I am a first generation Ukrainian immigrant, born to a family who escaped Soviet and German occupation during WWII. I am an author, a business owner, a translator, part-time journalist, and full-time activist. I wear a lot of hats, as you can tell.
I’ve always been a writer, hell-bent on creating a career for myself. As a teenager, I wrote poetry and stories and entered competitions. In my 20s and 30s I began a blog (as was the trend back in the day) and eventually started writing for different magazines and blogzines. Once I gravitated to joining social media channels, it became a daily practice for me to caption pictures thoughtfully and share my work. It felt like I was on a path to creating not only a world for myself within my art, but also a way for me to share my family stories, my Ukrainian language, my heritage, my thoughts, my passion for so much of the world I wanted to learn about.
I self published my first novel, Motherland, at 43 years old. Although it was an imperfect story, it was an epic one based on a true story of a family secret that I’d only recently learned about. It was the veritable bandaid that I had to rip off to really immerse myself in my work, my voice, my creative vision as a writer and author. It allowed me to take pride in the heritage and language that I grew up with, and to empower myself as an author.
At first, I wanted to traditionally publish my novel, so I finished and presented my manuscript as best I could, and I crafted a query letter that was both compelling and professionally engaging. The responses I received from agents within the first two months were overwhelmingly supportive and positive. I held my breath, but eventually those emails became rejections, and one after one, I began to see a pattern: 1) My writing was beautiful and full of talent, but the manuscript needed more work. 2) Publishers didn’t think a historical fiction novel about Ukraine would sell well. It’s a business after all, and agents are human beings with a job to do.
After about eight months of submitting in earnest, I decided I would research the best way to self-publish, in a way that was not seen as lazy or second-rate, but where I could help my book stand on its own next to other traditionally published books. I saw it in my head, I set my intention, and I wanted to make it a reality. That meant learning about the self-publishing industry, self-editing, finding a freelance graphic designer that could take my vision for the book cover and bring it to life, and raising funds to be able to pay for all the upfront costs (thanks, Kickstarter!).
I spent most of my time going back in and line-editing, deleting chapters, writing new ones (even really bad ones, but hey, you can’t edit a blank page). I carved out hours in the morning and in the evenings, writing emotional scenes and in tandem researching things like ‘what color lamplight gives off’ and ‘how did people brush their teeth in the 1930s in Ukraine.’ It was absolutely thrilling, but yes, exhausting. Hardest thing I’ve ever done, to be honest.
By the time the release date of my first book rolled around in 2020, I was nervous and exhausted and I knew that there were probably typos in the book that I’d missed (yep, lots!) but I felt more empowered than I’d ever felt in years of freelance writing. I made myself an author with my own two hands and with a mountain of self-belief. It was an incredible experience, but not for the faint of heart. I pedaled every single day, battling self-doubt and impostor syndrome to push my book out on all the social channels I could, and then I self-published three more (smaller) books after that.
And then, Russia launched a war in Ukraine. My world exploded, reformed, and collapsed all at once. Not 12 hours later, once I spoke to my parents and got a handle on what was actually happening, I turned the fire in my heart into a creative drive; it was my very own war effort: reaching out to news outlets, using my social media channels as a tool for creative and political education about Ukraine, partnering yet again with Frontline News (I had translated for them during the 2014 Revolution of Dignity), making sure that people knew exactly who I was and what I stood for as a Ukrainian creative.
What I didn’t realize is that over the years that I’d been setting my intentions of making sure I wrote articles and self-published books that I was proud of, people had started paying attention. I’d become a woman who people turned to, who people trusted to have transparent content, the woman who had always been a proud Ukrainian but who now had a bigger cause to use her voice for.
Shortly after that, I received an email from Bookouture, a digital-first imprint of Hachette UK, from an agent who wanted to amplify Ukrainian stories; specifically, my Ukrainian story. I was thrilled, but I wanted to make sure that this was the right home for my novel and how I wanted my work to be promoted. I wanted to make sure that this part of my career wasn’t just about my own stories, but about being an author who wants to amplify immigrant stories and unheard voices.
I guess you could say that all unfortunate global events have the potential to be a watershed moment; a moment of learning, of conscientiousness, of accountability. Sadly, that isn’t the case very often. We bear witness, and then eventually, we move onto the next tragedy. But for Ukrainians, this is a very clear bookend for how we have been treated for hundreds of years: and we have had enough. We are now using our creativity, our art, our industry, to use this moment to change the narrative not only now, but for our future, and for the world’s future.
Our creators have gathered in a massive collective wave of support and activism. We are creating architectural plans that will help us rebuild Ukraine with more glory than before. We are using our filmmakers to document new stories about Ukraine, and change so much of how the media has misrepresented us historically. We are using our words to decolonize our literature. We are using our businesses to make sure that we are more inclusive than ever when it comes to all sexual orientations, creeds, and religions.
We have chefs in London like Olia Hercules who went into overdrive being an activist to raise money for Kherson, her home village, after it was brutally attacked, co-created Cook for Ukraine, and now she was named as one of Vogue UK’s 25 most influential women. Then there are translators like Kate Tsurkan who are trying to amplify the community of writers who can translate Ukrainian pieces into powerful English articles about who Ukrainians are. There are also writers like Serhiy Zhadan, Ilya Kaminsky, and journalists Oleksiy Sorokin and Bohdana Neborak who keep the lens trained firmly on the future of Ukraine and the truth of what we need to rebuild. And then, we have young activists like Maksym Eristavi, Valeria Voschevksa, and Anastasiia Lapatina using their words as a battleground, standing on the front lines of journalism and resistance. It’s incredible.
This, to me, is an empowering and scintillating moment to be a Ukrainian, and to be raising future Ukrainians. Despite the harrowing sacrifices that so many of us have had to endure, this is a moment where we train our lenses very sharply to the kind of future we want to create, the kind of future that the world might even emulate.
History and the future are being rewritten, and they’re being written in Ukrainian.