Celebrating Ukraine: A Conversation with Author Oksana Lushchevska

Photo of author Oksana Lushchevska with text "Celebrating Ukraine: A Conversation With Author Oksana Lushchevska"
Color headshot photo of author Julie Gassman

Julie Gassman, Capstone Managing Editor

Celebrating Ukraine: A Conversation with Author Oksana Lushchevska

August 15, 2022

 

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Capstone was moved to provide support in the best way we know how—by creating a book. Not just any book, but a book that would honor the people of Ukraine and provide monetary support.

With a tight schedule and clear vision, we set out to build a book in record time. Throughout the process, I was fortunate to work with celebrated Ukrainian children’s author Oksana Lushchevska. The proceeds from her book Blue Skies and Golden Fields: Celebrating Ukraine will be donated to Ukrainian relief organizations. It is a delightful collection of activities and information, written in Oksana’s charming, inviting voice, and it has become one of my favorite projects in my 17-year career with Capstone.

Oksana and I spoke about her new book and love for her home country and its people.

 

Book cover image of Blue Skies and Golden Fields: Celebrating UkraineBook cover image of Blue Skies and Golden Fields: Celebrating Ukraine

When Capstone decided we wanted to publish a book to both celebrate the culture of Ukraine and raise money for relief efforts, we knew we needed an authentic Ukrainian voice to write it. Your name quickly rose to the top of our wish list, and I reached out to you with an email about the project. What did you think when you received my email?
It was a big surprise for me. Since the war started, I have been consumed by a roller coaster of emotions, but also continuous efforts to help as much as I could from a distance. I was raising money and writing articles and Facebook posts to inform my friends and colleagues of the situation and what could be done. I have received so much support from every direction that it was truly amazing. I only wish that all the efforts and attention to Ukraine were because of its rich culture and everything it has to offer and not because of the war. When I received your email, I was very humbled to learn that Capstone was initiating such a wonderful project to support Ukraine and instantly realized that it was my duty to complete it to share with U.S. readers how wonderful and peaceful Ukraine truly is.

Why did you want to write the book? What made you say yes to the project?
I thought who if not me. I have this opportunity to give the readers a glimpse into Ukraine and show them how different yet familiar it is. It is such a wonderful way to introduce young people to Ukraine and hopefully spark a genuine interest in learning more about it.

For the book we asked you to highlight activities and traditions that are important to the Ukrainian people. How did you go about selecting what items would be highlighted in the book?
My goal was to provide a well-rounded set that would honor the Ukrainian traditions and culture, but also showcase its modern approach to life. Often the nonfiction books about countries focus on the past. I wanted to bring the present into the narrative to show how the past has shaped Ukraine into what it is now—a contemporary European country with highly developed socio-cultural space.

Interior book spread from Blue Skies and Golden Fields: Celebrating Ukraine depicting a field of sunflowers and a summary of the national symbols of UkraineInterior book spread from Blue Skies and Golden Fields: Celebrating Ukraine depicting a field of sunflowers and a summary of the national symbols of Ukraine

If we had made the book twice as long, what else might have you included?
Oh, how I wish it was longer! 😊 I just barely scratched the surface. There is so much to learn about Ukraine that it is almost impossible to fit it all into a book. I did my best to fit as much of a variety of information and interesting facts as I could, but there is a myriad of other things that I could have included. I would have loved to include more information about Ukraine’s urban living. For example, visitors to Kyiv are surprised to learn that it resembles New York City or Charlotte, where I live now. There are a lot of festivals and other cultural initiatives that happen each year throughout Ukraine that would be fascinating to learn about. Then, there is Ukrainian natural world. The country is so large that it might take months, if not years, to explore. We have a project called Ukrainer that explored all around Ukraine turning it into a wealth of videos and even a book for Ukrainians themselves to learn about the beauty of our own country. And of course, I would have included the fact that borsht is now an official Ukrainian cultural heritage! 

One of my favorite things about the book is your writing style or your voice. How would you describe your writing voice in this book?
I like to call it informal and more conversational. Being a children’s writer, I found that this voice works particularly well in engaging the reader and making the material much more interesting. This is especially important for nonfiction literature, where the content must be very engaging for the reader to keep focus and not lose interest quickly.

What do you hope young readers will take away from reading your book?
I hope readers will get a glimpse into Ukraine and its way of life and realize that it is just as culturally diverse and interesting as any other country in Europe and beyond. There is so much to learn and explore, so I hope the readers will appreciate all the fascinating ways that make Ukraine unique.

Interior book spread from Blue Skies and Golden Fields depicting a lion statue if Lviv and a painting by artist Myra PrymachenkoInterior book spread from Blue Skies and Golden Fields depicting a lion statue if Lviv and a painting by artist Myra Prymachenko

How old were you when moved away from Ukraine, and what brought you to the United States?
I was 22 when I came to the U.S.A. I came as part of the cultural exchange program to learn more about the country and its culture. In many ways, the U.S. resembles Ukraine where you have a very diverse group of people. Yet, there is a shared vision that bonds everyone together.

Other than friends or family, what do you miss most about living in Ukraine?
I miss that cultural connection to the country that I was born in. That culture formed me and made me who I am, so even living in the U.S. for almost 20 years, I am still Ukrainian in my heart. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?
I hope that readers will enjoy the book and develop an appreciation of Ukraine and what it had gone through to become what it is today. Maybe it will even spark someone’s interest to keep learning.

 

Preview Blue Skies and Golden Fields: Celebrating Ukraine, publishing in September 2022!

Download a recipe for Uzvar, the traditional Ukrainian drink