‘Ukraine: The Human Cost:’ A pen pal, a portrait and memories that will last a lifetime

A pen pal, a portrait and memories that will last a lifetime.
Published: Aug. 25, 2022 at 7:40 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -War can sometimes bring out the very worst in humanity, but it can bring out the best in us.

A friendship created online in the midst of the conflict in Ukraine proves just that.

This story comes from the general manager here at WCTV, Heather Peeples, and our sales manager, Dan Mecca.

A pen pal, a portrait and memories that will last a lifetime are all shared in this story.

“So I was married on June 2nd,” said WCTV Sales Manager Dan Mecca.

Mecca married his wife Michelle in June of 2021 on the beach in Jacksonville in the midst of the covid pandemic.

Come March of 2022, the chance at a full reception is open to all, and with an invitation came the question of a gift.

“I wanted a portrait for Dan and Michelle’s wedding,” expressed WCTV General Manager Heather Peeples.

On Feb. 19, 2022, WCTV general manager Peeples went to Etsy on the hunt for the perfect charcoal portrait to give to the newlyweds.

“Within a day, I had these beautiful charcoal portraits. I said thank you, thank you,” Peeples said. “I’ll make sure I get them in the mail in the next couple of days.”

The order was placed through corresponding messages, Peeples found a friend in a Ukrainian artist.

Nearly a week later, Russia invaded.

“Immediately, I thought of her. For the first time, I had a friend, a face, a person in this country,” Peeples mentioned.

People reached out to Iryna, living in Kyiv, asking if she was safe. The woman’s response to the harsh reality millions are facing in the country.

“She says I’m okay but, you know, the shelling is bad and we’re very scared,” Peeple said.

For weeks, a back-and-forth exchange continued.

“Through all the emails we continued to have… She always said, “I don’t know why Russia hates us so much. I don’t understand. We just want to live in peace,”” Peeples said.

That was on March 3, 2022, the last time Peeple’s would hear from Iryna for weeks. A month later, finally an update, Iryna fled Ukraine with her husband and children leaving her mother and siblings behind.

“She apologized for not getting back to me and I was like that’s the least of my worries,” Peeples said. “It’s more of a how are you surviving, you just pick up and go?”

One week later, the original gift that brought them together arrived in a mangled bag on her doorstep.

“Finally the day arrived and I got it. I mean, I was elated,” Peeple said. “I was so excited, she was so excited. She really appreciated me reaching out and us getting in touch because she kinda lost touch with the world so to speak.”

The long-anticipated portrait was framed and ready as a gift to Mecca.

“Heather handed me a piece of paper, with the story of why it was late and to hear the story about the woman and why it was late from Ukraine, I think her first line was, “We were bombed” and this woman only cared about Heather not receiving this picture in time,” Mecca expressed.

The charcoal portrait is now something that will be cherished by all, forever.

" It’s how it got into Heather’s hands, the story behind it, and when it got into our hands,” Mecca said. “So the fact it came two months after our reception makes this probably the most memorable gift we’ve received.”

Peeples also ordered this portrait of her husband and father-in-law and she has since continued to keep in touch with Iryna.