Never Ending Journey

Yevheniia & Vavara’s path to safety.

Every day, we watch horrifying scenes on our TV from Ukraine & surrounding countries but unless we are connected personally with someone suffering, can we understand the trauma of what they are going through.. people, just like you & me?

I started messaging Yevheniia around 2 years ago, when I came across her incredible miniature floristry on instagram.  Yevheniia had started making polymer clay flowers in 2012. She began by decorating wedding accessories with her flowers, but then saw a miniature floral display in a museum & it was love at first sight.  She immediately started making her tiny masterpieces & opened her Etsy store in 2017.  Her work is so incredible, it won her 2nd place in the Perfection in Miniature Awards last year.  

We were hoping that Yevheniia would travel to London to exhibit at this show but then the war with Russia began & things changed drastically for her & her daughter.  This is the story about her life over the last few months & the incredible kindness of miniaturists from all over the world.

Yevheniia moved to Moscow from The Ukraine in 2011 to work as a manager in a construction company. She returned to The Ukraine in 2012 where her daughter, Varvara, was born, then, it was back to Moscow to her fiancee & her job.  She made her flowers in her free time.

On February 23rd 2022, Yevheniia & Varvara went on holiday to The Maldives.  They took with them a suitcase full of holiday clothes & other items you would need for a week in the sun.  On February 24th Russia invaded Ukraine.  Yevheniia knew she could not return to Russia, to pay taxes to arm a government bombing her home country.  She could not turn a blind eye while her family & friends in Ukraine were under attack, sleeping in their clothes with the windows open in the cold & frost, so they could hear the alarms.  If you speak out against the war in Russia, the best scenario is that you will be arrested & children put in an orphanage (she was now a single mother)

The rest of the holiday was spent tracking the news & calling my mother & saying goodbye as if it was the last time we would speak.

She knew she couldn’t return to Russia, but surely the war would end & she could go back to the Ukraine?  Her friends & relatives were worried about where she would go. Someone got in touch with a contact in Germany who agreed to help her.

Yevheniia managed to withdraw $700 from her account in Russia before Visa & Mastercard transactions were blocked.  She also had a Ukrainian card with $150 available.  Paypal transactions had been blocked so Yevheniia tried to use cash to buy her plane tickets, but it is impossible to pay for tickets with cash at an airport.  Their flight back to Moscow was via Abu Dhabi, she decided to travel there & continue on somewhere else, but this meant they could only take hand luggage on the plane so they had to get rid of all unnecessary items. 

After 14 hours at Abu Dhabi airport & lots of questioning & stress, she managed to use her Ukrainian card to buy the cheapest tickets she could find.  These were for Serbia where they settled into a guest house. She bought bus tickets for Germany & did their covid tests, but on the way to the train station, Varvara became ill & was sick. Not wanting to travel in dirty clothes & with a sick child, she decided to postpone the journey to the next day. 

However, when they finally reached the border with Romania, the guards would not let Varvara through as she had a Russian Passport.  They were detained for a long time, only then to be taken off the bus by the guards, who wished them luck & put them on the bus back to Serbia. The kind bus driver gave her some money for food for Varvara.  They travelled to the 1st stop & checked into a motel.

Because of this delay, their German connection could no longer help.  

That night I experienced the greatest despair & fear that I could not protect my daughter. It was dark, cold, I was running out of money, we had nowhere to go and no one was waiting for us. I couldn’t even tell my mum as she would worry.  I cannot describe my condition that night, but I will remember it all my life. So then, out of desperation, I turned to Instagram for help.

Her post was poignant & devastating to all of us who followed her on Instagram & the response was immediate. she received so many messages offering help & support that she was replying to messages for over 3 hours. 

This help & encouragement gave her strength to continue & she connected with Annemieke who offered her a room in her house near Rotterdam. (many offers came in from the UK, but she felt it would be easier to get home to Ukraine if she needed to from Europe). Ekaterina who lived in Serbia also wanted to help & she & her husband drove Yevheniia & Varvara to Zagreb in Croatia.  All along the way, they were overwhelmed by the help & kindness from people giving them food, shelter, even shoes for Varvara (who had been wearing her holiday sandals).  

Once in Zagreb, she went to the Red Cross who organised the trip by bus to Rotterdam, their final destination.

Annemieke, Varvara & Yevheniia in The Netherlands

Annemieke had read Yevheniia’s story on Instagram & wanted to be that helping hand that we all sometimes need. She had an empty room which she cleared out & put in two beds & cupboards. A space of their own! When she collected them from the bus, they were exhausted & very emotional.  They ate & slept all through the night (for the 1st time in weeks)  & then they talked.  She showed Yevheniia her hobby room & said she could work there.  She helped with all the paperwork she needed to complete & with ordering things Yevheniia needed for her work. Because they are both miniaturists, they have lots in common.

When I first saw Annemieke, I had the impression that I had known this woman for a very long time. It’s like I’ve seen my friend after a long separation.

When Annemieke’s friends & neighbours found out about Yevheniia’s plight, they offered what they could to help.  They were given bikes for travelling around & lots of advice about what to do next. Varvara has started school & Yevheniia is now feeling calm & good, which makes what is happening in Ukraine seem unreal. She still has the worries about her parents & friends left behind in Ukraine & feels guilty sometimes for leaving.

Being able to make her flowers means she can forget, for a while, about her terrible journey & what is happening back home.  The help & support from people all over the world, gave her the strength to carry on, to try to believe that peace is around the corner & we will all live better than before, enjoy every moment of our lives, travel again, love and be loved.

At the Summer Show, we had a ‘Unicef for Ukraine’ table where, among other things, we sold some of Yevheniia’s beautiful Sunflowers. Through the generosity fo our exhibitor’s donations & our lovely visitors to the show, we raised £1450.00 for our appeal.