Making Art In The Midst Of War: A conversation With Master Ukrainian Embroiderer Lesia Pona

Making Art In The Midst Of War: A conversation With Master Ukrainian Embroiderer Lesia Pona

Posted by Mary Anne Wise on 31st Oct 2023

Lesia Pona learned embroidery from her mother and went on to study at Lviv Academy of Arts. A mentorship with a Ukrainian master embroiderer solidified her committement to her craft and her passion grew. After gaining experience in art projects and marketing, she founded Pokuttya Folk Artists group to help her colleagues maintain high standards, reach a wider audience –and make a living from their work.

We became acquainted with Lesia at Santa Fe’s International Folk Art Market where we struck up a friendship and have been in touch throughout Russia’s invasion. We offer our readers this thread of a recent conversation so you may gain insights about what it’s like to make artwork in the midst of war.

Mary Anne:  Are you in danger?

Lesia:  I live in Lviv, in the western part of Ukraine, about 45 miles from the border with Poland. We thought we would be safe here, because of our proximity to Poland, but we are not safe. Recently a missile destroyed a beautiful building, it was on the UNESCO heritage list, and it was home to many families and many innocent people were killed. No, I do not feel safe.

The air raid sirens go off frequently and you drop what you’re doing and you run for safety. At least you hope it’s safe. We experienced black outs all last winter and we have already been advised about black outs again… so far there have been none, thankfully.

Photo above: a street in Lviv during a black out, winter of 2022.

Mary Anne:  How do you cope?

Lesia:  It is stressful. There is uncertainty day to day.... we all in our life need some constant things which help us to feel safe and in harmony with the world around: our artwork, family and friends, our faith, nature all around. And when for some reason we loose any of those things we try to find balance in all we have left, it helps us to hold on in some way. “Art for survival”, these words now have very direct meaning.

Lesia's Embroidered PillowPhoto above: Lesia’s hand embroidered pillow (far right) in the Vyvzuvannya (Hardanger) technique. Wool floss on linen, insert 90/10 feather & down. Approx 19”x19”

Mary Anne:  What has surprised you?

Lesia:  Right now, like so many places in the world the fall colors are spectacular. The Carpathian mountains are nearby and when I look at the beautiful colors it is hard to imagine we are in the midst of a war. How would you express this in English- “a disconnect,” right?

Photo Above: Carpathian Mountainside, fall 2023

When this started we all had a very strong hope that the bloodshed will stop quickly, especially after liberation of some Ukrainian cities and villages, but Russia started bombing civilians and infrastructures to leave people freeze, so the last winter we survived was the darkest and coldest on my memory. I have made firewood for this winter.

Photo Above: Lesia’s cat, Syryi (Gray) sits atop her woodpile.

Mary Anne:  Do you have hope?

Lesia:  Yes! We are on the side of truth and we will defend what belongs to us. This is a struggle between good and evil- tell your readers this- they must know this about Russia. And we have had support in so many ways, big and small from people all over the world. Your support matters.

Lesia's Embroidered Table Runner