So I get this email from a woman named Elina Ishchenko. She is the Ukrainian founder of a sustainable children’s furniture company named Two Giraffes. Would I be interested in interviewing her?
Yes. Yes, I would, I immediately reply. There’s just something about the email, and I trust my gut.
We set the time for the next day. She gives me her WhatsApp number as she lives in Toronto, Canada now. I then head off by train and bike to Atlanta. I have no specific stories to cover there that day — I just need a ride. I just need art. The war in Ukraine is raging. Death is everywhere. I’m wearing an orange dress and have my skates with me. I’m carrying an orange mug that features the mass transit station where I’m catching the train. I twirl in front of the MARTA sign and decide to focus on orange all day for no other reason than that (I have never once focused on a color before). I rollerdance in the art-filled Krog Street Tunnel. I make an orange-filled TikTok.
I’m riding my bike home from the station when it’s time to call Elina, and I do so safely with one earphone in while riding on the sidewalk slowly (which is legal in my city due to known dangerous-by-design conditions). Truth — I had almost cancelled the interview. Although I previously wrote a popular blog about all aspects of triple-bottom-line sustainability, my current blogs are mostly about bikes and organic agriculture. My children are grown. Where does a children’s furniture story fit in?
Elina answers. I tell her I’m on my bike. She says, “I just learned how to ride a bike for the first time in my life last year.”
“That’s great!” I exclaim, surprised already at the coincidence, and then ask, “What is your bike like?”
And she replies . . .
And that, folks, is what’s called trusting the journey because what happens next is that I fall in love. I fall in love with the ease in which Elina and I immediately fall into deep and meaningful conversation. I fall in love with her story about her past career in Kyiv as a marketing exec with a major global candy company. About how she emigrated to Canada six years ago with her husband and they now have three children eight years old and younger. How she started this company last year to support a multigenerational family business in the Ukrainian countryside not far from the border of Poland in order to offer truly sustainable, affordable and engaging children’s furniture to families.
I fall in love with the bunny chairs and table, but I can’t stop thinking about the beds (see them all here). Montessori-inspired, they are simple, and yet not. They are either a teepee or house frame over a platform bed, designed specifically for children transitioning from cribs to beds (although they are twin-sized and Elina’s eight-year-old daughter has yet to give it up). They enable a toddler to come and go freely, and then to have a play space throughout the day. With sheets and blankets tossed over the frames, they become playhouses, clubhouses, secret getaways and magical worlds.
The beds are safe havens from harm from night to day and back again. In short, the more I think about them, the more I realize — they are glorious.
And so join me in thinking about the quarter of the population in Ukraine that is currently displaced. About Elina’s own grandmother who recently escaped and arrived in Canada, and how Elina feels as if she can finally breathe again; sleep again. About a family in the Ukrainian countryside pounding away on FSC-wood to sustain themselves. About what it means to have a home and a place to play, and about the life-sustaining necessity as a refugee to be flexible in defining those spaces.
I also can’t help thinking about my own daughters when they were young, about how much I wanted to protect them from the news (hello, 9/11) and yet teach them empathy for others. How much I would have loved beds like this for them and a story about a family in Ukraine who made them, about how children can create new realities, about how we are all one world working together, and about the sustaining truth Elina learned:
“I knew my country and family wEre strong, but I didn’t know how much.”
How strong are you? How strong is your family? How strong is your community, your state, your country? How much alike are all of us? How easy could it be you or me displaced next?
There are, of course, many ways to help people who are displaced from their homes. Money is always needed, and trusted aid organizations make sure it gets to where it can do immediate good. Here is a list.
If you are a parent of young children, tragedies are also opportunities for expanding and embracing both your children’s empathy and creativity — traits that are increasingly necessary to imagine desperately-needed new ways forward in our changing world. When you purchase from Two Giraffes, 100 percent of proceeds are used to help Ukrainian families struggling to be safe. Elina told me there is a dependable six-month supply of products safely warehoused in Florida right now and order fulfillment is immediate. See the Two Giraffes website here, and please consider ordering something (perhaps as a gift to your local preschool, if you don’t have young children, with a message about how it helps Ukrainians).
After I arrived home, I told my husband all this, and he said, “You know, there was an Orange Revolution a number of years ago. I’m not sure where.” And so we looked it up, and sure enough . . .
It was Ukraine.
I told Elina our global bicycle mayor consortium is continuing our #RollingWave campaign by posting a photo or video of ourselves or someone we know on or by a bike and waving. Plus, now those who want to do so are encouraged to do a #PeaceWave. Yesterday morning, this photo arrived of Elina and her orange bike. She wrote, “I named it Glory.”