This artist from Addison has family in Ukraine helping refugees. She reflects on the war that tore her country apart.
I walk into a bright tea cafe in Addison, half expecting to be up.
Not in the sense of a “bad date”, or an oversight. Rather, in a way that knows full well the relentless nature of new grief and the unexpected stings each new day can throw at you as you learn to live again.
But the sorrow of war in your homeland? It’s not something my personal experience of loss can fully comprehend. It’s not something most Americans can relate to today, although their social media feeds give them a sweet taste with the constant coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Therefore, I’m prepared on this quiet Tuesday to be understanding, just in case I open my Instagram DMs and see “Sorry, I just can’t” from my interviewee today.
But she is there.
Volta Voloshin-Smith is instantly recognizable with her peach-colored glasses, warm smile and vibrant wardrobe. The delicate strawberry necklace she wears matches her strawberry and lychee tea, as well as her delicious portfolio of illustrations, watercolors and GIFs… all depicting food.
If you go to grand restaurant openings in Dallas, she’s probably there with paintbrushes in hand, creating miniature food portraits for guests (I have two such paintings: a glass of red wine from the grand opening of ‘Eataly and a scone from the BreadEx launch party).
When she’s not attending events to help people enjoy the camaraderie that celebrating good food can bring with her art, she runs her business color snack. She does more than paint: she tackles brand activations, custom illustrations and animated GIFs for national and international brands (like Dallas Mavericks and Pernod Ricard). She has been featured in publications like D Magazine, Dallas Morning News and Dallas Observer to talk about creativity, entrepreneurship and mindset.
Now we sit down to talk about something that is far from a regular interview topic for Volta. But it’s a situation she can’t escape, linked to her heritage as a half-Moldovan, half-Ukrainian immigrant. The two countries are neighbors not only by geography, but also by Volta’s identity as an American immigrant.
“My father is Ukrainian, but he was born in what is now Moldova. And my mother is Moldovan, but she was born in what is now Ukraine. It’s such a mix of cultures.
Volta herself was born in what was once the Soviet Union (a USSR stamp appears on her birth certificate), and she is now also American through her father Vitaly I. Voloshin, thanks to his work as an “immigrant of extraordinary ability” who wrote five textbooks and developed mathematics coloring theory of mixed hypergraphs.
While Volta, her American husband and the rest of her immediate family now reside in Texas, her aunts, uncles and cousins still live in a remote part of Ukraine bordering Moldova. They are currently safe from the destruction of war that Russia has brought to Ukraine through its invasion. On top of that, they provide shelter, internet access, and food to Ukrainian refugees who have fled major cities in Ukraine that are being decimated by Russian forces.
When Volta woke up to the news of the Russian attack on Ukraine on February 24, 2022, she described the days that followed as pure shock.
“It was so hard to love understanding that this was happening… So many existential questions,” Volta said. “And then, of course, getting in touch with my loved ones, making sure they’re okay, hearing them freaking out for obvious reasons. It was difficult to do anything. So many news from different directions and social media is just flooded with everything. And it’s still very mentally exhausting.
She asks her husband to read her the news of what’s going on, rather than encountering the added visual and emotional overload herself.
“He’s not as emotionally connected to the conflict,” Volta said. “I don’t want to see pictures. As an artist, I have such a sharp mind that I can’t part with it. These images stay with me. And it becomes difficult to function.
A post on his Instagram (which also functions as his professional Instagram) puts into words his internalization of the conflict in his native country, watching from North Texas (swipe for the full message):
“Every time I see my parents, I learn more about my roots. It often leads me to question my identity, to realize that it’s not just one culture that defines me, but many. How my father is Ukrainian and my mother Moldovan and how I was born in a country that no longer exists (USSR) And also how I am an American citizen on top of all that, having assimilated into American culture.
I asked him how the added element of watching the war from afar affected his sensory identity.
“I am very conflicted. I am against war. And although I’m not Russian, I speak Russian. So I’m very much in tune with that culture,” Volta said. “I don’t agree with the idea of invading Ukraine and making all those innocent people suffer. I hate that so much. At the same time, I learn that many people in Russia do not agree with what is happening. They can’t stand it… honestly, it gives me chills because I know how much courage it takes; standing like that, knowing you’re going to jail.
Before immigrating to America at the age of 14, Volta’s fondest memories (and probably the early inspiration for his current work) come from dividing his time between his Ukrainian and Moldavian grandmothers during the summer.
“They both had gardens, with wonderful vegetables and fruit. That’s really why I love fresh produce so much: I grew up with this tactile experience in a beautiful country.
Volta’s social media presence is one that evokes that vivid sense of wonder. At some point during the week, she found the stores of emotional and creative energy present enough to create a meditation GIF: a watercolor strawberry that expands and shrinks in sync with the instructions “inhale, hold, exhale” to its viewer.
Even feeling helpless and creatively stuck herself for a few unsettling weeks, that’s Volta’s way of being; offering encouragement on her channel in the way she sees best. She hopes this rubs off positively on followers as the fights and media coverage escalate.
“With social media, I appreciate people sharing to amplify [what’s happening],” she said. “But at the same time, I don’t think it’s necessary. Sharing photos that trigger in any way… you know, these are real people going through very difficult things. So that gave me this gender awareness… if I ever share anything in the future that happens, I want it to be aware. I want to uplift and encourage people.
Want to know how you can support Ukraine from Collin County? Here are a few ways.