Who: Emma Duplantis
Interviewer: Katya Chizayeva
Location: New Orleans
Hi Emma, How did you end up living in New Orleans?
Well, I went through a divorce in Canada, and my relatives are snowbirds; they have a place in the Marigny, so they invited me down for Mardi Gras. I wasn’t looking for anything, but I met my future husband on a balcony watching the St Ann’s parade. Both of us were not looking for love. Yet, we somehow found it.
Tell me about your connection to Ukraine.
I come from a very strong Ukrainian background, even though I wasn’t born there and I have never lived there. I was born in Germany because at the time in 1986 my father was a head of ‘’Radio Svoboda”. It was an important time; he was very busy going in and out of Ukraine, and we had political prisoners from Ukraine in our house all the time. I remember growing up around Ukrainians, and we were a part of the Ukrainian church in the community.
My mother is a Ukrainian Canadian who grew up in Canada in a strong Ukrainian community as well. My father is first generation British because his parents were taken by the Nazis from a West Ukraine city called Barizhany near Ternopil area to work in Britain. Both of them came from strong political backgrounds. They were always active politically.
My father always butted heads with his father, who was a Banderovetz, and who had a fighting spirit and anger. My grandfather always believed that he will fight the Soviet Russians one day to push them out of Ukraine. My great-grandfather was sent to the Gulag prison camp, and sadly now I believe his grave has been blown up by this war, so we won’t be able to visit it again.
So my father was from a different generation; he knew Bandera’s son, and they grew up to believe in political journalism and believed that words have the power to change things, which his father didn’t believe in. His father would say, ‘You will never help Ukraine with your words, you need to go and fight.’ At the end, he was able to prove to his father that all the things he did for Ukraine were valid, like working at Radio Freedom and other work.
When did your grandfather leave for Ukraine?
He left in World War II in 1945 when he joined the German side because he would not join the Russian side, his enemy. He believed that he would get training from the Germans. He collected weapons, and he thought that one day he would use them to fight the Russians. However, he got captured in Italy, and England, who lost a lot of men in war, took captured soldiers to replace workers in factories. They were able to take groups of Slavic men because they knew that otherwise they would be brought back to Soviet Ukraine and executed by the Soviet Army. My grandfather started a Ukrainian church and a Ukrainian men’s club in Britain. Then these men heard of Ukrainian women refugees nearby, and he wrote one of them a letter asking her to marry him because he wanted to keep the Ukrainian community together. That’s how my father was born in England.
My mother is a third generation Ukrainian Canadian. Her family came to Canada a while back, but to this day I have ships and passenger lists. I know who came, how they came, and that one of the children had died right on arrival.
Canada was offering free land to farmers and both countries actually have the same black soil known for its rich production called -chernozem- and that was very appealing to Ukrainians who knew how to cultivate that land. It was hard work that nobody wanted to do otherwise. They had land for free but had to cultivate a percentage as a trade off. There were harsh winters and harsh conditions. My grandmother was the oldest of 14 children. She vowed to never be a farmer’s wife; she hated it because the work was very hard.
She ended up meeting my Dido Vasil Markovsky, who was from a very small city but still seemed like an upgrade. Even his mother thought of her as a peasant compared to them, of a lower status already created in Saskatchewan Canada. But they married and they were together for 50 years. They continued traditions. So it’s just been in my blood. I went to Ukrainian school, and I spoke Ukrainian as a child. It’s always been important to us. We are where we came from. And I don’t know any other way. Even though I was not born there I have always been Ukrainian.
It’s just a beautifully weaved story with hardships from each side.
My parents were political hippies, so I have a humanitarian side, and I want to stand up and educate people about what’s going on — just like my parents have done. I want my two daughters to be American with the strong two identities of French from their father’s side, and Ukrainian from my side, a German born British and Canadian Ukrainian living in America now.
I want to switch gears and ask you to describe your body in your current time with four words.
Tense and antsy come together.
It’s funny, I am extremely happy where my life has taken me. I have two beautiful young daughters, but now there is this war, stress, and a heavy anxiety feeling in the chest – on top of just trying to continue living life.
I think there is probably neglect. I am trying to choose healthier options like pilates, but when I look at the mirror right now I see how tired I am. It hasn’t been as important to keep up physically.
Thanks for looking for that. I wonder if anything has changed in how you sense your reality – timing, expectations, priorities?
What changed is this idea that we would never come to this. We watched from the edge of our seats as it became real, and what changed is that there are literally people being blown up right now. People losing their kids. As much as I try to stumble through life throughout the day, this is very difficult when I think about what’s happening in Ukraine. This could literally be here, happening to us.
Ukrainians had that same idea – that it wouldn’t happen, or it would last a week instead of months – yet the reality is that whole cities are gone.
Ukrainians are not different from us. They went to bed having a glass of wine, putting their kids to sleep, binging on Netflix just like everyone else in the States does, but they woke up to bombings, to sirens, and we didn’t. That’s the thing that’s different.
Geographically as well, we are so far removed. How did the war affect your relationships with other people in your life?
I have very supportive people in my life, and that’s great. I understand that just because this is a passion of mine, it doesn’t have to be a passion for others. I’ve learned to take a step back instead of saying, -What do you mean you don’t know about it?- But I also have to explain certain things, especially in the States and in the South where there aren’t a lot of Ukrainians.
President Zelensky was trying to tap into that feeling by asking, “Think of Pearl Harbor, think of 911”. And that’s what is so powerful to me because it’s so hard to get most people down here to understand Ukraine unless you give them a personal connection. The majority is used for wars; they are used for sending troops overseas. It’s such a military aspect here. People don’t live in the reality that this could be here.
Following that up, what do you need to feel supported?
I need people to care, and people show that in different ways. The flags are very supportive. It just shows that we are all united in a way, and it gives me a little bit of fuel to see that people are willing to fly a flag of a different country just to show support.
The support for me means supporting my goals. Some people give money, others can ask how I am doing, or volunteer their hours, or just be interested in what’s going on.
What has been unhelpful?
Time. That it is no longer the first thing on the news. Struggling to maintain whatever I can but yet feeling depleted. I have two small kids and it’s 100 degrees out, and I am mentally and physically exhausted. But then I go through my news feed and I see another family blown up. It’s continuous for us; it’s always there.
Has reading the news been helpful?
I think it is. Reading about the atrocities is what fuels me to keep going. Everybody is an individual, everybody has a story.
How did your personal priorities shift?
That has happened since I moved here five years ago. I used to be a 9 to 5 volunteer with the Ukrainian community. Now I am a mother of two, and we own two businesses, and I am the admin for that. Then this war got thrown in. I definitely have shifted my time and energy to everything and anything I can do, which puts a lot of weight on my husband and others. It’s finding that balance when things like this happen, it’s just difficult. I am not really good at that. If I am passionate about something, I go for it, and then I burn out. So I am learning it’s very hard on me.
But there is no other way. I really can’t just not do anything. For me, it’s worth the juggle.
What are your dreams for Ukraine?
Number one – victory.
We need to once and for all end bullying by Russia and this whole mentality of Ukrainians being the lowest on the totem pole. We have proven ourselves as a legitimate sovereign nation. The goal is obviously to win – whatever this is – and establish ourselves in the world community with our history changed. Hopefully now people are going to remember Ukraine for what they fought for – for democracy of the world and Europe. History will change and show the strengths of the Cozak nation, our blood, and our love for our nation. What I want is for Ukraine to be rebuilt, to be bigger and greater. It will take time.
And more importantly we will rebuild the reputation of Ukraine. It will have a bigger paragraph then just an ex Soviet country with nuclear power plants.
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org