What separates us?

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.

57 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you for sharing Anna’s letter. It’s true that the world has become a much smaller place, and that events that happen on the other side of the globe affect all of us. Because we’re all people. Because we all care about each other (or at least we should).

    1. candidkay says:

      Amen to that! The days of not worrying about what was happening because it was miles away are over. We will all sink or swim together.

  2. A beautiful and kind post Kristine… it’s amazing how one person can make a difference wherever their attention is! This is what it means to be human. To care and be concerned about what’s happening in our world. If everyone did the same instead of remaining numb and lifeless we could make more waves that would change the world.

    Here in Europe we are doing a lot to support the millions who have been forced out their homes and separated from their families in Ukraine, but also we are seeing how the Russian people are hurt and suffering too because of the sanctions, boycotts, cruel tongues and enlistment of their children to fight in the war!

    It’s always the people who suffer, not the politics and leaders! Both sides of war suffer and I feel my way of helping is to stay in the middle, holding a loving loving space for sensible leaders to find a solution quickly, stop wasting our money and dividing us. We must all begin to see the bigger picture being played out here… major distraction from seeing what is going on behind the scenes…. and that’s another story!

    Thankyou Kristine for loving and caring. Much love from sunny spain❤️

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment. It’s been heartening to see the outpouring of support for people. It gives me faith in our basic humanity despite the awful images we’ve all been seeing about atrocities in Ukraine. I’m glad you found a space that feels right for you. I think that’s what so many people are struggling with – what to do and how to respond.

      1. Yes, finding a space to care for others, no matter what, does give us faith in humanity! Not sure about the leaders though! It’s about time for self governance💃🏼🕺🎶

  3. Kathy says:

    What a beautiful post. You’ve portrayed through examples of Anna and Italy and the soon-to-be new grandpa that the world can be such an interconnected place where we can honor “our full humanity”. Bless you for reminding us what needs to be reminded time and time again. And small acts do count for big hearts.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks, Kathy! It’s hard to place bets on our full humanity given what we see happening in the world right now. But I am trying to keep the faith. I think light and life will ultimately prevail. Trying to help make it so.

  4. Masha says:

    thanks for sharing your heart, thanks for sharing the story of Anna I’m going to check her out. My grandsons girl friend’s family are all in the West side of Ukraine so they are safe but you never know what can happen.
    “When we cease to care, we cease to honor our full humanity.” your words are powerful and like Marlene Frankel, my parents were also Holocaust survivors, and this nightmare makes me imagine how it must have been for my family in 1940. xo

    1. candidkay says:

      It is sad that we feel like there is a chapter in history that may be repeating itself. One that should never be repeated. I keep wondering when we as human race will finally learn. I do hope you check out Anna’s site! I think it’s a small thing to do to help :-). Thanks, Masha, for your thoughtfulness

      1. Masha says:

        Thank you for posting about Anna, I just purchased a basket from her, really happy to support her.

      2. candidkay says:

        Oh, I’m so glad, Masha! She had some really cute baskets, didn’t she? I love that you’re doing your part to help. Thank you!

  5. Dale says:

    I was wondering where the hell you were going with a Christmas tree as image! And what a beautiful share. Your heart is shining from over here. I love that you have shared Anna’s story and yes, every little bit we can do to help, we should!
    I am disgusted with this war and hate seeing what is going on there. A friend of mine and his girlfriend are at the Polish border trying to help in any way they can. I am in awe of them.

    1. candidkay says:

      I love that your friend and his girlfriend are trying to help. I know there are large organizations making things happen over there but I think also so many individuals have made an amazing difference in individual families’ lives.

      1. Dale says:

        We see what people are made of in times like these.

      2. candidkay says:

        Amen to that

  6. mydangblog says:

    I have no idea who JD Vance is, being a Canuck and all, but he sounds like a horrible person. Thanks for sharing your insights. Up here, our family and friends are sponsoring an Ukrainian family to come to Canada, and outfitting them with all household supplies for a new life here. It’s not a lot, but it’s the least we can do.

    1. candidkay says:

      I love that you ate sponsoring a family! That is such a concrete thing to do. So many people are talking but not taking action. It’s nice to hear about those that are taking action.

  7. Great post, Kristine. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like for Anna and all the Ukrainians who are going through this. Looking at photos of war gets me at a visceral level, so painful I try to avoid it. In this day and age, how can this still be happening?

    1. candidkay says:

      I have thought the same thing, Jennifer. After all these years and all the carnage and bloodshed, how have we not evolved beyond the point of bullying each other at a national level?

      1. I don’t understand it at all.

  8. janieleeds says:

    I’m so happy you stopped by my blog so I could find yours. The human spirit always amazes me in its resiliency in hard times. How amazing that you were able to contact them in the Ukraine. Thanks for sharing…

    1. candidkay says:

      It is truly amazing what average citizens of the Ukraine have been doing and have been surviving. I agree. And I’m so glad that you stopped by my blog! Come on in, the water is fine😉.

  9. Ally Bean says:

    You’re so right that caring is the human thing to do– which makes me wonder if Vance is human. The beleaguered people of the Ukraine need our support and this post is a wonderful call to action. Thanks for the link to Anna’s store.

    Also, I write for the same reason as you, “insatiable curiosity about the human condition.” Yep, tell me your story.

    1. candidkay says:

      I hope you check out Anna’s store! Maybe your insatiable curiosity will lead you there😊😉.

  10. markbialczak says:

    Thank you for showing us about the depths and needs of caring, Kay. Thank you so very much.

  11. Roy McCarthy says:

    Nice post Kristine. I’d like to see Mr Vance in a perilous position, wondering if anyone will care about him, let alone offer him their hand. How callous we have become. We have our own ‘charity begins at home’ crowd here in Jersey (C.I.) who conveniently forget the time when people from overseas came to our aid when we were starving under German occupation in 1944 (not me personally, I’m not quite that old 🙂 ) Another way people helped the Ukrainians at the outset of the present war was to book Airbnbs in the country, paying but with no intention, of course, to visit. Maybe I’ll do something similar with your friend Anna, I don’t really need a rug.

    1. candidkay says:

      Yes, it always amazes me that the people who preach the pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality don’t realize that most of them had someone – a grandmother, a friend, someone – who helped. And that we will all need help at some point. We can all take our turns being the giver and the one who might need to be given to. Doesn’t make us weak. Just makes us human.

  12. David Self says:

    I sit here with tears streaming down my face as I read your beautiful words. I feel blessed in feeling the love, prayers and words that you and others are saying and sending to those in need. I can feel the power that everyone is sharing and the positivity that pouring out the other end, it really is beautiful to see and feel.
    Thank you for sharing and being a beautiful human yourself.

    1. candidkay says:

      I often think that the people who show up here give me hope for humanity, David. Glad they are inspiring you too😊. There’s hope for us yet if we can embrace our humanity instead of running from it. Thank you for your kind comments!

  13. My heart just cracked open a bit more. Such a beautiful post. Yes, traveling around the world either in person or through virtual means shows us just how much we’re alike. Thanks for sharing about Anna.

    1. candidkay says:

      Here’s to the cracking🙏🏻. Thanks for being brave enough to let it happen!

  14. Wow! Beautiful post Kristine. Beautiful with a little humor at the same time. The skirt not being any better used as a quilt line in December line was quite funny. It’s amazing how small the world is. I don’t like to hear about inhumanity anywhere. My prayers go out to the people of Ukraine and other places where people are not treated like they are God’s people. We are all God’s people. Thank you for sharing.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Craig, for the kind words. The world really is small and technology is making it even smaller. And yet we have all these people still who see borders and walls instead of commonalities.

  15. Miriam says:

    What a poignant and heartwarming post Kristine. Indeed it doesn’t matter where we live for we’re all fellow human beings with the potential to reach out to each other across the miles. Anna’s story is an inspiring example of each of us striving to do our bit to survive. And thrive.Human connection is so important. Thank you for caring and sharing. 💜

    1. candidkay says:

      And thank you for your thoughtful comment😀.

  16. Jane Fritz says:

    This is a marvelous post, Kristine. Moving and powerful. Thank you for sharing, and also for your suggestions.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Jane! I hope all is well with you and you are finding ways to stay in the moment.

  17. It is amazing what can be done when something is brought into the light. Well written Kristine, it will cause a ripple as it should, and make life at the least more functional in a very dysfunctional part of the world. Thank you for sharing, caring and giving from that part of us all too often silenced by the circumstances 😀 ❤️ 🙏🏽 🦋

    1. candidkay says:

      The light can be uncomfortable sometimes, I know. But like you, Mark, I’m a huge believer in its healing power🌟

      1. It is a beautiful thing indeed kind lady, thank you for sharing it ❤️ 🙏🏽 🦋 And it even let me in to comment 😂 🤣

  18. Thank you for caring Kristine and sharing Anna’s story. If we opened our hearts and lives more to others, we might not have so many conflicts and wars.

    1. candidkay says:

      Amen, Brad. Thanks for reading and commenting🙂.

  19. nimslake says:

    Hello Kristine!
    Absolutely beautiful post. I feel my heart pound in my chest, as I read the post about Anna, and am able to breathe that she is right now safe with those she loves and friends too. It is hard to watch and feel the ‘weight’ as you put it. But reminds me of the stories my Mom tells me of the bombings in Ireland when she was growing up/young adult. [(Still happens at times I believe). [I’d best check in on that and verify.]
    Love the connection between us all. Sending out prayers/vibes for all who are affected. Thank you for sharing.
    Nims

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, that must’ve been terrifying for your mother! Thank you for reading and if you feel compelled to share so that others can help Anna and her group, much appreciated. ^

  20. Karen Lang says:

    What a beautiful reminder of the ‘universal oneness’ of life and our ability to connect and support each other. Thank you Kristine for breaking down the illusions we often believe separate us from helping. We can all make a difference. We can all find ways to show we care. 🧡

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Karen! No more walls, right?

  21. Tonight starts Yom Hashoah, a day of remembrance. My parents were both Holocaust concentration camp survivors. Last Sunday, I spoke for the first time to a Sunday School group of students and their parents. Watching what the people of Ukraine are going through I see my parents’ lives totally upturned in 1939. Normal lives one day, chaos the next. I grew up with this legacy. It is so incredible that the world has not yet learned from history.

    1. candidkay says:

      I couldn’t agree more, Marlene. And yet, there’s hope in a new generation that is more globally connected through technology than any before it. I had no idea your parents were Holocaust survivors. I can’t even imagine. I do love that the Jewish faith has a day of remembrance–a beautiful ritual.

    2. Masha says:

      Marlene my parents were also holocaust survivors, I also grew up with this legacy and I feel the same as you, the war in Ukraine makes me think of how it must have been for my parents and my family in 1940 and I also think how incredible that we still have not learned anything.

  22. Excellent post, Kristine. You are so right about caring. I’m glad Anna responded to you.

    1. candidkay says:

      I am too, John! I literally heaved a sigh of relief when I heard back from her. It’s not as if we’ve been friends but you feel a connection, you know?

      1. Yes you have a tree skirt made by her company. That is pretty connected.

  23. willedare says:

    This is a BEAUTIFUL blog post. Thank you for telling this story and sharing info about Anna-and-company’s Etsy store. Empathy is a precious phenomenon. I am going to see if I can share your post via FB…

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, thank you! I’ll be so glad if you’re able to share–I know Anna will appreciate any good wishes or online purchases that head her way. Thanks for being your usual self–generous, kind and more:).

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