Of course, here in Asheville, we have an endless pandemic, annoying traffic issues, spiraling prices, and a level of civility that most of us bemoan.
It’s easy to get caught up in our own daily lives and frustrations, or to become resentful of other people, our work, or the world at large.
But we don’t have another country bombing our hospitals, shooting innocent civilians in the streets and forcing millions of us to flee to other countries. We don’t live in bombed-out apartment complexes and search for food and clean water.
We do not bury our toddlers after an artillery attack, nor our pregnant women after the bombing of the maternity ward.
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Ukrainians are. What they are going through right now, all because deranged Russian dictator Vladimir Putin decided he wanted to put the old Soviet Union back together, is a living hell none of us can imagine.
Watching the news from Ukraine has become a daily horror, a harrowing ritual that makes me ask again and again, “Why are they doing this?
And the biggest punch is there’s not much we as a country can do to stop it other than continuing to supply arms to Ukraine and imposing the most crippling sanctions possible on Russia. .
I donated to Ukrainian Aid, partly because it’s the right thing to do, and to be honest, partly because I feel like I’m doing something to help.
With that in mind, this week and next weekend, Asheville will become the epicenter of Ukrainian relief efforts – thanks to a tennis tournament. They really can’t make it easy to help a country that doesn’t deserve any of the misfortunes it is enduring.
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You can help Ukraine and show your support by attending the Billie Jean King Cup, April 15-16 at Harrah’s Cherokee Center-Asheville. The American women’s team welcomes the Ukrainian team.
“It’s like a nightmare I can’t wake up from”
Local artist Andrea Kulish, whose parents and grandparents immigrated here from Ukraine, will be there on Friday with a booth showcasing her art and “Stand with Ukraine” stickers she designed. Some display Ukrainian flags and sunflowers, the national flower.
While Kulish grew up in the United States, her parents spoke Ukrainian at home, and it was the only language she knew until she was 3 years old. She was steeped in the country’s culture and history.
Kulish makes absolutely stunning Ukrainian pysanky eggs, as well as mixed media art and other works. She has spent the last four weekends organizing or participating in fundraisers for Ukrainian aid, usually by selling her art and the stickers.
So far, she has raised nearly $14,000.
If you found the news from Ukraine difficult to watch, quintuple that sentiment for Kulish.
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“It’s unreal. It’s like a nightmare that I can’t wake up from,” Kulish said. “I feel like I’m living a nightmare, but it’s absolutely nothing compared to what they live.”
Since the invasion, Kulish said she has been working and fundraising, “and I don’t really stop.”
Kulish’s highlight is the “pysanky” eggs, which come from the Ukrainian word “pysaty”, which means “to write”. Thus, these colored eggs with traditional Ukrainian images are literally “written eggs”, as Kulish explains.
“They’re all handmade,” said Kulish, 48. “It’s written with melted beeswax and dyes. All the symbols are good meanings, good wishes.”
Tourney could raise $100,000
So you can buy his goods and help Ukrainians. And you can also help Ukraine by buying a ticket for the tennis match.
“Right now 10% of ticket sales go to the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund,” said Demp Bradford, president and executive director of the Asheville Buncombe Regional Athletic Commission, which helped clinch the tournament. “Ingles is donating $1 for every ticket sold, and Harrah’s Cherokee Casino is donating $2 per ticket. New Belgium (Brewing) is making a $5,000 dish.”
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Ingles and Harrah’s donations are per ticket sold, per day. To be clear, the US Tennis Association is hosting the event and donating 10% of ticket sales.
“I think we should fill this arena, to show our support not only for the American team but also for the Ukrainian team and their players,” Bradford said. “Why don’t we come out to support an event that will eventually create a huge amount of money for crisis relief? You can play sports and also give back.
Bradford said if we showed up really strong for the tennis match and ticket sales got closer to the level of the 2019 tournament, “we could be close to $100,000” in fundraising.
The tournament’s namesake, tennis and social justice legend, Billie Jean King, announced on April 7 that she and her partner, Ilana Kloss, will also donate $50,000 to a Ukrainian relief fund. King will also be present for the opening ceremony before the start of qualifying matches on the afternoon of April 15 at Harrah’s Cherokee Center.
Check the USTA website for the match here: https://bit.ly/3Jh3MPa
This portal has a donate button for “Tennis Plays for Peace”. If you can’t make it to the games, you can also donate to the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund at www.globalgiving.org/projects/ukraine-crisis-relief-fund/
Depending on how close you want to be to the action, tickets cost between $30 and $97.50. You can also get two-day tickets.
A player’s story
One of the players in the Ukrainian team is former world number 21 Dayana Yastremska. Bradford directed me to a heartbreaking ESPN article about her and how she and her sister fled Odessa, Ukraine at the start of the Russian invasion.
It will really drive home what those players are going through. Here is how the article begins. It’s a long excerpt but worth your time.
“Ukrainian professional tennis player Dayana Yastremska wrapped her arms around her father, tears streaming down her cheeks. She had to let go. A small boat was waiting to take her and her 15-year-old sister, Ivanna. Their father had chased them from their home in Odessa, Ukraine, about 150 miles south of Izmail, a small town in the Danube Delta. Throughout their journey early Friday morning, a day after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, she saw the devastation that the war had already caused. Smoke, buildings reduced to rubble, an eerie calm.
Her father parked the car in Izmail and the family walked the last five minutes to the port, to the boat that would take Dayana and her sister to Romania. Their father kissed her on the forehead as she held two suitcases in which her whole life was randomly packed.
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“I don’t know how this war will end, but you have to take care of each other and strive to achieve your dreams, build your new life and always be together,” her father told her. “Don’t worry about us, everything will be fine.”
In matching pink sweatpants, the sisters walked away from their parents, rolling their suitcases to the boat. When the boat’s engine purred, they saluted vigorously their parents, the country they had been forced to leave, all they knew was home.
“Is it a movie or is it real?” Yastremska thought again and again.”
Man, I won’t be complaining about the price of groceries here lately.
So yes, we want to welcome Yastremska and the rest of the Ukrainian team to Asheville with as much enthusiasm as possible. Some Ukrainians are arriving this weekend and the USTA is hosting a week of events and rallies before games start this weekend.
Although the match is a competition, Bradford said that under the current circumstances, “it’s not a ‘against’. It’s accommodation, a welcome.”
The countries will play five matches. Formerly known as the Fed Cup, the tournament was held in Asheville in 2018 and 2019.
Large Ukrainian population here
Bradford and Kulish also noted that we have a strong Ukrainian population here in the mountains. Census data shows that Buncombe County has about 1,900 Ukrainians, or 0.7% of the population.
“We have an amazing Ukrainian Slavic community here, and we’re doing our best to reach them,” Bradford said.
Bradford said “the eyes of the world are going to be on Asheville for a few days” as they are the only Ukrainian sports team competing right now. So it’s a great way to show unity with a country that is suffering indignities and losses that we can only imagine.
For her part, Kulish says Asheville’s response to the crisis has been “very heartwarming,” citing various fundraisers and the strong statement made in the River Arts District, where she’s had a studio for nine years, with containers painted in the national colors of Ukraine, blue and yellow.
It is easy for us to close our eyes to what is happening in Ukraine, to worry about our own daily tribulations. But we also have to remember that we are doing quite well here and Ukraine needs our help and support.
We can’t put our heads in the sand about this. And going to a tennis match is a pretty simple way to show that we care.
“I just hope people continue to support this because so much help is needed,” Kulish said. “I feel like they are, because I think people have that weight on their hearts.”
This is the opinion of John Boyle. Contact him at 828-232-5847 or [email protected]