War and art

Published 3:00 pm Thursday, February 16, 2023

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The print edition of this story in Thursday’s paper contained a typographical error on the title of Jodie Campbell’s book. The Journal regrets this error.

Jodie Campbell, a nurse with the Jessamine County Health Department, has created stories for her daughters throughout their childhood. Finally, she’s decided to put pen to paper and publish one of her stories, “There Was a Zookeeper ”.

Campbell said she’s no artist, so in September 2022, she enlisted the help of an experienced graphic designer and illustrator, Alexey Chystikov, living in the depths of war in Kyiv, Ukraine.

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She found Chystikov on an international freelance website. She saw he had more than 1500 sparkling reviews on the website and previous experience illustrating multiple other children’s books. She also noticed that he was from Ukraine and thought, “That’s my way of giving back to Ukraine cause I really love the country, so I’ll help one of their own.”

For weeks, it was great. But the fall was a scary time in Ukraine, and Campbell had no idea that Chystikov lived in the capital of Ukraine, where so much destruction had already occurred.

Chystikov began missing deadlines for Campbell’s book only six weeks into their contract. Like the rest of Kyiv, he had to grapple with power outages during its snowy November, so he could not work at all for days at a time.

Campbell told Chystikov to disregard the deadlines, “So I said just work if Ukraine allows you to work, I’m gonna take the deadline off the table.”

Even if Chystikov does have power, at any time, alarms could sound. He has to stop what he’s doing and go to a nearby shelter with the rest of Kyiv- or shelter at home away from windows.

In November, Campbell raised $900 for Chystikov on Gofundme since she knew he could hardly work.

Lexington TV station WKYT also reached out to Campbell in the fall, seeking to interview her and Chystikov about their journey. Before this interview, the two had only communicated through the freelance website.

Because of the WKYT news story, Campbell got to hear the whole of Chystikov’s story- and she also got his personal information, which the freelance website had previously safeguarded. Now, the two often have Zoom calls, and Chystikov said Campbell is constantly texting him to ensure he’s okay.

Campbell said the nurse and the mother in her pushes her to check up on Chystikov. “He’s family now,” Campbell said. “He’s 28- I just want to make sure he’s okay. I want to take care of him, you know.”

“She is a very kind person. She’s very cheerful.” Chystikov said, “So we are now friends, we are not just business partners.”

Chystikov said this is the kind of project he would do without pay because he loves it and appreciates his friendship with Jodie.

Campbell said her book shares a “timeless message.” It’s about “teaching kids to make good decisions, and then there’s forgiveness at the end.”

The 32-page book is about 75% done, and Chystikov only has about eight pages to finish.

“It’s like my dream has come true. I can’t believe this book’s gonna happen.” Campbell said that Chystikov’s story brings the story that much more meaning. She has allotted half a page in the back of the book that tells Chystikov’s story.

“I want to bring awareness and give him a greater shoutout,” Campbell said.

When the book is published, Campbell will announce details on her author Facebook. You can follow her journey at https://www.facebook.com/jodiecampbellauthor.

More on Chystikov’s experience

Chystikov said he couldn’t remember life before Feb. 24, 2022, the day that the Russian invasion began.

“I remember life before the war, but I feel like it was a long time ago,” Chystikov said. “And now it doesn’t even matter because our previous life will not come back. We live at war, and that’s our new reality. Sometimes I dream about times without war, without deaths, attacks and pain. But then I wake up and don’t have a choice.”

Chystikov said that, unfortunately, people are adapting to this- because they have to. But, Ukraine citizens and citizens in so many other countries have had to adapt to so much, between COVID-19 and warfare, they’ve not had a break.

COVID is still dangerous, Chystikov said, but it’s nothing compared to war.

“COVID doesn’t matter anymore. You have a war, and you don’t have to wear a mask because a rocket can kill you at any time.” Chystikov said.

In the United States, people are just now trying to recover from the isolation of quarantine and its effect on mental health. Although it is impossible to have good mental health in war, and Chystikov said it’s hard to be happy, community connection has never been stronger in Ukraine because it has to be.

He doesn’t have friends living with him- but Chystikov said he’s never alone.

“It’s okay. I’m not alone. Ukrainian people, every people is your friend when war is around. You can go to the street and say to some people, can you help? And he will help,” Chystikov said this is where their strength is.

However, his family lives much further than his friends. Chystikov was born in Kramatorsk. His parents and brother still live there.

“It’s 30 kilometers from the combat line. And the combat line goes closer and closer. I didn’t see them for a year.” Chystikov said. “All time, they hear echoes from explosions, more or less loud. They don’t want to leave their home. They are not young and don’t have much money and strength to start a new life elsewhere. My father and brother were electric workers in a mental hospital. They lost their jobs because the workplace (building) was physically destroyed by rockets.”

Ukraine, Chystikov said, is grateful for the financial, moral, and weapon support that it has received.

“We would be dead without help from other countries,” Chystikov said.

“There is no justice at war. It’s blood, death and dirt. When I live in it, I started to lose hope in people and the future,” Chystikov said, but people like Jodie and others from the states make him feel like he’s not alone in this nightmare. “It means a lot.”

“Before, I did not know how abruptly everything could turn around. And how vulnerable people are, and how easy it is to lose a life. Your brand clothes, gadgets, and money, doesn’t matter if a rocket is flying to strike you. Can’t take all the money to the grave. The most important thing is the people around, their support and interaction.” Chystikov said.