Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine on February 24, the world has seen many images of women fiercely defending their homes, working as volunteers, joining civilian militias, or relocating their families across the border. Tanya Ruban, a model and actor, comes from a long line of such resilience women. Ruban, who was born and raised in Chernihiv, Ukraine, now lives in Barcelona, Spain, and was in Ibiza for work when the conflict broke out. This Mother’s Day, she feels particularly close to her ancestors, and to celebrate the holiday, we met with the model and actor to talk about her foremothers. Their narratives are taking a new meaning in her own life and in the life of a country now being ravaged by the war. “My duty now is to pass on our traditions and let my children know the great history of our family, our people, and our country,” she says.
Tell us a bit about your origins and background. What was your upbringing like?
I was born and grew up in Chernihiv, Ukraine. My mum was super young, only 17, when she had me. My father wasn’t in the picture, so I was raised by my grandparents and spent a lot of time with my great-grandma. I grew up listening to many stories from World War II, playing Bandura for five years (a traditional Ukrainian instrument), and doing all kinds of arts. I had a strong feeling that I must find a purpose in my life to be able to help my family.
Tell us about your family, especially your mom and babusya.
I’ll start with my great-grandma. Her name was Uliana. She was a World War II veteran, who had like five medals as I recall. I loved it when she showed them to me and told me how she and my grandpa were The Partizan, and how they battled in the woods and what tricks they did to fight the Nazіs.
My grandma, Tetyana (I was named after her), was an outstanding woman and director of the biggest shoe factory in town. Her story is dramatic too. She was born right after WW2 in Russia, and it was a time of Stalin’s policy of deporting Jews to the Jewish Autonomous Area and other parts of Siberia. Her mother, Shelma, was Jewish. [Shelma’s] mother-in-law reported her origin to the authorities, so she had to give up my grandma for her Tetyana’s best future and leave. My grandma was adopted by her grandparents, and they told her that her mother had died of cancer. All her life, she was in fear of getting that sickness. Finally, only in her late 60s, she found her mother was alive and living in New York City. I met Shlema, and I was the one who told her that her daughter had passed away.
My mum, Oksana, continued the family business and raised three daughters. In 2014 when the Donbas war began, she dropped everything and went to the east to finally follow her dream to help people. She always wanted to be a doctor, but with my family in the shoe business, it was her duty to continue the legacy. In 2014 she became a volunteer, and after that she became a paramedic and pre-medical aid instructor for years. These terrifying times allowed her to achieve her dream. She assists with operations now and continues her contribution as a volunteer to this day.
How was it like to grow up as a little girl in Ukraine in the ’90s?