USA Ukraine: A woman searches for the rightful owners of a long-lost photo album in a war-torn city

Some have opened their homes to refugees or pledged to donate to emergency calls.

Others sought to support Ukrainian business. Among them is New Yorker Chelsea Brown.

Looking online for ideas, Brown, 29, came across an ad for a vintage seller in Zaporozhye, in southeastern Ukraine.

Subject? A large green photo album filled with black-and-white photographs of Soviet-era Ukraine.

Not the most obvious way to show solidarity, but one that made sense to Brown, an interior designer and writer who uses genealogy in her spare time to track down who she calls the “rightful” owners of family heirlooms she acquires by scouring antiques. fairs, flea markets and online.

“I saw it and immediately knew it was something special and needed to go back to the family,” she told CNN.

“I tried to find Ukrainian small businesses to support. A photo album came up and I clicked on it and it took me to an eBay listing.”

The album arrived in the mail from Zaporozhye in three weeks, but in the meantime, Brown used the little information she had to try to track down the descendants of the people in the photographs.

But an album of images dating from the 1920s to the 1970s offered few clues.

Heirloom hunter Chelsea Brown spent weeks trying to find the descendants of the people in the album.

“All the captions are in Russian, which made it very difficult to research,” Brown told CNN.

Social media contacts helped her translate some of the names into English, and Brown also connected to Google Translate.

“I explored this day and night without any leads. I was desperately trying to find this family!” she said.

All she had were two names: Vadim Danilovich and Yuri Vadimovich, written in Cyrillic under some images. She suspected that the Ukrainian patronymic tradition, where the personal name component is based on the father’s name, meant that Yuriy was Vadim’s son. There was only one mention of the surname in the album: Makovetsky.

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Undeterred, Brown used an online Russian keyboard to look up names.

“It took me down the rabbit hole,” she told CNN. “I spent days trying to find any contact I could for this family.”

She eventually received a letter from Ivan Makovetsky, Yuri’s 29-year-old son and Vadim’s grandson. He told Brown that his grandfather died in 2008.

He lives with his parents and grandmother, Vadim’s widow, in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro.

Before the Russian invasion in February, Makovetsky was an English teacher “at one of the city’s most prestigious schools,” he told CNN, and the family’s printing business catered to theaters and cultural institutions. But when they ceased their activities, the family business also ceased.

Makovetsky was recently hired as a local representative for an Italian humanitarian organization working in Ukraine, but otherwise the family has no income.

He told CNN: “We’re fine, we’re not starving or anything, but things are pretty complicated right now.”

“My grandfather was a man of encyclopedic knowledge, a professor of human anatomy and even a department head at our medical academy here in the city of Dnepr,” he wrote to Brown.

The late Vadim Danilovich is depicted as a baby.

The family does not know how the album got on sale, but suspect that it may have been lost when the relatives moved out.

While Makovetsky and his family were delighted to know that he had been found, their immediate concern is with the current situation.

“It may seem rude, but these days memories are worthless here,” he wrote to Brown, describing today’s civilian life in Ukraine as “terrible.”

The sound of an air raid alarm has become a common occurrence in the life of the family, which still lives in a house in Dnipro. Makovetsky’s grandfather, Vadim, lived here.

Vadim Danilovich is fondly remembered by his grandson Ivan Makovetsky.

“We are so used to hearing the air strike siren after which nothing happens that most people, including myself, don’t even bother to go down to the basement or shelter,” he said.

Makovetsky’s father, Yuriy, is seriously ill but is not receiving the treatment he needs due to conditions in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the closure of the family business led to financial difficulties.

Having found a family, Brown felt compelled to act. She has since sent them financial support and hopes to personally return the album after the war ends.

Photo provided by the Makovetsky family shows Ivan as a child with his father Yuri (left) and grandfather Vadim (right).

Ivan Makovetsky told CNN in an email that his family was initially suspicious of Brown’s help, especially since they have always been “proud and independent.”

“The difficulties we are facing, the lack of work and the constant threat of long-range rocket fire, of course, contributed to the desire to accept this help without question, but the second reaction came from pride,” he said.

But things have changed over time, according to Makovetsky, who now communicates regularly with Brown.

“I have never seen such a range of expressions appear on my parents’ faces so quickly until they give way to grudging acceptance, gratitude and a sense of surrealism,” he added.

Ivan Makovetsky was an English teacher before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Brown told CNN she “forged a connection” with Makovetsky after researching his family’s pedigree for so long.

“My heart and mind convinced me to send the money as soon as I can contact the family and find out more about them,” she said.

“They are hardworking, proud, kind, grateful, and the loss of a job and income due to a situation they cannot control was reason enough for me.

“I can’t wait for the day when I can meet all of them in person,” she said.