Ukrainian Émigré Finds Love, Artistic Inspiration in Move to Wyoming
Viktoriia Peterson started out illustrating children’s books, then became an author—in a whole new language
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Sep 17, 2023
Viktoriia Peterson lives in Sundance with her husband, Austin Peterson. Originally from Kharkiv, Ukraine, Peterson has published six books, including three children’s books, while living in Wyoming. (Courtesy photo from Viktoriia Peterson)
By Juliana Sukut
Special to the Wyoming Truth
Viktoriia Peterson became a published author through her paintings.
In 2014, when Peterson moved to Sundance from Kharkiv, Ukraine, with her American husband, she didn’t speak very much English. Although she always enjoyed writing, publishing children’s books, poetry and a memoir in English wasn’t yet on her radar.
A jeweler by trade, Peterson, 48, met Austin Peterson, of Sundance, through a dating agency in Ukraine in 2011. They married that year, but visa issues delayed her move to the United States. She started taking painting classes in Ukraine to help pass the time while she waited for her visa.
Upon arriving in Wyoming in 2014, Peterson continued to paint “for herself,” as she adjusted to the quieter and more “peaceful” lifestyle in the Cowboy State. Her art, which varied from Wyoming-inspired landscapes and wildlife to portraits in acrylic or oil, helped her find “harmony for myself,” she said.
When Peterson posted images of her paintings on Facebook, a local woman reached out and asked her to illustrate a children’s book.
“I said, ‘I don’t have experience,’ and she said, ‘No, that’s OK,’” Peterson recalled.
In 2017, Peterson illustrated “The Snowman of Cayo Costa,” which follows a snowman from Wyoming who wants to spend Christmas on a Florida beach, but wonders whether that is possible without melting. Peterson said the author, Missy McAmis, a real estate agent from Hulett, encouraged her to write and illustrate her own book.
At the time, Peterson was enrolled in English language courses at Eastern Wyoming College. But she was motivated to give it a try.
“It’s a children’s story, why not?” Peterson recalled thinking.
While camping in the Black Hills, Peterson wrote and illustrated “Lisa and the Bears,” about a 5-year-old girl in Yellowstone National Park who meets a bear. She published it in 2018 through Page Publishing, Inc.; she then wrote and illustrated two more children’s books, “A Devil’s Tower Secret” and “Eagle Feather.” Peterson also wrote a fantasy story, “Karlik from Planet Sirius,” which was published in 2020 by Writers Republic LLC.
Peterson’s children’s books helped her integrate into Sundance as she learned English and sought citizenship. She attended book signings at the Crook County Library, participated in author talks with other local writers, hosted art classes at the Moorcroft Senior Center and joined a writing club. At the Wyoming Writers Conference in 2021, Peterson shared her poetry about the state’s landscape with other attendees—and left feeling confident her poetry was publishable.
In 2021, Peterson published “A Breeze of Inspiration” (Writers Republic LLC), a book of 54 poems that she wrote over 15 years while in Ukraine and the U.S. The volume includes her reflections on Ukraine, her marriage, her relationship with her late father, stories about her grandmother and her new home. Peterson draws inspiration from Wyoming, particularly during frequent camping trips in the Black Hills; the rugged landscape is featured heavily in her poetry.
Peterson writes in Ukrainian and Russian, and then her work is translated into English. This makes the process lengthier, and at times harder, Peterson said. Her home country also takes a prominent role in her writing.
Peterson’s United Kingdom-based editor and publisher, Tim Saunders, of Tim Saunders Publications, said the emotional impact of her writing isn’t lost in translation.
“English is her second language, yet she writes poetry that I can relate to, which is quite something,” he wrote in an email to the Wyoming Truth.
Saunders said Peterson’s life story and writing talent were “enough of a driver” for him to publish her work.
Last October, Saunders published Peterson’s novel, “A Dream of Destiny,” which chronicles the story of how she met and married Austin, the dealer contracts business manager for Wyoming Machinery, the Caterpillar dealer in Sundance.
Although Peterson changed their names in the novel, she considers the book a memoir and dedicated it to those who have given up on finding love. The story follows Veronica, a divorcee in Ukraine, who has a vivid dream about meeting a mysterious American and then is set up on a blind date through a dating agency. Veronica almost cancels the date — until she glimpses the man and recognizes him from her dream.
Peterson said the novel is also a personal reflection, and in some ways, a love letter to Ukraine, as Veronica must reckon with falling in love with an American, leaving her country and adjusting to life in Wyoming.
The Russia-Ukraine war also has affected Peterson’s writing. She worries that her books could draw attention to and put her Ukrainian family in danger. So she writes under a pen name, DoLora Vi.
But Peterson has no plans to stop writing. She tries to write prose for two hours each morning, and when it comes to poetry, she writes in a notebook whenever inspiration strikes.
Peterson has two manuscripts in the works, a mystery novel she hopes to finish this month, and a historical novel based on the life of her grandmother, who survived famine and World War II.
“I have too many projects … It needs patience to [write],” she said. “But I love it.”