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Stories that you confided to us

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Kateryna Voronina
age: 36
"We left Donetsk with two children, two suitcases and a piece of clay"

Amazing plates, cups, saucers, plates and vases of Katia Voronina travelled all over the world. They can be used to serve ice cream in Kyiv and tea in Japan. Katia's works are part of other art works represented by Ukraine at the 63rd UN Assembly. And just a few years ago, Katia fled Donetsk with two children, two suitcases and a piece of clay.

The main thing is not to be alone. Knowing that there are always those people around who can and want to support you. And if you think that you are alone in the world, it is not true!

I was born in Zaporizhzhia. My father is a military man. So when I was eight months old, I followed my mother to Kaliningrad. When I was five years old, we moved to Mariupol. I finished school in Mariupol and then went to Donetsk to enter a university. Here I met my husband and gave birth to two daughters. My daughters are now, in 2020, 11.5 and almost 7 years old.

I lived in Donetsk for 15 years. Now I live in Odessa.

The war broke into our happy lives

Before the war started, we lived peacefully and carelessly. We had jobs we really liked. I was doing family photography. We lived in the center, even though in a one-room apartment. We had a dream — to build our own house.

We left Donetsk with two children, two suitcases and a piece of clay

 I began to think about what I should do next in life with my profession, with my creativity. And then the war came, and I had major problems to solve.

I can't remember the first time I encountered war. Gradually, things got worse. We constantly encountered armed people on the street. I went for a walk with the children past the barricades.

My husband was always away on business trips. For example, he left on Monday and arrived on Friday. And I was alone with two children. At some point, I realized that I had not left the house for two weeks. Because I was very scared...

First introduction to clay

I started making hand-crafts from clay in Donetsk. However, I had absolutely no idea that it could happen on such a large scale. Back in Donetsk, I brought my eldest daughter to a pottery workshop. I really liked how they allow children to make whatever they want.  These values were very close to me. So we went there even when the city was already restless.

We left Donetsk with two children, two suitcases and a piece of clay

It was there that I felt very calm. It was there, in the pottery workshop, that I was very happy. While my older daughter was studying, I just watched her and others do it for six months. I didn't touch the clay. I really wanted to try it, though.

I carried my youngest daughter in a sling all the time. I didn't think to ask someone to help me hold the baby so I could try to make something myself.

I ventured to try it when she one fell asleep in a sling. That was the first time I touched the clay. It was something amazing. Incredible! This sliding mass in your hands that follows your every move. The key to handicraft was in hands. Coordination was necessary if I wanted to make something worth. Every time I sat down at the potter's wheel, she woke up. So it didn't work out for me quite well at first.

But this particular moment showed that I can't wait any longer. I couldn't just watch. I had to act. I just knew I had to. I bought the first kilo of clay and went home to look for some video tutorials on YouTube to sculpt something of my own. Of course, I couldn't do it at first.

I realized that I would have to leave the day they started taking the airport. At that time, the shootings in the city lasted for several days. Although our house is located in the bedroom suburb, there is little chance that something (like a shell) will fly into our windows. But still, it was very scary.

We left Donetsk with two children, two suitcases and a piece of clay

It got to the point where I didn't know where to go to sleep. Maybe in the bathroom? I constantly came up with options for myself, what to do, where to put the children. And on the day when the airport was being seized, I realized that I couldn't go on like this. I needed to go away urgently.

We didn't really choose the place where we would go. It's just that at that moment I could only call our friends who lived in Dnipro at that time. They agreed to take us in instantly. Thanks to their help. We were able to get together and leave in one day to Dnipro.

Surely, I didn't think that I was leaving for good. We thought that we would stay there for a couple of weeks. That's it. I took my two children, two suitcases, a piece of clay and went away. I took the clay, because I couldn't imagine my life without it any more.

Later I realized that clay took away my pain. I dedicated all my free time to clay craft. When the children were busy with something, I played with clay. Or at night, when they were asleep. The contact with the clay must have grounded me and calmed me down.

My husband went on a business trip to Kyiv later that day, and he was still returning to collect some things there [in Donetsk]. And we didn't come back.

A very harsh summer

It was a difficult, long summer. We moved homes 12 times. We slept in passageways, on the floor, at our friends' or relatives'. It was at this moment that I especially felt the value of what we all have in each other.

We needed to hold out for one summer. We just had to wait for directions my husband would get from his company management, and we would leave.

That is, we were in such a state of passion, in a great stress, that we did not notice these difficulties. We didn't notice what was happening to us. We just did it to survive. I think the clay helped me survive and cope with all these difficulties.

In September, we were sent to live in Odessa. At first, we were provided with housing at my husband's work.

In Odessa, I realized: if you want it, do it!

In Odessa, I sculpted houses in the kitchen and then took the products to the city center by minibus. I carried the the fragile items in a box on a bus, with my children by my side. I was just  afraid that they might get smashed. The road in one way took an hour. I felt it was difficult.

I think this is one of those moments when you feel better. You notice that something is happening around you, something is wrong, and you no longer agree to live like this. So you choose to live differently. This is how my first workshop opened.

I learned that if I needed anything, I would not stop at nothing. I was knocking on any doors, I was ready to be rejected. I was ready for get help as well. Luckily, there were people on my way who were ready and willing to help. They literally carried me in their arms in difficult moments.

When I arrived in Odessa, I knew only three people here. One of them was a link to photography. The other was a link to ceramics, and the third person just supported me every time it was  difficult or scared. Whenever I needed help and support, I could call and she was there for me. I've never seen them in person.  I never knew them, except through social networks, on Facebook.

Works in 150 cities around the world

Now my works are represented on almost all continents of our world, with the exception of Antarctica. They are shown in 150 cities around the world. For example, you can find my 'clay' in New York, Paris, Stockholm. Last year, about 10 kilograms of my works — saucers, glasses, cups, plates, vases – were delivered to New York to represent Ukraine at the 63rd UN Assembly.   

We left Donetsk with two children, two suitcases and a piece of clay

The only thing that probably gave me strength and a chance to try something new and act were the words "If you want it, do it.” So I often ask myself, "Do I really want this? Do I?" So I will do it no matter what. I am proud that my life turned this way, that I could do it and discover my potential.

The main thing is not to be alone. Knowing that there are always those people around who can and want to support you. And if you think that you are alone in the world, it is not true!

Interviewer Oksana Maslova

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