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For a Coudersport, Potter County, couple, the war in Ukraine is personal

Olga Snyder, wearing a yellow sweater, stands next to a bowl of hand-dyed Ukrainian Easter eggs
Anne Danahy
Olga Snyder, an artist who is originally from Ukraine, explained the story of Pysanky or Ukrainian Easter eggs. She and her husband, John, of Coudersport, Pennsylvania, have been raising money to support Ukrainians impacted by Russia's invasion.

Part of the business that Olga Snyder runs with her husband, John, in Coudersport, Pennsylvania, is showing and selling the art that she creates, including pysanky eggs.

“This is a pysanky," she explained. "It's a Ukrainian Easter egg is how it's known in United States.”

The bowl of intricately hand-dyed eggs was on display in the gallery, café and shop that she and John run and that bears her name. While Olga Snyder was born in Ukraine, it is not until she returned there as adult that she learned about the folk art and the meaning behind it.

“Ukrainian pysanky also have a very interesting story," she said. "The legend goes: As long as the Ukrainian pysanky will be decorated, as long as the people keep doing it, the evil won't take over the world.”

Olga Snyder became emotional telling the story. Growing up in the time of the Soviet Union, she had not learned about the tradition, until she and John were traveling together and she asked a man selling them what they were. She learned that they have been part of Ukrainian culture for thousands of years.

While the Snyders have been dealing with a fire that badly damaged their business, they’re still trying to rally support for Ukraine. Olga Snyder has lived in Coudersport, in Potter County, Pennsylvania, since 1997, but she still has close ties to her country. She grew up in Poltava, and she still has family and friends there and in Kyiv.

She said Russia’s invasion seems unbelievable.

“Every time when you wake up you think it’s just a bad dream," she said. "Especially when you turn the news. It's very, very hard to live with that. It's almost impossible to think that your country, your people are getting killed.”

Olga and John Snyder standing next to a picture of a sunflower painting in yellow and blue
Anne Danahy
Olga and John Snyder, of Coudersport, have been working to support Ukrainians, where Olga is originally from, even as they dealt with a fire in their downtown business. They have been collecting donations for prints of the painting Olga made representing Ukraine's flag and national flower, the sunflower.

John Snyder said now eight people who fled the violence from Russia’s attacks are staying in an apartment his wife still has in Ukraine. Her best friend is caring for orphaned children.

“To me it’s inconceivable that this is happening," he said.

Olga Snyder too says she was shocked by the invasion. Her brother lives with his family in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Many Ukrainians, she noted, have families on both sides of the border.

“I'm surprised. I never expected this," she said. "But I'm very, very proud of them. Extremely, extremely proud."

The Snyders have been sharing that message through Olga’s art — giving away and accepting donations for prints of a mixed media collage she made in 2014. It was inspired by her country’s Revolution at the time.

With a circle of sunflowers against a yellow and blue background, Olga says the collage represents the country’s flag and its fields of wheat and blue skies.

She saw that beauty in Ukraine just last summer.

“It was like a fairyland," she said. "It was so so so beautiful. It was the time when acacia was blooming, and there was a lot of beautiful white flowers. It was so amazing. And just think about that all of that now getting destroyed. And people getting killed.”

The Snyders had already been dealing with the aftermath of a fire that hit in early February. It destroyed the roof and damaged the beautifully restored building where they run the business that bears Olga’s name.

“It's all locally milled oak," John Snyder said. "A local craftsman was in here for a year installing it. Our biggest challenge from the hour after the fire was to preserve all this woodwork and save as much of Olga's artwork as possible. But the community has been absolutely tremendous."

That includes Midge Houghtaling, a neighbor.

“They also have a really nice restaurant," she said. "And Olga makes some amazing, amazing paintings and she's an incredible artist.”

Houghtaling has been helping out after the fire, and she dropped by one day with cookies.

“They're strong, resilient people," she said. "So are the people of Ukraine, and I can see it … you know, what I see in the news, and I can see it in John and Olga.”

A bowl of decorative Ukrainian eggs
Anne Danahy
Some of the hand-dyed Pysanky or Ukrainian Easter eggs Olga Snyder, an artist who is originally from Ukraine, showed in Olga Gallery, Cafe & Bistro that she and her husband, John, run in Coudersport.

Olga Snyder hopes to hold Ukrainian egg decorating workshops like she has in the past, with the proceeds going to refugees.

“I did this eight years ago when the revolution happens," she said. "And I will do it again.”

They’ve raised more than $10,000 so far. The donations are going to people who have been displaced by the war.

Anne Danahy has been a reporter at WPSU since fall 2017. Before crossing over to radio, she was a reporter at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, and she worked in communications at Penn State. She is married with cats.