Everything and Nothing: Voices from ‘a safe area not far’

Aïda Rogers

Posted August 8, 2022

By Aïda Rogers

Their words come across my computer screen, words of explanation and description, dashed plans and new realizations. I receive them with no trouble in my cluttered South Carolina office. They’re from two young women in Ukraine. I “know” them because I’m their customer. Iryna is “Iryna Fleur,” a cold porcelain floral artist in Kyiv. July and her partner, Alex, make and sell vegan bags through their small business, Good Mood Moon, in Kharkiv. Both are “star sellers” on Etsy, an American online company through which you can buy all manner of things – many handmade – from all over the world.

July and Alex donate a portion of their profits to animal care organizations.

Shopping on Etsy is like shopping on an endless Main Street of mom-and-pop specialty stores. Just as you’d have friendly conversations with the owners of brick-and-mortar shops, so it is with Etsy. When I asked Iryna, July and Alex if they’d be willing to answer some questions for this column, they agreed. Here’s what I learned:

Life in Ukraine depends on where you live. Iryna, a former lawyer who lives with her husband and daughter, said in late June that life had continued in Kyiv pretty much as before. With the occasional exception of gas and diesel, which they could find when they needed it, they’ve been able to buy everything they want in the city’s stores.

“On the streets you can see mothers with children who try not to think about the war and live their lives,” she said. “The first month we were stressed. And after, you try to adapt to the new reality. Covid also was a new reality.”      

For Iryna, whose jewelry and art are inspired by the flowers she grew up putting in her hair, the parks and gardens in her area are intact, or were when we emailed. She knows not everyone in her country can say that.

“After answering your questions, I realized that the situation in Ukraine is bipolar,” she said. “Somewhere is difficult with water and food, somewhere you can go to a restaurant.”

Still, life’s uncertainty has never been so clear. Before the war, Iryna and her family were excited about the new house they planned to build and holidays they’d take outside the country.

“Now we want to stay alive,” she said. “We don’t know what will be tomorrow. We realized that money is not everything that can make you happy. Our home, safety and peace, are everything we want.”

According to their Etsy pages, IrynaFleur and Good Mood Moon are still in business, with both saying shipping from Ukraine is working well. (I can attest to that.)

Life has been harder for July and Alex, who left their home and workshop in Kharkiv for “a safe area not far.” Unable to convince Alex’s mother and her husband to join them, the couple brought their three dogs and two cats with them. Like all Ukrainian men, Alex can’t leave the country. July, with their five animals, won’t. They also brought some of their bags with them, to sell online as they can. Alex’s mother, who helps make the bags, has their workshop in her home. Before, they were able to work when there wasn’t an air alert or shelling.

“Our beautiful city Kharkiv is still under shelling every day,” July said.

Their lives before the war sound idyllic. In their home near a forest and lake, July grew greens and roses in their garden and Alex composed music and played guitar and keyboards. But they grew adept at dashing to the cellar or behind two walls when they heard the noises of war. Now, displaced, they say their current circumstances are much better than others who live in occupied areas or near the front lines.

“It is really hard to describe what life is like in a couple of sentences,” says July, who like Alex and Iryna speaks Ukrainian, Russian, and English (Iryna also speaks German). “But imagine you call your mother three times a day with a rapid heartbeat checking if she answers. Or walking a dog not knowing if you return.”

And those are the words that jolt me, so safe behind my computer.

Aïda Rogers writes from an old house in Columbia and a new porch in McClellanville. Her three-volume anthology series, State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love, includes stories by 108 Palmetto State writers.

This content is being shared through the S.C. News Exchange and is for use in SCPA member publications. Please use appropriate bylines and credit lines.