Recently I sat with 13 women from the U.S. and Ukraine in a small town in Poland.
So much of what I experienced is beyond words, thus, impossible to communicate within the limitations of my ability to write.
I will try my best to describe moments that highlight the heroic women in exile from eastern Ukrainian villages who long to heal their communities and return home.
We were based in Stargard, Poland, a hub for displaced Ukrainian families since post-World War II. We came at the invitation of JoAnna, a Ukrainian who lives in the U.S., and Stargard. JoAnna has helped lead efforts to support newly arrived refugees into this city of 70,000.
Our hosts, Paul and Oksana, welcomed the team from Thistle Farms Global, the Center for Contemplative Justice, and five Ukrainian women who traveled to Poland. Our common purpose was to launch Love Rises, a new justice enterprise knitting socks and blankets to reflect hope through landscape patterns in soft color palettes.
The six knitters (one could not make the journey because of a family emergency) lived in eastern Ukraine until February 24th of 2022. Currently, they have found refuge in Kyiv, Lviv, and Austria. Over the course of days, they shared dramatic stories about their lives before and after the invasion. They wiped tears and kept knitting—reminiscing about their lives as a teacher, or a clothing store owner, or a gas operator.
Olena, whose son is in a Russian prison said, "we had to leave immediately because the Russians came shooting. Many died in our villages those first days." But she continued with a glimmer of hope as she turned the sock, "we are a creative people. This project is our new livelihood.”
Maryna, the director of Love Rises whose partner is a soldier, told the story of how she had to send her 14-year-old daughter to Canada. She said she was proud to stay and support women and the cause of freedom.
"We are in a revolution of dignity," Maryna shared.
To Maryna, the blankets and socks will demonstrate the quality of work the women offer and the respect they deserve as they hold their families together.
Beyond words, each blanket and sock is a sacred offering.
One morning as we gathered to knit, three women, Maeve, Maryna, and Susan, were tackling the complex issues of how to get cotton to Ukraine and finished blankets to the US. Maryna then stood and sang a song that I could not understand, but her soaring voice with the haunting melody moved me to tears.
At the end of the song, there was a chant about victory for Ukraine. Maryna said a line and the Ukrainian women would repeat it with arms raised in the air, fists beating in rhythm to the words.
When I looked over, Regina, one of the first five residents who came to Thistle Farms in 1997, was raising her arm and holding her fist high. Beyond words, she recognized oppression and trauma and was in solidarity with their longing for freedom.
On another day, Meg, the owner of Haus of Yarn, began to teach the team how to use a hand-guided knitting machine. The translator was gone and it was proving difficult to teach this skill with only an iPhone and a few shared words.
I was observing the lesson when I realized the team had abandoned language altogether. Women communicated by pointing or with laughter, a nod, or guiding a hand.
Beyond words, we were learning how to speak a common language. It felt like a moment of Pentecost and joy.
On the last morning Lori, Frannie, Maryna, and Tara wrote content so we could market and share the story of Love Rises, with plans to sell blankets and socks in the United States.
Their conclusion was that we need to move beyond words and help inspire people to join with the women of Ukraine in shared hope for healing.
Please join our small but committed group moving beyond words to support Love Rises by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and saying you would like to help.
With gratitude to Lori Barra for the images documenting this journey.