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Meet Kristina Kordero Peres!

With her unique blend of Ukrainian and Cuban heritage, she was born in the enchanting Donetsk region. For Kristina, the journey towards self-discovery and empowerment begins with understanding one's cultural identity.
Despite her love for travelling, Kristina's heart lies in Ukraine, where she wishes to spend her entire life with her loved ones.

10 Match, 2023

 Picture by Victoria Besedina


TOZHSAMIST: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you were doing before February 24th, 2022?

Kristina: I have been in Bali, since my life took a sudden turn on February 24, 2022. Up until that point, I had been working as a stylist for healthcare professionals. However, as the war came to my home country, I made the decision to temporarily stay in Bali. At first, my mind was consumed with worry and I couldn't help but constantly check the news. But as I scrolled through my phone, I stumbled upon a heartbreaking number of abandoned pets left behind by fleeing owners. Driven by a desire to help, I quickly sprang into action and created a Telegram channel that aimed to reunite lost pets with their owners. In a matter of hours, I assembled a database of photos and details of each animal, and to my delight, my initiative quickly caught the attention of local bloggers who helped us grow our subscriber base to 30,000 within a week.

T: Can you tell us a little about your family's background?

K: My family's story is one of serendipity and destiny, a tale of two individuals brought together by chance and circumstance. My father, hailing from Cuba, found himself in Ukraine in the 1990s as a participant in a student exchange program at an engineering college in Kostyantynivka. A hub for international students, he was one of many who sought knowledge and experience in this bustling educational centre.

Meanwhile, my mother had always harboured dreams of becoming a director but instead found herself at the same engineering institution as my father. Though initially taken aback by the diverse mix of ethnicities present at the college, she quickly grew accustomed to it. It was only six months into her time there when she crossed paths with my father, forever altering the trajectory of her life.

The intersection of my parents' lives resulted in my birth, and it is through their experiences that I have come to understand the beauty and complexity of multiculturalism. The melding of my Cuban and Ukrainian roots has instilled in me a deep appreciation for the richness of diverse perspectives.


T:  How did your Ukrainian and Cuban heritage shape your identity? 


K:  As someone with both Cuban and Ukrainian heritage, I've always been aware of the importance of my surname. It's become my business card, so to speak. Whenever I meet new people, they're always surprised by my Hispanic last name. Some even ask me if I speak Spanish. But I proudly tell them that my native language is Ukrainian.

In recent years, I've come to appreciate my Ukrainian culture and history more than ever before. The onset of war has made me realize just how vital it is to preserve our traditions and language. I've delved deeper into my studies, seeking out information that wasn't included in my school program.

What I've discovered has been eye-opening. I've come to realize that Ukrainians and russians are fundamentally different in our cultures, mentalities, and even our russian language is different from that spoken in russia proper. Even though we share some similarities, our heritage is unique and should be celebrated. I'm proud to be Ukrainian, and I hope to share that pride with others around the world.


 Picture by Victoria Besedina

T:  What inspired you to start re-learning the Ukrainian language and rediscover culture?

K: Language is a fundamental part of our cultural identity. For me, it's been a journey that has shaped my sense of self and belonging. Growing up, I spoke a unique dialect called surzhyk, which combined Ukrainian and russian elements. It was a language that connected me to my heritage and my family's history.

But things changed when I moved to a town closer to Donetsk to pursue my studies. I faced bullying because of my Ukrainian language. It was a traumatic experience that forced me to switch to pure russian.

Years later, I realized that denying my language was denying a crucial part of who I am. I started to remember my Ukrainian language and tried to speak it more often. It wasn't easy, but I knew it was worth it. I believe that our language is an essential part of our cultural heritage, and it's our responsibility to preserve it for future generations.

T:  Can you tell us about your hometown and what it was like growing up there?

K: My hometown is Shcherbynivka, a little town in the Donetsk region.  For years, it was the place I called home, where I spent the first 15 years of my life before venturing out to study architecture at a technical school in another city and then at the University of Kharkiv. Now, the town that was once small and quiet is nothing more than a shell of what it used to be. The war can take on even the most peaceful of places.

Growing up, I knew what it was like to be different. I was often teased "chornenka," meaning "the little black one." However, I never let that define me. Instead, I took pride in my unique background and history, which often piqued the curiosity of others. People would remember me and ask about my roots, and I found it to be a pleasant and touching experience.


T: Do you believe that an individual's ethnicity will continue to carry significance in the future of Ukraine?

K: I believe this mentality is a holdover from the Soviet Union era and needs to be discarded. The younger generation is proving to be more open-minded, and ethnic diversity is no longer the exception, but rather the norm. Let us embrace this change and move towards a future where everyone's potential is valued and celebrated, regardless of their background.

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 Picture by Victoria Besedina

T: Can you tell us about your trip to Cuba in 2017 and what it meant to you? 

K: In 2017, I embarked on a trip to Cuba with apprehension, having heard tales of poverty and decay. But my worries were laid to rest as I discovered a land unlike any I had seen before. Cuba was a vibrant and exuberant country, where people lived for the moment, danced to music, and sang to their hearts' content. Age and social status were no barriers to joy and freedom. The people of Cuba, content with simple pleasures, taught me an inspiring lesson. They showed me that true happiness is found in living life to the fullest, in pursuing what we love, and in enjoying the process.

My grandmother, a proud Cuban, has always instilled in me the importance of pursuing one's passion rather than chasing after wealth. As a result, I never say that I "work"; rather, I am grateful to have my own business that brings me joy every day. Cuba reminded me that happiness is not a destination but a journey, and the key to unlocking it lies in simply living and enjoying every moment. 


T: What guidance might you offer to those who are exploring their mixed heritage and seeking a stronger sense of self-identification? 

K:  As we trace our lineage, we uncover a mosaic of diverse traditions and customs that have shaped us into the individuals we are today. For those of us with multifaceted ancestry, exploring the multifarious layers of our cultural roots is not just a mere curiosity, but an essential journey towards self-discovery and empowerment. It is through this odyssey that we gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, enrich our lives, and forge a stronger sense of identity. Each of our stories of origin is unique, and for those with mixed heritage, learning about their cultural tapestry is not only interesting but imperative. By unravelling the threads that compose our past, we lay the groundwork for a more meaningful present and a fortified future.   


 Picture by Victoria Besedina


T: Tell us about your life today?

K: Surrounded by Bali's lush tropical landscape, I find myself immersed in a project that combines fashion and art in the most unexpected way. My latest endeavour is all about creating jackets and blazers that are true works of art.

It may seem like an unlikely pairing - Bali and blazers - but this island has shown me that fashion knows no bounds. Elegant and stylish clothing is in high demand here, whether it's for a fancy dinner, a night out, or a day in the office.

To fulfil this need, I assembled a team of talented local artists and together we embarked on a mission to create a limited series of blazers, each one painted by hand. The level of creativity and skill that these artists bring to the table is simply mind-blowing, and I am in awe of their talent and dedication to each piece.

But it's not just about the art - it's also about the community that surrounds me here in Bali. I'm thrilled to be a part of a vibrant Ukrainian community that's all about collaboration and mutual support. Witnessing the human spirit at work in this way is truly inspiring and gives me hope for a better tomorrow. 


T: Upon returning to your homeland, what is the first thing that takes priority for you?

K: I can't wait to make Ukraine my permanent home once again! There's so much to see and explore in this beautiful country, and I'm eager to share all the cultural richness with travellers from all over. My ultimate mission is to inspire wanderlust in others and encourage tourism in Ukraine because there's truly something magical about this place that everyone should experience firsthand!


T: What do you imagine Cuba will be like in the future

K:  To me, Cuba is a country full of lively energy and irresistible charm. It's a place where you can't help but feel like dancing with every step and celebrating every moment. But my vision of Cuba goes beyond just what we see today. I truly believe that Cuba is a place that will keep growing and evolving, becoming even more modern and forward-thinking.   

T: How do you envision the future of Ukraine after achieving victory? 

K:  I have this strong vision of Ukraine as a thriving, modern, and globally-connected country. A place where everyone can fulfil their potential and innovation is embraced. We hold onto the hope that one day our land will be completely free from oppression, and all of our people can work together to create a brighter future.


 Picture by Victoria Besedina

By Alice Zhuravel

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