Ukrainians are famous for their singing, according to Liliya Colston, a Ukrainian-American art teacher and US citizen living in Bulverde.

They sing during happy and celebratory times, at weddings, and perform humorous tunes.

The people from her home country also sing when they’re sad.

Colston is heartbroken by media reports of Ukrainian museums being bombed and famous Ukrainian works of art, such as paintings by Maria Prymachenko, being destroyed by the Russian invasion.

“I want to cry,” she said of such news. “And I feel extremely sad because you cannot go back, you cannot replace. Yes, we have copies. We have reproductions. But the originals that is part of our history, that’s something we are very proud of. “

Colston started her business, Art Time Party, in 2004 because she wanted her daughter, who was a little girl at the time, to learn about art and how to create such works of expression. Colston’s classes evolved into an educational art program with creative thinking as the primary goal.

She was shocked and heartsick when Russia invaded and began bombing her home country. She was born, raised and spent the first 28 years of her life there and still has family living in the war-torn country.

Colston is doing whatever she can to help her homeland. As one of the leaders of the Ukrainian Society of San Antonio, she and the group are holding fundraisers to send humanitarian and medical aid to her native country, which has suffered catastrophic damage and at least hundreds of deaths, possibly far more, as a result of the Russian invasion.

“We feel so helpless,” Colston, 52, said of herself and her fellow Ukrainians living in the United States. “All of us have tremendous guilt that we are here safe. And (others) are over there. Everybody feels the same way.

“It’s a mixture of guilt, it’s a mixture of being helpless… and it’s a mixture of not having enough power to make big change. But we have decided we’re going to do what we can do. “

One fundraiser will take place Saturday, beginning at 1 pm at the Europa Restaurant and Bar, at 8811 Fredericksburg Road. It will feature a Ukrainian fair and a painting workshop, during which people can paint bluebonnets in the Ukraine’s Petrykivka style. All proceeds will be donated to the nonprofit Medical Bridges to purchase pallets of medical supplies, which will be delivered to Ukraine.

Another fundraiser – a brunch and Ukrainian fair – will happen March 26, from 10 am to 2 pm, at the Hilton Garden Inn at The Rim, at 5730 Rim Pass in San Antonio. That event will feature six food stations, mimosas, a silent auction, a live auction, live entertainment and a Ukrainian market. Tickets for that fundraiser can be purchased online through Eventbrite. Proceeds also will be used to send medical supplies to Ukraine.

Colston’s friend, Tatiana McGee, who founded the Ukrainian Society of San Antonio in 2015, said she relies on Colston’s help and considers her a partner in the group.

“Without her, I don’t know how I would even accomplish everything that was done,” McGee said. “She’s very sincere. She’s very hard-working, dedicated. And she’s a very good person. “

Colston came to the US in 1998, settling in Texas, where she married her husband and had her daughter. Her 83-year-old mother, sister, brother-in-law and nephew are still living in Ukraine, in the western city of Ternopil. They are physically safe for now.

But Colston’s family in Ukraine caught the COVID-19 virus before the Russian invasion and hasn’t fully recovered. Colston wanted to bring them to Texas to stay at her home so they would be safe, but her loved ones don’t feel well enough to make the long trip.

“That kind of really breaks my heart,” Colston said. “Because we could have them go anywhere. We wanted them to go somewhere. But they cannot move. “

She tries to stay in touch regularly with her family in Ukraine, which she last visited in 2015. Occasionally, they are able to speak by phone. But communication has been sporadic due to technological difficulties.

“Sometimes the phone calls do not go through,” Colston said. “And sometimes my sister sees that I called, but it doesn’t work. So the communication – I cannot say it’s excellent. But I’m still able to text. So the texts I can see.

“I cannot complain about it. At least I know they are okay. “

When she and her family are able to hear each other on the phone, Colston said, “it is very emotional.”

Ukraine has no bomb shelters, she reported. Colston has heard from friends and family that Ukrainians are crowding into basements without ventilation in an effort to stay safe.

“My brother-in-law was saying they’re just like sardines in the can – it’s like shoulder to shoulder,” she said.

She heard from a friend that one Ukrainian woman hid under a car in the street when the bombing resumed after a couple of hours of silence.

Watching TV news accounts of what’s happening in Ukraine proved so upsetting and stressful for Colston that her husband now watches the news and follows reports on Twitter, then briefs her on the day’s events when she gets home from work.

Colston was born in Lanivtsi, a city in the western part of Ukraine. She later studied at Ternopil National Pedagogical University to become a Ukrainian language and literature teacher. She also tutored Ukrainians on how to speak English. Then she met her husband and moved to Texas.

“The first couple of years, it felt like I moved to Mars,” she recalled. “It literally felt like that because the distance is huge. You can drive, drive, drive, especially when you drive like from Dallas (to) here. No houses, no cities. And it just goes on and on and on. And it’s flat. And the trees look totally different. And there’s no grass. “

Colston is proud to live in Texas. She loves the people. But there are still things she misses about Ukraine. The country is proud of its food, which is a central feature at large gatherings because Ukraine previously experienced several famines during which millions starved to death.

The Ukrainian native fondly recalled the lush landscape.

“It’s less humid, but it’s greener,” she said of her home country. “The region I’m from, the way it smells … It used to smell like fresh-cut grass the whole spring. Can you imagine that? Even in the city, you can smell that fresh-cut grass. You can smell fresh air.

“I miss that smell – it’s something super special. The nature is quite different. … It’s more something like you would see in New Hampshire. “

Colston directed her focus elsewhere when asked how she feels about what may ultimately happen in Ukraine.

“I keep telling all my friends, all our group members, we need to reach for the light,” she said. “Because there’s so much bad stuff happening. We spent days and days crying. … We need to hold on to the light. If we can do something with our thinking and with our intentions and with our work to bring them closer to the light, that’s our path. “

pohare@express-news.net | Twitter: Peggy_OHare

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