Nearly two years ago, Russia invaded Ukraine. Pittsburghers of Ukrainian descent immediately felt the emotional impact. The war displaced some 11 million Ukrainians, the vast majority of whom remained in Europe, but thousands of whom came to the U.S.

Some found their ways to Pittsburgh.

I am Ukraine is a series of three free events featuring discussions, song, dance, food tasting and video presentations crafted by refugees and other immigrants from the country, plus others with deep roots there, running from Sunday through Feb. 10.

The events stem from a partnership of the nonprofit Sharing Our Story, City of Asylum, St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Jewish Family and Community Services, JCC Center for Lovingkindness and Engagement, and Ukrainian Cultural and Heritage Institute.

Sharing Our Story and four of the storytellers agreed to share their work with PublicSource.

Ukrainian special treasure

A woman in a black shirt is posing for a portrait.
Olha Myroshnychenko, 40, of Whitehall, stands for a portrait on Jan. 23, in the Strip District. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Olha Myroshnychenko, 40, left Ukraine on Feb. 25, 2022, on the second day of the war. From Slovakia, she relocated to the U.S. in February 2023, and lives in Whitehall with her mother and son.

I’m going around my apartment again. What else should I take with me? Of course, the child is the first priority, but I’ve already dressed him and he is waiting near the door. What else? I put my books in the suitcase. I had room only for two books there. I’m taking the icon of Saint Barbara with me, the one who protected me in all my travels. I’m whispering to myself that Barbara will help this time as well.

I’m opening the drawer and seeing an unfinished knitted jacket. My hand is reaching for it by itself. But no, I have no room for it. And if there is no electrical light, how will I possibly be able to knit? I’d better take this pearl bracelet — I could give it to the worst enemies as a bribe at the checkpoint — so that they can let me go. Oh, I should take the gold jewelry! Where is it?

While I’m looking for gold, my eyes fall on the acrylic peonies that we painted together with my son, and the flying fairy, embroidered with a cross and beads. I feel my heart ache, but I’m taking my eyes away from my paintings — now the most important thing is to save our lives and survive. I will draw more. I will embroider more. Later. I promise this to myself. I’m wiping the tears from my eyes and putting the gold jewelry in the suitcase.

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Now, after a year and a half, there are two of my books on a table in my new American apartment. Above the table there are daisies (not peonies) painted by acrylics, which we made together with my son already in the states. I keep myself warm in a knitted jacket that I created based on Ukrainian ornaments, and I embroider Christmas decorations with a red and black cross, as my grandmother taught me on long winter evenings in front of a kerosene lamp and by the crackling fire in the stove.

The creativity that I learned from my grandmother helped me to save our lives and relocate. I painted, I embroidered and I created a new book while sobbing over the news about new attacks and countless victims. But I continued painting, embroidering and it helped to find the strength to smile and to build my life.

And I believe that creativity continues to support me in difficult times. This is our Ukrainian trait — and it is the strength of all Ukrainian women, our special treasure that cannot be exchanged for any gold or pearls. A treasure that no one can ever take away.

This trait will last through distances and even through times. Because we are Ukrainians. Because I am Ukrainian!

‘We Don’t Abandon Our Own’

Diana Denysenko, of McCandless, stands for a portrait on Jan. 23, in the Strip District. Her normal life as a working mother in Ukraine was turned on its head as sirens wailed and her daughter, at university in Kharkov, could not be reached by phone. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Diana Denysenko left Ukraine on March 9, 2022 and lives in McCandless with her daughter, son and dog.

My life in Ukraine was normal. Coffee at 7 a.m., kids to school, lovely work, time with the kids and the dog. On Feb. 24, at 5 a.m., the sirens wailed and we knew that the war had started. My son was at home, but my daughter was in university in Kharkov, close to the Russian border. She did not respond to my calls; the cell phone service was turned off. 

I was to learn how God helped me through the hands of other people. A friend going to Kharkov for business asked me for her address. He found my daughter huddled in her pajamas in her dormitory basement. Coming back took 12 hours. His car was shot at; there was no glass left in it. My daughter couldn’t speak for three days; she just stayed in bed and slept. 

On March 4, the Russians came to Enerhodar. The children slept in the hallway, away from the windows. People helped each other, making sure everyone had supplies.

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On March 9, the Red Cross set up a Green Corridor for women, children and older people to get to Zaporizhzhya. This time the helping hands were the company bus drivers; 27 of them drove us to safety. The Russians shot at the buses; what was usually a two-hour trip took seven hours.

We had only one bag; I had a son on one hand, a daughter on the other, and our dog tucked under my arm. We stayed in a church and at night, my children cried, “Why did this happen to us? Why? Why?” I couldn’t say anything; I had to let them let it out.

The next step took us to Khmelnitsky. The bus humming. Crying children again. Holding onto my son’s sleeve and my daughter’s pant leg. Zig-zagging across the country. Apples from a random old woman for Ukrainian soldiers. 

Kind, helping hands drove people from Khmelnitsky to the border. There, my Uncle Ivan met us. We stayed in Moldova for four months, waiting to immigrate. Finally, we flew to Istanbul, to New York, to Pittsburgh, where my parents lived. And yes, our dog eventually joined us in America. My children said, “We don’t abandon our own.” 

Today, I have a new normal life in a new place. My son plays top-level soccer. My daughter studies business in college. My dog saw his first deer. I help others who are coming here for a second chance. We have started on our new “normal” life.

My depression cure

A woman in a pink turtleneck posing for a photo.
Anastasiia Vykhrystiuk, of Mt. Lebanon, stands for a portrait on Jan. 23, in the Strip District. Vykhrystyuk now combats her depression through painting. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Anastasiia Vykhrystiuk, 37, left Ukraine on April 26 and lives in Mt. Lebanon with her two daughters.

I want to show the whole world the amazing charm of our country. I do this through my art.

War knocked in the morning. There was a lot of thunder, and rockets were flying. Panic spread everywhere. People buy tickets. Children cry, old people swallow pills. The number of dead constantly grows. Did I have a nightmare? No. This is reality!

Two long months of hesitating and hoping for the best didn’t live up to my hope that it would all end. The alarm sounds again, a rocket is about to hit somewhere. I decided everything and also bought tickets. Thus began my first trip abroad. Alone with two children, I found myself in a completely different world, no money, no knowledge, no acquaintances.

It was very difficult, but I always remembered that I am Ukrainian. I am strong! I am free and able to overcome everything. 

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I miss Ukraine very much. I sat at my easel creating art to ease my depression. My art brings the Ukraine that I love back to me. It inspires me. These memories of Ukraine come to me through my art. The natural world — wheat, wolves, the symbols of our villages, the culture of our embroidered clothing, the signs of the country that I love. They help me survive. I am healed through my art and memories of Ukraine.

My art heals my depression. I am a visual artist in oil and acrylic. This painting I created as a symbol of the end of my life as a wife. I bought this house to begin a new life. I left in Ukraine only two chickens and a rooster. In the U.S., I have only an apartment I rent. 

This painting reminds me of the beautiful home I had in Ukraine. Another of my paintings is about a yellow field and a blue sky. This painting contains the colors of Ukraine.

I love my Ukraine, even though I was lonely here. I want to ride into the future. I had to decide whether to stay or to flee. I want to ride the horse to a new life.

The sparkle of my life

A woman in a black dress posing for a portrait.
Kateryna Boiko, of Sewickley, stands for a portrait on Jan. 23, in the Strip District. Boiko, 36, is a musician who was traveling from work away from her family as the war in Ukraine began. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Kateryna Boiko, 36, left Ukraine a month before the war, but had to help extricate her daughter, and now lives in Sewickley with her husband and daughter.

In my life, there was no father, but I rarely felt his absence because my mother had three sisters, my beloved aunts, who raised me.

I remember in our village, under the bright August starry sky, we lit a bonfire. As Aunt Inna sang “Fog Over the Ravine, Fog Through the Valley,” I sang along, gazing at the bonfire, sparkling, and the starry sky! Waves of peace and happiness engulfed me, as if a spark from the fire landed in my heart, igniting a love for music, while another became a guiding star that continues to guide me. This connection to my Ukrainian singing roots with the cosmos continues!

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Here I am with other children, about to depart for Spain for an international vocal competition. I gaze at the starry sky, see my star, drawing me into something incredible.

The stage, blinding satellites, my solo! And the little stars here are other children, 2013 August, the same starry sky, the deck of a huge cruise liner. My family calls: “How are you there?” I reply, “Today we’re presenting an international show. Big orchestra, three solo singers — from Cuba, Turkey and me, the Ukrainian.

February 2022, I’m on a Mexican beach with a cocktail, looking at the stars and calculating that I’ve already done over 2,500 world shows.

At night, my husband awakens me: “Kyiv is being bombed!”

I try to call my mom and daughter in Ukraine. They are hiding in a bomb shelter. I have a terrible connection in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. I look at the peaceful sky, each star exploding like a bomb in my heart.

I safely brought my daughter and mom from Ukraine to Krakow.

At a railway station I see the eyes of my daughter and mom, tired from constant relocations, who’ve been waiting for a train leading nowhere. They bring our one lonely suitcase, with everything we once owned. Somewhere at the bottom is my music.

“God, give me a sign.”

Erica, who sponsored us and helped us get to America, wrote, ” We chose your family because we have so much in common; my three daughters are musicians, too. I bought you tickets to Pittsburgh.”

Unpacking my suitcase, at the bottom, I found a badge with my smiling face from the ship, signed, “Kateryna, musician, Ukraine.” I burst into tears!

Sitting by Erica’s family bonfire, I see the same sparkles as they were in my childhood.

I want to play the guitar, the one my father gave me, with rusty strings and a bent soundboard, my only remaining connection with him.

I would love to take it but it’s back in Ukraine, and sing “Fog Over the Ravine, Fog Through the Valley” for my daughter, just like Aunt Inna used to sing for me.

Click here to register for the free I am Ukraine events.

Sharing Our Story bridges cultural divides between refugees and their Pittsburgh community members by using storytelling to support understanding at the personal and wider community level, creating mutual understanding, and empathy while providing opportunities for self-expression, technical training and engagement. Sharing Our Story welcomes neighbors into deeper understandings of each other and acknowledgement of shared experiences. Sharing Our Story can be reached at

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