening.

Victoria Kalaichi (via Translator): Everything was turned upside down. Everything changed in one fell swoop. Our plans, our whole lives have changed.

Marina Peshterianu: Nobody knows when they can become a refugee. It’s such an unpredictable situation. These are people who have never done anything wrong. Only external circumstances put them in an extreme situation.

Victoria Kalaichi (via Translator): We see in real time how our city is being bombed, our neighborhood. It feels like 10 of my closest relatives died at the same time and it’s such a tragedy.

I paint because I can’t paint. It’s a place where I can escape, where I feel safe. It’s a place where I can escape from the real problems of the world.

Denis Sarazhin (via Translator): Life becomes before and after. One thinks of those left behind in Ukraine. And here, in a peaceful setting, you can see people walking down the street, smiling, going to restaurants, just going about their normal lives.

Peggy Townsend: Imagine spending a year and a half preparing for a solo exhibition and giving a sold-out workshop. We had people from all over the country attending this workshop with her and Denis.

They have to attend and teach at an art opening and deal with the shock and horror and all the emotions of being away from home.

Marina Peshterianu: I knew they could handle it because we know art heals.

Peggy Townsend: It was so amazing how many people came to the opening to support Ukraine, people wore yellow and blue and supported Denis and Victoria.

We started GoFundMe and raised about $17,000 in about a week. And then people would come by with checks. People would drop by gift baskets. People stopped by and stopped by, called and said hey, do you need a studio? Need a place to live?

Every time Denis and Victoria came here, I had something to give them.

Marina Peshterianu: I am just very grateful to the people in our community for offering Ukrainians an opportunity to wait out this terrible situation, where they will be welcomed with welcoming hands and open hearts, where they will be loved and understood.

Victoria Kalaichi (via Translator): My gratitude is just endless for every person who even thought of us and whose heart responded to help us.

Denis Sarazhin (via Translator): It restores that idea of ​​trusting people, that people can help each other grow and create, not just destroy. You start believing in people again and you understand that while there are bad people, there are also good people, and there are many of them.

Judy Woodruff: Heartwarming and what they’ve been through.

And this report from WTCI PBS in Chattanooga.

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