Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Galina Perova left the Soviet Union for Utah. Now she wants to save family fleeing Ukraine

Galina Perova sits in front of her painting depicting oppression in her homeland — the former Soviet Union.
Ivana Martinez
Galina Perova sits in front of her painting depicting oppression in her homeland — the former Soviet Union.

In 1989, a fledgling painter left the former Soviet Union for a new life half a world away in Salt Lake City. Galina Perova had only one suitcase and $400 when she arrived in her new country. Now, she’s a world-renowned artist. But on Thursday, she left her pastoral paintings of Utah behind and headed into a landscape of war.

“My heart is bleeding,” Perova said. “Not only because of my relatives, but when you see so much in the news, for me, it's a massacre of the innocent.”

Her aunt and other family members, including two children and a dog, have just made it to Poland from Kyiv, Ukraine. She’s gone to help and hopes to bring them back to Salt Lake City. Other family members are still in the war-torn country. Hours before she boarded a plane bound for Warsaw she spoke with Pamela McCall about her mission.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Pamela McCall: Tell us about your family and what they went through when they fled Kyiv for Poland?

Galina Perova: It was very hard. My aunt left behind her son. He returned to Kyiv, and maybe this was the last time she'll see him. They brought my aunt's friend. She's blind and has a broken arm. And to get them to train was a challenge. And after that, my cousin put them in the taxi and drove them close to the border. After, they started to walk and finally, they made it to the Polish border. And they're going to stay there and wait for us. And I hope we will bring them to the United States because they've already gone through a lot of separation and tears.

PM: So an 80-year-old blind woman, two children and your aunt?

GP: And my sister-in-law and a dog.

PM: And the men?

GP: My cousin, he went to Kyiv to fight and we didn't hear from him yet -- anything.

PM: How are they all doing? A lot of emotion and fear, I imagine. Tell us about their mental state, their well-being.

GP: A lot of tears and grief, of course. You leave everything behind, your whole life. And right now, they're looking forward to a reunion. I hope we will be able to bring them back. We are going to the American embassy to try to get them visa, temporary visa.

PM: Is it possible to bring them back to Salt Lake City as things stand? 

GP: I hope so. And if not, I don't know. But they look forward to coming here, temporarily, and also they think that maybe the war will end and they will be happy to return home. Because they have a father and husband and son.

PM: What made them decide that they finally had to flee?

GP: They still denied. They thought, no, it will all be over. And so two days ago they said ‘we are leaving’ because everything started to get closer, and the Russians surrounded the city. And my aunt decided to save the children. And so they decided to leave right away.

PM: What's it like for you to be here in Salt Lake City?

GP: My heart is bleeding. Not only because of my relatives, but when you see so much in the news, for me, it's a massacre of the innocent. It's not a special operation. It's ugly war against civilian people, against humanity.

PM: Galina, you left the former Soviet Union for Salt Lake City 33 years ago this month, in part, because you felt oppressed. Can you contrast that to what you're witnessing today?

GP: I don't have any regrets because I didn't want to live in that corrupted country. Salt Lake City embraced me, and I really love the people and scenery. It's the best decision I've made in my life.

PM: What are your thoughts on being Russian and seeing what's going on in Ukraine?

GP: I would like to say that it's not a Russian war. It's a war of the criminal elements, like Putin, and I don't believe the Russian people agree with this. Even my aunt, who lives in Siberia, she's 86 years old and she said, 'Don't say anything, please.' Because they are afraid.

PM: How has the conflict, the war, affected your ability to create your paintings?

GP: I couldn't function. I'm very emotional and very distressed by this situation, particularly when you have so many relatives who are suffering and so many people dying for no reason.

PM: When do you envision coming home to Utah?

GP: We are planning to come back on the 20th. But if it will take longer, whatever it takes. We will try to accomplish our mission. And if I save and give comfort to even five people and a dog, I will be very, very happy. Like my mission accomplished.

KUER Morning Edition Associate Producer Leah Treidler contributed to this report.

Pamela is KUER's All Things Considered Host.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.