American woman finds rightful owners of long-lost photo album in war-torn Ukrainian town – WSVN 7News | Miami News, Weather, Sports

(CNN) — Images of the war in Ukraine have people around the world looking for ways to try to help.

Some have opened their homes to refugees or pledged donations to emergency appeals.

Others have sought to support Ukrainian businesses. Among them, New Yorker Chelsey Brown.

While searching online for ideas, Brown, 29, came across an ad for a vintage dealer in Zaporizhzhia, southeastern Ukraine.

The article? A large green photo album filled with black and white images of Soviet-era Ukraine.

It’s not the most obvious way to express solidarity, but one that made perfect sense to Brown – an interior designer and writer who, in her spare time, uses genealogy to track down what she describes. as the “legitimate” owners of the heirlooms she acquires while browsing through antiques. fairs, flea markets and online.

“I saw it and immediately knew it was special and I had to go back to the family,” she told CNN.

“I was trying to find small Ukrainian businesses to support. The photo album appeared and I clicked on it and it took me to an eBay listing.

The album took three weeks to arrive by courier from Zaporizhzhia, but in the meantime Brown used what little information she had to try to trace the descendants of the people in the photos.

But the album – featuring footage dating from the 1920s to the 1970s – contained few clues.

“The captions are all in Russian, which made it very difficult to find,” Brown told CNN.

Social media contacts helped her translate some of the names into English, while Brown also turned to Google Translate.

“I was searching day and night without any leads. I was desperate to find this family! she says.

All she had to go on were two names: Vadim Danilovich and Yuri Vadimovich, written in Cyrillic characters below some of the images. She suspected that the Ukrainian patronymic tradition – where a component of a personal name is based on her father’s first name – meant that Yuri was Vadim’s son. There was only one mention of a surname in the album: Makovetskyi.

Undeterred, Brown used an online Russian keyboard to look up the names.

“It led me down a rabbit hole,” she told CNN. “I spent days trying to find all possible contacts for this family.”

Eventually, she received an email from Ivan Makovetskyi, Yuri’s 29-year-old son and Vadim’s grandson. He told Brown his grandfather died in 2008.

He lives with his parents and his grandmother, Vadim’s widow, in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro.

Before the Russian invasion in February, Makovetskyi was an English teacher “at one of the most prestigious schools in the city,” he told CNN, while the family print shop catered to theaters and to cultural institutions. But as they ceased to operate, the family business went out of business.

Makovetskyi was recently hired as a local spokesperson for an Italian aid organization operating in Ukraine, but otherwise the family has no income.

He told CNN: “We’re fine, we’re not starving or anything like that, but the situation is pretty tough right now.”

“My grandfather was a man of encyclopedic knowledge, a professor of human anatomy and even a head of department at our Medical Academy here in the city of Dnipro,” he wrote to Brown.

The family don’t know how the album came to be sold, but suspect it may have been lost when relatives moved away.

Although Makovetskyi and his family were delighted to learn that he had been found, their immediate concern is with the current situation.

“It may sound brutal, but these days the memories here aren’t worth much,” he wrote to Brown, describing civilian life in Ukraine today as “catastrophic.”

The sound of air raid warnings has become a regular feature of life for the family, who still live in the building in Dnipro which housed Makovetskyi’s grandfather, Vadim.

“We’re so used to hearing the siren of airstrikes after which nothing happens, that most people, myself included, don’t even bother to go to the basement or the shelter,” he said. he declared.

Makovetskyi’s father, Yuri, is seriously ill but is not getting the treatment he needs due to conditions in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the closure of the family business has left them in financial difficulty.

After reuniting with the family, Brown felt compelled to take action. She has since sent them financial support and hopes to return the album in person once the war is over.

Ivan Makovetskyi told CNN in an email that his family was initially wary of Brown’s help, especially since they have always been “proud and independent.”

“The difficulties we face with lack of work and a constant threat of long-range rocket attack have of course contributed to the eagerness to accept this aid without question, but the second reaction came from pride. “, did he declare.

But that eventually changed, according to Makovetskyi, who is now in regular communication with Brown.

“I have never seen such a range of expressions on my parents’ faces so quickly, until she settled into grudging acceptance, gratitude and a sense of surrealism,” he said. -he adds.

Brown told CNN she “created a connection” with Makovetskyi after studying her family’s ancestry for so long.

“My heart and mind persuaded me to send the money once I was able to connect with the family and find out more about them,” she said.

“They are hardworking, proud, kind, grateful; and losing their job and income due to a situation they cannot control was reason enough for me.

“I can’t wait for the day when I can meet them all in person,” she said.

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