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Ukrainian artist sells felt art to help relatives in the war-torn country

Iaroslava Soboleva, a Ukrainian felt artist, works on a doll inside her studio at her home in Tucson. Soboleva, who is from Dnipro, Ukraine, is sending money she makes from selling her crafts on Etsy to relatives in Ukraine.

Iaroslava Soboleva slips into a peaceful world when she works on her craft of felt art — a craft she taught herself by taking classes over the internet.

“I was inspired by the art that uses wool fabric and a special needle to shape the wool,” said Soboleva while working in her studio at her home on Tucson’s southeast side.

Soboleva, a native of Ukraine, began felting seven years ago and over time perfected her work using the needle that has tiny barbs on the end. The barbs go in one direction and when the needle is stabbed into the wool the barbs pull the wool in, causing the wool fibers to tangle and their scales to lock together and felt.

A finished gnome sits on a shelf with other items by Iaroslava Soboleva, a Ukrainian felt artist.

“I was inspired to try felting and I love what I am doing,” she said, pointing to shelves where her unique creations are displayed. Her motifs use Ukrainian styles of bright colors and imagery. No creation is the same said the crafter of her work, including fairies, Easter eggs, Christmas ornaments, dolls, framed landscapes, gnomes or mermaids.

“The easiest to make are felt hearts or Christmas tree hangers,” said Soboleva, 44, whose family lives in Dnipro, Ukraine. “Dolls or gnomes with a house will take more time and effort,” said the artist who sells her creations on Etsy, a global online marketplace where people sell, buy and collect unique items.

Sales include shipping and fees. Soboleva’s art can be found at www.etsy.com/shop/ALXSO and prices can range from $25 to $140. In addition to buyers from the United States, her work attracts buyers from Switzerland, England and Germany.

Her work occasionally can be found at the local United Nations Association of Southern Arizona Center and Gift Store at 6242 E. Speedway. Soboleva is invited to demonstrate her craft at the store on occasion and takes pieces to sell.

She and her husband, Aleksey Sobolev, 52, of Kyiv, are naturalized U.S. citizens and are sending money to relatives in Ukraine, talking to them every night and worrying about their safety during Russian missile attacks in Kyiv and Dnipro. “Our parents and relatives are elderly, over 60 years old, and my mom had a stroke that left her disabled,” said Aleksey.

Iaroslava Soboleva, a Ukrainian felt artist, works on a doll inside her studio at her home in Tucson.

“My mom lives in a high-rise apartment building with her sister and they stay in the safest area of the apartment when they hear sirens warning about missile attacks. They are too old to leave their home and go to a shelter where they would be safer,” said Aleksey, who came to Tucson as a refugee in 1999.

“They are trying to be strong for us, and trying to show us they are not depressed,” said Aleksey, an employee of the U.S. Census Bureau. His wife is employed as a home health care worker. The couple met in 2005 in Kyiv when Aleksey went to visit family, and they married in 2006.

Her relatives live in a house on spacious land where they have dogs, chickens and ducks. “But everyone is under a lot of pressure. No one knows when or what part of town will be struck by missiles,” Aleksey said.

So when Soboleva works on her art, she said she escapes the terror of the war and experiences “kind and good emotions” that she wants to share with people through her felting.

“I have hope that the world will get better, and the war will end soon,” she said.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at cduarte@tucson.com or on Twitter: @cduartestar


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