I couldn’t believe my absentmindedness.
Readying the guestroom for a friend, I realized what I had placed at the bottom of my guestroom bed was not a weighted blanket, but instead, my Christmas tree skirt. And it’s April. Not that a Christmas tree skirt on a bed is probably a very useful idea in December either, mind you.
Don’t worry, friends. I’m not so far gone that I was embellishing the bed with a holly-emblazoned, red-and-green, this-screams-Christmas tree skirt. My tree skirt looks like a beautifully handmade chunky, dark-gray blanket. So, the mistake was easy to make.
The moment I realized it was my Christmas tree skirt, though, it hit me that Anna, the woman who handmade this gorgeous tree skirt, lives in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Kharkiv has been a major target in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Here’s what Kharkiv used to look like as well as what it looks like today.
In the Ukraine’s second largest city, where Anna stitched together my gorgeous tree skirt, some families have been living in the subway for over two months. An elderly man recently went out to buy bread and was killed by shelling.
These are horrific things, happening to people I don’t know. But, unlike author and political candidate JD Vance (who says he “doesn’t care” what happens in the Ukraine), I still care. The people in Kharkiv and other cities are fellow humans.
Maybe my years working in a truly global business environment have helped me feel people are people, regardless of geographic borders. For instance, across an ocean, a man I’ve worked with for several years has just welcomed a new baby. I wonder if he and his wife are getting any sleep and if spring in Amsterdam is as beautiful this year as it usually is. He shared this recently: “All is well here, though a little busy, with Leticia, our newborn (26 March)! Very proud parents and brother and sister :).” I’m so happy for him and his family.
Meanwhile, roughly 4,000 miles away from the new Amsterdam baby, an old friend awaits another new baby. He will soon become a grandfather. He doesn’t know how he feels about the age that makes him but he is excited about the baby. (I can’t wait to call him “Gramps” just to hear him grumble.) Two babies with two different native tongues, born a few months and a few thousand miles apart. Same excitement and joy over their respective arrivals.
Stick with me for one more example. In 2020, while people were going about their daily lives here in the States, I was on conference calls with colleagues in Italy who were looking haggard during the COVID lockdown there. They were watching friends and relatives die while trying to maintain a “business as usual” schedule. It didn’t work and it pained me to watch them. I hurt for them. I hurt in just the same way for local friends who lost family members to COVID-19.
I didn’t really care if they were in Italy or Illinois. Grief works the same way in both locales. Last time I checked, love does also.
Back to Anna, my tree skirt creator. As we all watch images cross our screens, it’s hard to take in what’s happening in Ukraine. Unless you know people there, it’s hard to feel the weight of it. I don’t really know Anna–I just know she makes gorgeous tree skirts and sells them on Etsy. I also know that she’s a “Star Seller” via her Etsy storefront (AnzyHomeShop).
Her site gives us a bit more insight about the business she began with her mom Natalia, based on handmade goods as a hobby: “Our history started in 2016 . . . Today, our team includes experienced knitters and crocheters who do their work with passion and love. Most of us are happy moms and grandmoms. That’s why we know how careful we should be, especially with newborn goods . . . one of our missions is to support women of different ages and social positions. We share with them some projects to allow [them to] earn money doing their favorite thing—knit or crochet.”
Did I mention Anna is a rocket engineer? Yes. Her bio says “rocket engineer with an interior designer’s soul.” Her daughter, Diana, is a model for the kids’ décor photo shoots—just a baby in the pics shown.
I wonder now where Anna Zmiievska is. Did she evacuate? Did she stay and fight? Is she alive? Her online store still exists as if no invasion was happening. If she fled, was she able to take her yarns?
Think about this: Moms and grandmoms who knit and crochet happy things like holiday tree skirts, nursery storage baskets and decorative pillows. Really great people, right? Doing their small part to make a living while making the world a bit friendlier. Sounds like it could be the sweet church ladies down the street in small-town southern Ohio, right? (Hmm . . . that’s JD Vance territory.) Except in this instance, it’s Ukrainian ladies. I bet if the Grannies from Kharkiv got together in a room with the Grannies from Ohio to crochet, they’d have a grand ‘ole time (cheesy pun TOTALLY intended).
Is Anna putting her rocket engineer skills to use to help her country fight Russia? Or is she busily crocheting with other women, trying to help them support families and put a little more beauty out there in a world that sure could use it?
I became a writer because of insatiable curiosity about the human condition. I believe everyone has a story and as my friends will warn you, be prepared to share yours (whether you meant to or not) if you sit with me for any length of time. I’m full of questions.
As I wrote this blog, I realized I should reach out to Anna on Etsy and let her know my prayers are with her and her family. To my surprise, she wrote me back the next day. I’m not going to edit her comments or change the English because I want this to come from her to you as it did to me:
“Hello, Kristine! Thank you very much for contacting me. Glad to hear from you. We feel the support from all over the world , and it is fantastic!
Now we are more or less fine. We had very hard 2 months. As you know, we lived and worked in Kharkiv, the city near Ukraine-Russia border. On 24 February we woke up from the noise of explosions and missiles flying over our roof. We had to spend a week in a bomb shelter, I have 2 kids of 4 mo and 3 yo. It was something I even could not tell about. Then we decided to leave the city, it was dangerous but we had no options, it was also dangerous to stay. We had hard weeks traveling the country since it is difficult to find some accommodation–there are nearly 6 million people who are internally displaced now.
Finally, we found a place in the west of Ukraine. My team had the same story–everyone left the city with their families. We also managed to resume working and we proceed with shipping orders worldwide. It is obvious that we lost our internal market, so our only chance to survive is to sell abroad. Hope we will recover and will withstand this awful time!
I appreciate your support, and if it is relevant–you are welcome to buy something in my shop or recommend your friends. We have some delays with shipping, but our post does its best to deliver to any country.
This is really crucial for my team and our economics today.”
This is the note Anna sent me–the note on her site ends with: “Love in our heart, peace in our home!”
Wow. Anna’s past two months have been far different than mine. But she’s back at it and trying to continue to live in the middle of the chaos. I’ll continue to pray for her. I’ll also take a look at the area rugs, Moses baskets and other beautiful things on her site to see what I might need.
Beyond that, I’ll continue to think of her not as someone far away and completely different from me, but instead, as a fellow mom. A fellow breadwinner. A fellow woman who, when the chips are down, figures it out and keeps her family safe. I’ve had to do that under completely different circumstances and trust me, you have to dig deep and hope you’re made of strong stuff.
Caring is the human thing to do. One human to another, one mother to another, one daughter to another, one breadwinner to another. I care about Anna and her team because they are fellow human beings doing their part to make the world a better place.
Unlike Mr. Vance, I care far less about the borders that separate us.
If, like me, you’re frustrated because you feel you can’t do much to help the people of the Ukraine, find something little. Contribute to a fund for supplies like water or first-aid backpacks. If you’d like to shop at Anna’s site and support a group of moms and grans who are supporting families, you can check out her goods on Instagram (anzyhome_newborn) or on Etsy (AnzyHomeShop). I’ve put a couple of items below to give you some sense of her style.
When we cease to care, we cease to honor our full humanity. We don’t have to be brokering peace talks or running large corporations to make a difference. Many small actions lead to big change.