Day 17: Dasha's Story: A Photo Essay

A 14-year-old Ukrainian refugee talks her plans to help the war effort.

Dasha sat next to me in the Kid's Corner of the free shop where we both volunteer. It is a service in Krakow, Poland for Ukrainian refugees fleeing war.

She told me that she needed a few minutes to warm up her brain so she could speak in English to me. She said, “It is difficult to change languages.”

“Take all the time you need.” I said.

She jumped up and spoke Ukrainian to a family that was ready to leave two children at the corner while the parents shopped. She showed them where to list the children’s names and where to write the phone number.

I love volunteering with her. She thinks up complicated art activities, then cuts out all the pieces to match her ideas.

She loves when the kids ask if they can make something too.

She said, “I always say ‘Yes. Sit down here.’”

She sat down next to me. There are fewer children in the shop first thing in the morning. We had a few minutes to talk.

She said, “I don’t like to tell people that I’m Ukrainian, because they always ask me so many questions.”

“What kind of questions?”

“They want to know about the war and about how I am feeling and about what I think of Krakow.”

I nodded. “I will not ask you any questions. I am just happy that you are here to help me with the children. You can ask me as many questions as you like.”

“Where are you from? What do you do? But what do you do for fun?”

New York. Teacher. Write.

“You are a writer?”

I nodded.

“What do you write, real or fake.”

I smiled. “Both. Mostly real stories about my life.”

“But do you have any books?”

I held up nine fingers.

Translating complicated thoughts.

Her eyes grew even bigger. “You are a writer? Then I must tell you my story.”

I shook my head, declining the invitation. “No. Thank you. You don’t have to share your story with me. Let’s be friends.”

Maybe it’s because she is a fourteen-year-old seventh grader, but the more I told her she could just relax with me, the more she insisted on telling her story. (Her mother gave permission for this to be published.)

When Dasha was three, she began taking art lessons.

Her English is strong, but sometimes she typed her thoughts in Ukrainian and translated them to ensure clarity.

I will let her explain her art background in her own words.

She decided that she wanted to paint in Krakow, too. Her friend Iryna (who I climbed castles with a few days ago) bought her a canvas, some brushes and some paints.

Dasha said that she loved to paint pictures of Ukraine and wants to sell the paintings to help the Ukrainian army.

She said, “At first I was going to use the money to buy underwear for children, because without underwear you can never be comfortable, but then I decided to help the army, because without freedom you cannot live.”

I asked to see one of the paintings.

She showed me one on her phone.

Dasha shows me her painting on her phone.

“This isn’t finished in the photo. I added more things. I can show you. I have the painting in the back room.”

Iryna is running an auction to help her sell the painting on Facebook. Currently the bidding on the painting is at $250.

This is enough to buy two body armor suits. Here is the body armor she is considering buying.

If her painting sells for even more money, she can get better armor. It has been her dream to support the soldiers. She is excited that she can finally help the war effort.

"We must all do something."

Want to see the auction? Click HERE to go to Facebook. Stop by for a visit and leave a kind word or two. Or maybe you have a dose of encouragement for her art--all kindnesses appreciated.

If you are looking for a way to support Ukraine, you might place a bid.

Being an art collector myself, there is no doubt in my mind that her paintings will one day be bought and added to the finest collections.

If I weren't using all of my pennies to volunteer here, I would buy this. It is a lovely piece of art on its own. Add her story (see below) and it's invaluable.

She told me that she has been in Krakow for five months, and she wants to go home. She misses her culture. She misses her house.

Her grandmother and grandfather are back home. Their town, which is outside Kiev—but a part of Kiev, was occupied by the Russians for over a month.

Now her grandparents are okay.

She talked to her grandmother last night for forty minutes to hear the news. She told her about changes in her town from the war.

“My grandparent's village is very, very old. The Russians burned down the church for no reason.”

Dasha learned that eight people from this small town have died. She knows five of the people who were killed.

Her neighbor’s cow was burned for no reason. "One bomb killed cows, pigs, and dogs. The Russians wouldn’t let one man save his cow." She shook her head slowly.

“The soldier shooted at the man's leg because he wanted to save his cow.”

She told me that she had photos of a neighbor’s building that was burned. “I liked that building and took photos of it.”

Dasha posing with her neighbor's building in the background. That building was burned in the war.

“My grandparents went underground in their bomb shelter that is under my grandfathers workshop. The pets went down there with them.”

She showed me another photo. “There is a Russian tank that was burned in the garden at my grandparent’s house. Look, here is a picture of the family dog next to the burned, Russian tank.”

The family dog walking around the burned Russian tank in their yard.

She showed me another photo of their cat on the same burned tank.

The family cat walking on the burned Russian tank in their yard.

She showed me a photo of “dots” not from shooting, but from a bomb. Her grandmother sent that photo, too.

Bomb destruction at her grandparent's property.

She showed me her grandfather’s house. She had to use the translation program to tell me this part as the vocabulary was more difficult.

“The muzzle of the tank is directed in the direction of our house. Then the [Ukrainian] soldiers saved our house and burned the tank.”

The tank is directed at their house. Luckily Ukrainian soldiers destroyed the tank before it destroyed the house.

She showed me another photo of her grandpa’s house: “One window was broken. I will take all of the dots and make them into flowers.

A broken window in her grandfather's house from bomb damage.

She found a photo on the internet of someone else who turned bomb damage into art. "That’s what Ukrainian people do. They make dots into flowers. I will do this too when I go home.”

People in the Ukraine decorate the holes left from bomb damage.

A young boy interrupted us. He asked if he could draw something.

“Yes. Sit right here.” Daysha said.

They talked back and forth for a minute or so. The boy changed his mind, he didn’t want to draw. He sat on the rug and played with cars.

After he left she said, “That boy is from Odessa.”

“How do you know?”

She laughed. “I asked him. He told me. Just now.”

I nodded.

She said, “Odessa is a dangerous city now. There are too many bombs in the city.”

She picked up her phone and flipped through several screens. “I want to show you a map of where I live.”

“Great.” I said. “In Krakow?”

“No. In Ukraine. I live in Kiev, on the left side.”

The blue drop shows where Dasha's family lives in Kiev. She said the map has to be upside town to show the correct direction.

She said there were two hours of air raid alarms today. "My friend told me. Near Kiev. Neighbor city.”

She sat quietly for a moment then continued. “Any day the bombs can be in Kiev. I am scared. I want to go back.”

She turned off her phone. “Our soldiers are doing so good. Using Hummers brilliantly to protect our lands.”

She went on to say that the Russians had a warehouse with ammunition. “Our soldiers bomb it. Now the Russians want to bomb our central streets and civilians.”

She shook her head back and forth. “The Russians are stupid.”

She lowered her voice to a whisper. “I am scared that they can do it.”


I photographed her photos off of her phone.

She has many talents. Here she is pole dancing in her aunt's studio in the Jewish Quarter.





Thanks for reading.



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