HELENA — On the door of the Mountain Sage Gallery in downtown Helena, there’s a sign with the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine. It’s there encouraging visitors to support Svitlana Prouty – a Ukrainian artist now living in Helena and working at the gallery – in her work to help her native country.
Prouty is from the city of Poltava, in central Ukraine, and she came to Montana about four years ago. She was visiting the country in early February, as tensions with Russia were on the rise.
“Many of my friends from the U.S. sent me a lot of texts and messages begging me to come back, but honestly, we didn’t realize that it could happen,” she said.
Russian troops began their invasion of Ukraine on the morning of Feb. 24 — the evening of Feb. 23 in the U.S. Prouty says a friend sent her a video showing military strikes in the capital of Kyiv.
“It was just shocking,” she said. “Even at first, I was thinking, ‘No, this is not true, it’s not possible.’”
The next day, Prouty says she was emotionally overwhelmed, and she recorded a short video for her Facebook page, sharing her feelings on the situation.
“I was so lost, I didn’t know what to do, I felt completely helpless,” she said. “You’re so far from your home and you cannot do nothing.”
It was while shooting that video that she came up with an idea on how she could help: sell some of her art and send the proceeds to Ukraine.
Prouty has already made a number of sales. On Wednesday, she had a table full of items she was packing to send out. She says she’s grateful for all the support she’s gotten from people in Helena.
“I would not say that I was surprised – I was amazed how people responded, how people react,” she said. “Sometimes, some people just show empathy and just sometimes hug me. Some people just cry with me – and of course, people buying my art, which is helping me to do what I’m doing.”
She’s already sent more than $4,000 to a volunteer organization in Poltava. She says they’ve used the money to buy gas to evacuate civilians from the eastern city of Kharkiv — one of the areas of the heaviest fighting — and to deliver food to villages that have been cut off from supplies.
Prouty says she’s tried to personally thank everyone who’s supported her during this time, but there have been too many to get to all of them, "if you help me and you hear me – even if you pray for me, pray for my country – thank you for this."
You can view Prouty's art at the Mountain Sage Gallery, at 433 North Last Chance Gulch in Helena.