Olena Gnes is a tour guide by profession, and she used to take her customers around Kyiv and the Chernobyl exclusion zone, sharing what was beautiful and fascinating about her country. But when Covid hit, and travel in Ukraine was suspended, she had to think outside the box – and so she started to document her life during the war, with the hope that someday, once the violence ended, she could resume her work.
Gnes documented her daily experiences, but she also hoped that her videos would be seen by people who had never experienced Ukraine in person. As a result, Gnes's channel, What is Ukraine?, quickly garnered attention from people all over the world – including Vineyard residents Dawn Greene and Lawler Kang, who invited her family to stay with them in Georgia.
While in America, Gnes continues to make videos of her life and to share her enduring love for Ukraine, but she now focuses on helping those who remain in the country. She has become an ambassador for a nonprofit, FFUN SDG-Help UA, which is raising money to purchase generators, rechargeable lights and heating systems for Ukrainians.
Gnes recently shared a video of her first time shopping at Cronig's Market, where she was recognized by a grocer who knew her from YouTube. It was a moment of relief and gratitude for her, but it was also a reminder of the trauma she still feels when she hears news from home – and of how far she is from resuming her normal life with her children.