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Ukrainian artists who cannot return home form new community in U.S.


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: The humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Ukraine extends far beyond its borders.

Days before the war started in February, two Ukrainian artists boarded a plane for Tennessee to exhibit their work and teach workshops. Seven months later, they are still not able to return home.

WTCI PBS in Chattanooga tells the story of this resilient couple and the support they have received halfway around the world.

It's part of our arts and culture coverage, Canvas.

Victoria Kalaichi, Artist (through translator): My name is Victoria Kalaichi. My husband, Denis, and I are artists from Ukraine.

Peggy Townsend, Co-Owner and Director, Townsend Atelier: We got connected to Denis and Victoria, probably about four or five years ago.

The proposal was for us to have a show, and then we would also have a workshop taught by Victoria, with Denis co-teaching.

Marina Peshterianu, Interim Executive Director, Bridge Refugee Services: Everybody was talking about the family that came to Chattanooga to participate in an art exchange.

Denis Sarazhin, Artist (through translator): We left Kharkiv for Kyiv on February 22. Not suspecting anything, we arrived in Chattanooga. And at that moment, I connected to Wi-Fi. And I received a picture from my father as he was pulling up to a gas station. And on the horizon were explosions and black smoke.

Everything was clear what was happening.

Victoria Kalaichi (through translator): Everything turned upside down. Everything changed in an instant. Our plans, our entire life changed.

Marina Peshterianu: Nobody knows when they can become a refugee. It's such an unpredictable situation. These are people who never did anything wrong. Just external circumstances put them in extreme situation.

Victoria Kalaichi (through translator): We're seeing in real time our city being bombed, our neighborhood. It feels as though 10 of my closest relatives died at the same time, and it's such a tragedy.

I paint because I cannot not paint. It's somewhere I can escape, where I feel safe. It's somewhere where I can escape from the real problems in the world.

Denis Sarazhin (through translator): Life becomes before and after. You start thinking about those who are left behind in Ukraine. And here, in a peaceful environment, you see people walking on the street, smiling, going to restaurants, just living their normal lives.

Peggy Townsend: You know, imagine preparing for a year-and-a-half for a solo show, and to teach a sold-out workshop. We had people from all over the country coming to take this workshop with her and Denis.

They have to attend an opening and teach and deal with the shock and the horror and all of the emotions of being away from home.

Marina Peshterianu: I knew that they know how to deal with it, because we know that art is healing.

Peggy Townsend: It was so amazing how many people came to the opening in support of Ukraine, people were wearing yellow and blue, and in support of Denis and Victoria.

We started a GoFundMe, and we raised like $17,000 in like a week. And then people would drop by checks. People would drop by gift baskets. People would come by and drop by all of this stuff, call and say, hey, do you need a studio? Do you need a place to live?

So, every time Denis and Victoria would come here, I had something to give them.

Marina Peshterianu: I'm just very grateful for people of our community to offer an opportunity for Ukrainians to wait out this terrible situation, where they are met with welcoming hands, open hearts, where they're loved, they are understood.

Victoria Kalaichi (through translator): My gratitude is just endless for every person who even thought of us and whose heart responded to help us.

Denis Sarazhin (through translator): It restores this idea of faith in people, that people can help each other grow and create, not just destroy. You begin to believe in people again and understand that, yes, there are bad people, but there are good people too, and there are a lot of them.

Judy Woodruff: Heartwarming, and what they have been through.

And that report from WTCI PBS in Chattanooga.

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