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Lakewood woman carries on Ukrainian egg art to help save her culture

Olenka Mackey fears that the destruction in Ukraine will erase history, tradition and artifacts.

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — Every year before Easter, Olenka Mackey paints eggs in the traditional Ukrainian way of etching by hand and dipping the eggs in a variety of colors.

"Ukrainian women start making these eggs at the beginning of Lent, and Grandmother is the one who taught me," she said.

For more than 60 years, Mackey has been painting the ornate and precise designs on Easter eggs with symbols that represent things like strength, eternity and protection. These days, the eggs are also about memories.

"Just the aroma of it, just the beeswax, the vinegar and the dyes, the sight, the smell of the eggs, all of that, like I'm getting goosebumps right now," she said. "I could do this for hours. It's almost like meditation. You know, there's a certain peace that comes over me."

While the Russian invasion of her ancestral country continues, she finds peace in her art during a time of war.

"It’s hard to explain how I can feel 100 percent American and 100 percent Ukrainian," she said.

Mackey recently visited a farm in Arvada, looking for eggs in their natural state to honor Ukraine.

"It means even more to me because of what's going on in Ukraine," she said. "Now, I almost feel a responsibility to uphold my cultural heritage because I feel like it's being destroyed."

Her Lakewood home is filled with various forms of Ukrainian art, from the eggs to embroideries to carved wooden boxes. She said she wants to preserve all of these art forms, especially the eggs, to pass down to her family.

"A lot of this stuff exists in museums in Ukraine, and those museums are being demolished," she said. "Ukrainians all over the world are becoming extremely angry and holding on to their culture. I mean, we are determined."

That's why she transforms eggs into an intricate canvas of creativity and teaches others to do the same.

"Just like my grandma, she's been gone since 1984, and here I am still making eggs that I wouldn't be making if she hadn't taught me so," Mackey said.

She used to sell the Ukrainian eggs at craft shows. She doesn't do that anymore, but she is painting some to sell at a fundraiser to generate money for humanitarian aid in Ukraine.

"I am angry that my parents and grandparents escaped from the Russians in the '40s and now I have family escaping from them again," Mackey said.

Just because she wants peace, that doesn't mean she cannot fight – to save her heritage.

"It’s gonna continue, and when I’m gone, there’s still gonna be thousands of people making Easter eggs," she said. "Some of them will be because of me."

RELATED: Colorado woman returns home after helping send supplies to Ukraine

RELATED: Ukrainians fleeing war arrive in Colorado

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