By Emma Castleberry
Asheville artist Andrea Kulish has founded AVL4Ukraine, a group dedicated to creating community in Asheville among Ukrainian Americans and allies in order to generate support, build community and help the country of Ukraine as it defends itself from the Russian invasion. “The war is not just about Ukraine—it is about the future of democracy,” says Kulish. “This directly relates to all freedom-loving people.”
Kulish is a first-generation Ukrainian-American, and she only spoke Ukrainian until the age of 3. “I grew up immersed in Ukrainian culture,” she says. Though she has never traveled to her ancestral land, Kulish remains deeply connected to the food, music and art of Ukraine. She learned the art of pysanky, a wax resistant method for painting hollowed-out egg shells, from her mother and now teaches workshops in the craft.
Upon Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Kulish experienced deep shock and sadness. One way she has dealt with this is by advocating and raising money for humanitarian aid in the country. “The invasion changed my life from focusing on my own business to fundraising for Ukraine,” she says.
AVL4Ukraine hosted a well-attended Peace Rally in February and a fundraising Bake Sale in May. There will be a social gathering in July and other events planned for the summer. “The most important thing right now is to not be complacent, but to write to your elected officials in support of Ukraine, or donate to the cause if you can, whether for humanitarian aid or ammunition—even small amounts help,” says Kulish.
One devoted member of AVL4Ukraine is Alexandra Gritsay-Shramko, who was born in Ukraine when it was under Soviet occupation. She left with her family in 1989, shortly before the break up of the USSR. “We have had a Ukrainian community here for decades, and every one of us is Asheville for Ukraine,” she says. “We were born there and we love America, where we currently live, but we also love our home country.” Gritsay-Shramko says she wants people to understand that “Ukraine is part of democratic Europe and it should be supported to stay that way.” While there are a number of strategic geo-political reasons for supporting Ukraine in the war against Russia, Gritsay-Shramko cites humanity as a primary motivating factor. “It is right and just to support a nation when it’s being destroyed and experiencing genocide by foreign aggression,” she says.
Learn more about AVL4Ukraine and support the group at Facebook.com/AVL4Ukraine.