As a proud Ukrainian living in Houston since 2008, and with her family fearful for their safety every day in their native country, Iryna Petrovska Marchiano spares no words for Russia, even suggesting a boycott here in the Lone Star State.
“Every drop of Russian oil that comes to this land comes with a drop of Ukrainian blood,” she tells CultureMap. “And I'm not sure Texans want to put that in their tanks.”
Defiant and not content with simply checking on family daily (her cousin in the Ukraine has lost two friends to the siege) or watching the news, Marchiano has commissioned a Ukrainian peace mural downtown, located at 112 Travis St. (the old Toc Bar), to raise awareness. Adorned with the hashtag #StandwithUkraine, the mural, crafted by local artist Shelbi Nicole, is a simple, giant heart in the Ukrainian flag colors.
“It’s the heart of Ukraine in the heart of Texas,” explains Marchiano. “We wanted to put something out there that would reach a wider audience — wider than our local Ukrainian community. It’s about love and peace in a land where right now, there is no peace.”
Hailing from the town of Ivano-Frankivsk, located northwest of Odessa, Marchiano says she’s keeping tabs on her parents, cousins, extended family, and schoolmates there. The city is not under active assault, she explains — for now. But it’s a harrowing existence watching from afar.
“We are a group of Ukrainians feeling powerless and shocked,” she says of her fellow local nationals and ex-pats. Marchiano joined the massive march in Washington, D.C. where thousands of Ukrainians and Ukrainian descendants walked in a show of unity.
She has also launched a website dubbed HTX for Ukraine. The site contains links on how to help, solicit support from elected officials, donations, rallies, and even how to travel to Ukraine and even a “join the fight” for military veterans.
“They are fighting with guns and Molotov cocktails in the streets,” she says of her former countrymen and women. “We fight with our calls, our rallies, our murals, and our votes.”
Inspired by the bravery and resilience of those in her native land, Marchiano plans more events in Houston to raise awareness and support. “I'm proud to be a part of this global coalition of Ukrainians,” she says, noting that she’s experienced sleepless nights and a slew of emotions — especially at a recent display of unity.
“I walked into my daughter’s pre-K class,” she recalls. “Every child was wearing a t-shirt that said, ‘Stand with Ukraine.’ There was even a cookie cake with the Ukrainian flag. I broke down in tears — what more could I add to that?”