Who: Svetlana Baranivska
Interviewer: Katya Chizayeva
Location: New Orleans — 1000 Figs
Where are you from Sveta?
I am from Zhitomir. I have been living in New Orleans area for 14 years.
How did you end up in New Orleans?
I had a job offer. My friend and I came here through a work- visa program, and we got the opportunity to stay. Now I have US citizenship.
What is your work?
In the beginning, I was working wherever I could find jobs — from housekeeping to restaurants. I also worked as a dealer at the Harrah’s casino for five years. In 2019 I graduated from UNO with a Masters in Accounting. Since then I have worked as an accountant.
What’s your favorite place in New Orleans?
My favorite place is Bucktown Marina piers. I like the nature there and beautiful sunsets.
What four words can be used to describe your body right now?
It’s tired, contracted, frozen, and perhaps podgy. I need more time for exercise in my life.
What would you say your base feeling is under the skin that you carry since the war?
There hasn’t really been time to feel myself and even listen to my body because all the time I am always running somewhere to do something to help. I am not responding to the needs I might have for myself. I am not even listening to these needs. There is a tiredness that collects, along with the feeling of numbness.
Everything for myself has been moved to a later time because right now I am needed in another place. I am upset that I don’t have time for myself, and at the same time, I think I am ashamed to spend time for myself when I know I can help someone at home or someone here. It’s not time to complain because the others feel worse right now.
If you were a battery, what charge have you had in the beginning of war, the middle, and today?
Well, I imagine my battery has been dead a long time ago, so from where I am getting my energy right now, I don’t understand. Before February 24th I liked to examine my life, to find meaning, and now my priorities have changed.
My own problems have stepped to the background, and now there are new problems to deal with. Look, I am thinking ‘I’ll have energy for this week but next week I won’t do anything because I have nothing to give.’ But the next week rolls in, and I am getting calls. I am getting requests for help, and I am not thinking that I don’t have the energy. I am just doing what needs to be done.
How did your priorities shift?
In the past I thought about how to spend my time well, how to work less so I could have more time for myself. What can I do for myself so I can feel happier? I thought about how to plan my week so I can do something interesting or meet with someone interesting. Also, who I would want to meet with has been different.
What’s more important now is how to do my job more efficiently and finish work quickly so I have more time to do something helpful for Ukraine. Maybe I can do something here and there for myself so I could replenish my energy — like to eat, to sleep, to walk – -and remind myself that if my energy ends I will not be able to help anyone. I need to remind myself to find time to look around to see what else is going on, to see beauty around me, not just news from Ukraine or texts about how I can help. How to help most people with the least amount of time, more efficiently, is always on my mind.
How did your sense of reality change after the war began?
My associations are very different now. For example, when we were at the Jazz Fest I wasn’t thinking about people having fun; I was thinking that so many people will be hurt if the bomb falls on us.
When the war just started I woke up in the morning because the birds were singing outside. At the same time I had the thoughts, ‘What does my mother, who is still in Ukraine, hear right now? Does she hear how the birds are singing or how the bombs are falling?’
When I talk to my family I am stressed out because sometimes I hear potentially incriminating information about the whereabouts of my relatives or our troops. I ask how they are doing but not where they are. I don’t ask about other people’s whereabouts. A lot is being left out from the conversations.
Holding all that, what are your plans for your future?
Now they are different than they were before. Well, they are mostly the same. I want to be in the States — have a big family with many kids, buy a house, and find my mother a place so she is comfortable. I want to go to Ukraine when the war is over to spend some time there and see my family. And at the same time I want to help Ukraine, to rebuild Ukraine, to help people who are there from here.
How did the war influence your relationship?
My relationship with my friends from Russia have changed. I thought they were my family because we have been very close for many years; we spent every holiday together, even a small one.
When Russia started the war with Ukraine my Russian friends did not write or call me for three days, even though they knew my mom is home in Ukraine and that many cities were bombed. At this time, we are not in contact, even on social media. We have very different views on the situation.
What do you want to say to the people of New Orleans?
I want to say thank you very much for not being indifferent and for being willing to help. I would like to thank all the people that I didn’t even know who have called and asked what they could do and how they could help. Also, those distant friends who have found my phone number and checked in on me. Now we have so many problems with Ukraine — we hear bad news more than good — and it helps to hear from someone who I haven’t been in touch with for a while. It’s very important to hear people say, ‘I remember that you are from Ukraine, how are you?’ This is very helpful.
And I want to tell people of New Orleans that we need to continue to help, that we need a lot of support, and it will be like that for a long time. Please don’t let it become normal that people get killed in Ukraine every day, hour, minute… Yet, every small thing counts, even just to ask, ‘How are you?’ And just to see Ukrainian flags all over town, it helps us not to give up, to persevere.
What dream do you have for Ukraine?
My dream is to wake up tomorrow and find out that the war is over.
I wish the whole world will help Ukraine to rebuild. And I wish that the people who had to leave Ukraine and their houses will come back to a rebuilt nation.
Help Ukraine Locally
The New Orleans Ukrainian Resettlement group will support newly arrived asylum seekers. They are looking for volunteers and community support (rides, temporary housing, rental units, resource sharing, ESL, fundraising, childcare)
Kryla.org – Kryla is a local non profit started by Ukrainians in New Orleans to send medical and humanitarian aid. You can help us fundraise and support our local aid efforts.
If you are a lawyer consider joining Home Is Here training in asylum seeking law to provide pro bono work for Ukrainian asylum seekers. Call 504.650.1070 to speak to Julie Yeal.
If you are a musician, a venue owner/manager, or a restaurant owner please consider donating your talent or your space for our next benefit.
We are looking for new creative ways to fundraise for our medical and humanitarian aid, as well as to support newly arriving Ukrainian refugees in New Orleans.
If you are a member of a club, a business, an institution, or an organization that wants to help support Ukraine please get in touch, we are looking for sponsors for specific fundraising goals.
Contact Katya Chizayeva at firstname.lastname@example.org for funding support, local volunteer opportunities, or to ask general questions about organizing efforts in the local Ukrainian community.
Non Local Groups We Trust
www.Israel4Ukraine Bus evacuations, medications, food aid
www.communityselfhelp.org Grassroots support of refugees, medical, humanitarian aid in Lviv
www.koloua.com Help get vests, tactical gear, defense gear Kiev ngo that coordinates supply demand logistics
www.unitedhelpukraine.org Multifaceted US based aid, medical, army, humanitarian
www.dronesforgoodworldwide.org/ Help send drones to Ukraine
www.posmishka.org.ua Women and children, displaced families, orphanages Zaporozhskii region
Poliska hospice from Dongass region of 65 elders can be reached at their Facebook. If you want to donate to hospice you can email the director Evgenii Tkachev email@example.com