By Renée Tillotson
In a war-damaged house in a northern Ukrainian town, a young woman paints our way into a happier future. Her name, very appropriately, is Vita, meaning LIFE!
I came upon Vita’s artwork just before Christmas as if magnetically drawn to it. A brief word search for hand-painted cups presented her company Vitraaze to me. I loved almost every piece… AND I read that it was coming from Ukraine. What?!? I can buy the perfect gifts and support someone living in a war zone? I’m in!
Vita’s glassware so deeply attracted me at first sight, I ordered several dozens of her pieces as Christmas and New Year’s gifts for friends and family near and far. I never bothered to look at another website.
Then I began wondering to myself, who is the magician who is bringing these cups into the world and shipping them out across battle lines? When I reached out over Etsy, someone named Vita wrote back in less than 24 hours giving permission for me to interview her via email.
I soon learned that Vita’s own health conditions and finances prevented her from following her first dream of
helping others by becoming a doctor. Instead, she has found a different way to bring good cheer to the world.
My first impulse was to ask how on earth Vita and her family are surviving the Russian invasion of Ukraine and continuing to send out their precious wares. However, I felt that question might bring up too many raw feelings for her, so I instead asked her first about the story of her company.
Vita replied that she turned to painting about 12 years ago when she first read about painting on glass. She calls her first “masterpiece” with cheap paints on a wine bottle “so awful”, yet says painting it was a very enjoyable experience. She quickly switched to high-quality paints and brushes and began selling her glassware to customers at local markets and online.
Vita says, “10 years ago, I found Etsy and opened a shop there. That’s how all that story began.
“Nearly 30-40% of the designs from our shop are painted upon the request of my customers. It is
very inspiring to read their feedback, especially on the custom orders.”
Vita has such a large number and great variety of pieces for sale, I ask her about her workforce of painters. Does she have a small factory?
She tells me that she now just paints with her sister and a friend. Several of the other girls left the country after the start of the war. Vita gets help with her toddler so that she can work on the glass during the workweek.
The Etsy site said I’d have my glassware in 3-4 weeks, but I didn’t believe that to be possible, coming from Ukraine. Sure enough, my shipment from Ukraine arrived on our doorstep exactly as predicted. I couldn’t wait to open the two huge, heavy boxes! It was definitely MY best Christmas present this year. I just kept opening layer after layer of beauty.
Every single teapot, saucer, and delicate Christmas ornament had been expertly wrapped and tightly padded to ensure its safety. And each piece survived any rough handling it might have faced leaving a country under siege. Vita explains, “My husband is the one who packs everything and sends it all over the world.”
When I ask Vita about where she gets her supplies, she answers, “We live in the house where we keep hundreds of mugs, teapots, etc. Now we have to keep a big stock of glassware because there is no sea and air delivery as it was before the war.
And almost every month we have difficulties with buying materials and glassware. I use paints and brushes from Europe. But most of the material we order here in Ukraine via the Internet or a local shop.”
Finally, without openly pointing to the war Russia is waging against Ukraine, I ask a very open-ended question: “What are some of the difficulties you and your family have overcome?” Vita replies steadily:
“The first weeks of the war was the most difficult time for me and my family. We were in the city for almost 3 weeks while Chernihiv was very severely bombed. There was only one way out from the city because bridges were destroyed and Russian soldiers were on the outskirts of the city. Many people were killed in the cars when they were trying to leave the city. The shops were empty, there were problems with food and water, electricity. My baby was only 6 months when the war came to our city. One day the bombs fell near the house where we lived. It was destroyed and we had no place where to stay. We left Chernihiv that day and went to a small village. We managed to came back home 2 months later and had to repair our house.”
If you have the stomach for it, this video documents some of the war in Vita’s area of Ukraine. LINK HERE
Nevertheless, Vita obviously found a way to keep creating and sending out her glassware. While her customers were no doubt hanging Vita’s ornaments on their trees, Vita describes last winter as “very hard because of the massive missile attacks. We didn’t have electricity for 10-12 hours per day. It was a super hard Christmas season in 2022.
“Now we have enough food and medical care but we don’t have the feeling of safety. We cannot make any big plans for business because of this. At this moment we are painting and sending mugs to the USA warehouse just to have something in a safer place.”
I wish I could paint a rosy ending to this story of Vita and her family. Obviously, they live in ongoing danger. Like Vita’s husband packing the glassware, I’d like to wrap up their family – in fact their whole country – in cocoons of safety against all harm.
As you can tell from the photographs of her work, Vita is largely inspired by nature. She continues to see beauty in the world, even in the midst of experiences that must at times be terrifying.
Every person to whom I gave some of Vita’s glassware responded with squeals or gasps of delight. Her pieces have that kind of effect on people.
In the face of war and destruction, this young woman whose name means “Life”, sends out with each exquisite art piece a powerful message of love, beauty and hope.
Wanna share the love? Remember Vita and her wonderful wares for upcoming Valentine’s, Easter, and Mother’s Day! Visit Vita’s Etsy shop HERE and you can also reach her at email@example.com.
Renée Tillotson, Director, founded Still & Moving Center to share mindful movement arts from around the globe. Her inspiration comes from the Joy and moving meditation she experiences in the practice of Nia, and from the lifelong learning she’s gained at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, California. Engaged in a life-long spiritual quest, Renée assembles the Still & Moving Center Almanac each year, filled with inspirational quotes by everyone from the Dalai Lama to Dolly Parton. Still & Moving Center aspires to serve the community, support the Earth and its creatures, and always be filled with laughter and friendship!
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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)